As I’ve mentioned before, one of the very first pieces of music photography advice I ever received was simply, “Don’t forget the drummer.” It came not from another photographer, but from a guitarist in a band I’d befriended when I first started shooting concerts.
I was hanging out with the band in their dressing room before a gig, and the guitarist was noodling around on his guitar. Without looking up, he casually suggested, “Don’t forget the drummer. Photographers always forget the drummer.”
This piece of advice has always stuck with me, and to a certain extent, it’s become a small mantra of mine, as I think it can apply to any kind of situation. To me, it means not taking the easy way out – focusing on the less obvious solutions to a problem. To this end, I try my best to never forget the drummer when I do a live music shoot.
Here are 6-tips for how to photograph drummers, one of the most challenging subjects on any stage.
As I wrote in my 5 Tips For Better Concert Photography:
Nevermind that drummers are often poorly lit and trashing about behind a cage of obtrusive metal. When one can get over preening singers and over-socialized guitarists, some of the most dynamic rock images to be made are of a drummer in full swing, arms a-go-go.
Of course, this advice isn’t truly specific to just drummers, but applies to every band member beyond usual suspects. Deep coverage of the band, whether it’s a full-band shot or picking up individual members aside from the obvious targets can result in some of the most rewarding concert images.
6-Tips for Photographing Drummers:
1) Use The Right Lenses
With most drummers set up at the back of the stage, shooting with a telephoto lens can be a necessity for closing the distance and bringing home compelling drummer shots. I favor a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens as my telephoto zoom of choice, which works well for all but the biggest arena setups.
By contrast, for those situations where distance isn’t a problem, go in for the kill with a wide-angle lens for a more unique perspective.
2) Pick Your Angles Carefully
With often massive drum kits in front of them, finding clean and clear angles can be a huge challenge in photographing drummers. Factor in other band members, mic stands, and monitors in between drummers and photographers, and the literal windows of opportunity are even more narrow.
Making successful photos of drummers often comes down to finding the right position and angle that gives a clear shot of their face, even if it means scoping out several spots. One trick I use is to use my time in the photo pit after the stage is set but before the band comes out to scope out sight lines for the band for all members, but especially for drummers.
3) High Shutter Speeds
With drummers often trashing away, arms a go-go, high shutter speeds are your best bet for clean drummer shots. At shutter speeds that are enough to freeze the action on other band members, the swinging arm and speeding drumsticks of percussionists need even faster shutter speeds to prevent blur, not to mention their often bobbing heads.
I prefer to shoot at 1/200 as a minimum, but 1/250 or even faster is preferable for the cleanest shots in my book.
4) Compose for Movement
One thing that’s different with drummers is that their range of motion is often greater than that of guitarists and singers. Sure, they’re seated, but playing and musical style can dictate a huge range arm motion for drummers. Add in drum sticks, and the arc of motion extends even farther.
Just as you need to choose your angles carefully for clear sight lines through a drum kit, lining up a frame with consideration for the full range of movement will help you plan for the kind of epic gestures and movements that can convey the power of percussion.
5) Shoot The Drummer in Context
One quick tip? Photograph the drummer in the context of the kit, band, and stage. While tight framing can often be the best show of the energy of a drummer, a wider shot that shows their entire kit can be just as impressive, especially for artists who have obviously designed their kit for visual performance as much as functionality.
6) Be Patient
The best advice I can give for photographing drummers is simply to have patience. Even with the right angle and technical details dialed in, nailing a killer drummer shot simply comes down to capturing a decisive moment. While this is really no different than any music photography, the myriad shooting issues surrounding drummers make having patience even more important.
There you go. 6-tips for shooting drummers. I’ll throw in a 7th tip for free: wear earplugs.
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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 31st, 2011 at 12:00 am and is filed under Photography Tutorials and tagged with band photographer, concert photography, drummers, music photographer, music photography. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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