8 Hints and tips for photographing live music ensembles

As a lifelong player in Brass Bands, Joy Newbould, tenor horn player with Championship Section Thoresby Colliery Band as well as a professional Photographer, has put together a list of useful guidelines to follow when trying to capture live music ensembles with your camera.

1 Avoid being intrusive – Images of individuals in action within music groups will require a lens of 150mm minimum in order for you to stand back and zoom in. This will ensure the players are not put off by your presence, which will inevitably upset both them and their conductors! Remember why they are there – it isn’t to smile or look down your lens!

2 Look for expressions on the faces of the players to convey emotion or perhaps if they have just finished a physically demanding section – e.g. red faces or white lips straight after playing a loud passage (brass players) or convey the frantic playing on a percussion instrument by choosing a slow shutter speed to blur any movement of sticks (easier said than done though).

3 Try to get images which are quirky from unusual angles – e.g. look at the reflection in bells of tubas, or zoom in to just the fingers pressing down valves or through the natural gaps that the instrument provides.

4 Include the audience in your image if photographing a live performance. This will help to emphasize the occasion and atmosphere of the event. The audience can be included by taking the photo from the back of the band looking towards the conductor and out into the audience, or as a wide angle shot taking in the ensemble and its listeners.

5 Do not use flash! (for a few reasons which I won’t go in to right now) Ensure your camera is not on fully automatic so you can deliberately turn the flash off. ‘P’ setting is fine on SLRs. In low light (which it will inevitably be indoors) – use a high ISO instead – this will increase the digital noise in your image but this can be reduced afterwards and it is necessary in order to avoid blurry images cause by slow shutter speeds when flash is off.

6 Capture a mixture of image types – this will require different lenses. For the images of the whole ensemble you will need a fairly wide angle lens – particularly if you are tight on space to stand back. Your standard ‘kit lens’ on an SLR camera which is normally 18-55mm is ideal for this.

7 Be respectful of the music when taking your shot. As a musician, it is relatively easy to become very aware of the music that is being played; try to press the shutter during loud passages only and also on the beat.
There is nothing more distracting than hearing a camera shutter firing during quiet sensitive playing.

8 Combining all these elements will help you fulfill the most important criteria of all lifestyle photography which is – ‘Make your images tell a story’ – If you aim to capture the atmosphere and keep the age old saying of “a picture is worth a thousand words” at the forefront of your mind – then your images will speak for themselves.

Joy is regularly commissioned as a wedding photographer, but is also able to take on a wide variety of other types of photography. Joy also runs occasional photography workshops in the Peak District where she teaches the full potential of your camera “off auto”, as well as editing images with computer software: “all workshops include a delicious lunch of pie and peas from a prize winning specialist food shop in Bakewell” … to find out more visit Joy Newbould Photography