Photographer Notes

Photographer Notes

Photographer Notes: Taylor Swift

Many people who enjoy my concert photography work like to ask “How do you prepare for each musician you shoot?”

My answer usually involves a little research online with YouTube clips of recent live performances and even other publication reviews.

But before I grab my gear and head to the venue, I typically have a summarized post-it note of what I can expect and will be doing.

However, things do not always go 100% as planned. You will notice that I made notes about Swift doing a duet at the end, but I almost forgot that! By the time I realized and made it to the end of the stage, she was done that brief segment. C’est la vie.


Photographing Swift was a little crazy as all of the accredited media were put into the pit just left of the main stage with all of her most adrenaline-fueled fans. Trying to take an exceptional photo while avoiding all of the glittered waving hands and signs was tricky yet fun as I could really see how much these people loved her. We were allowed to photograph her during “Holy Ground” and “Red”. In the first song, Swift was sprinting spontaneously around the stage and onto the narrow bridges bringing her even closer to the crowd. She picked up her sparkling red guitar for the feature song “Red” and hair-rocked out with it while working her charm on with everyone holding a camera. She is incredibly photogenic I must say.

You can read my full review with photos on Live in Limbo.

Music, Photographer Notes, Photography

Photographer Notes: Carrie Underwood 2012

Carrie Underwood performed a few nights ago at the Air Canada Centre, one of the largest venues in Toronto, Canada. Photographing her was fun and interesting at the same time. First of all, a superstar like her didn’t have a photo release trying to grab our copyrights or restrict us in any way, major props to Underwood and her PR team. The shoot was interesting because it was not from the pit as usual. Instead, the media had to shoot from the sound board which was pretty much in the center of the arena.


A few hours before heading to the gig, I pretty much knew exactly what songs she’d he performing. Photographers got to stay for the first two songs, which were “Good Girl” and “Undo It”. Also from researching YouTube clips of these songs, I knew for a fact that lighting was going to be no problem at all and that it would be pretty bright and consistent.


Since I knew we’d be standing at the mixer, I brought a small foldable stool to make sure I shot over the most pit instead of taking the risk of getting hands in the way. Because we’d be far away from the stage, a monopod was needed to help stabilize a super telephoto lens. My next challenge was lens selection. There were a few options that could have worked here:

A) 300mm f/2.8 + 1.4x = 420mm f/4 (a good reach)

B) 400 f/2.8 (a bit too short)

C) 500 f/4 (would lose some good stage shots)

D) 70-200mm f/2.8 + 2x = 140-400mm f/5.6 (a bit too short, but room to crop, good range to get a balance of stage, band and close ups. Downside is small aperture at 5.6.

I ended up going with option D. Even though I hear people talking about how awesome those super tele primes are….they just aren’t for me. My thought is that with a supertele, you are already significantly limiting your range of movement with a monopod and making it a fixed focal length just restricts even more. If you few my full set of photos, you can see that I got a wide variation of different perspectives of Underwood and all her glory.

For the future, I think that the ideal setup would be the Nikkor 200-400 f/4 +1.4x for an effective range from 280-560mm f/5.6. To me, that sounds like the most perfect focal range for sound board shoots. What at that f/5.6 aperture you ask? Well, my answer is that the D4 can easily be boosted up to 6400 then down to 3200 ISO and I have no problems with noise at all.

One funny thing I did notice however was that at 400mm, the shot didn’t seem to really focus in the view finder and got really worried that I’d have a bunch of out of focus images. But when reviewing them later, they surprisingly turned out pretty sharp out of the camera RAW. So, I’m not sure if this is an issue with my TC-20E III or what? I’ve read negative issues with the version 2 of this 2x converter. But it seems like version III was made to compliment the 70-200 VRII.


Going through Underwood’s photos was pretty easy. Great lighting made things very simple for me, as I just had to do white balancing, a bit of clarity, shadows, blacks and some cropping for the really close up profiles.

Check out Live in Limbo for my full set of photos and let me know what you think.

Photographer Notes, Photography

Photographer Notes: Crystal Castles 2012

Hey all, I thought about doing a segment like this for a while now, and I’ve finally decided to give it a go. I am often asked HOW I prepare, shoot and edit my concert photography. So today, I shall do that with my last memorable gig which was Crystal Castles at the Kool Haus in Toronto last month.

Anyone who is familiar with this band know how challenging it is to get some decent shots of them. This is primarily due to the fact that they have no front light and their entire show is filled by strobes that can cause some serious problems if you are prone to them. Thankfully, I diagnosed that I am not epileptic…photographically, this often results in dozens of black frames.


Usually, the moment I find out that I am accredited to cover a concert, I will look up their setlist on the web such as By researching the last couple of their gigs, I was able to determine that the first three songs would be Plague, Baptism and Suffocation. By knowing this information, I search for some live records of these performances on YouTube where I can preview the lighting conditions and any cool poses they might do on stage. Quickly I learned that Alice would be stage diving and interacting heavily with the crowd in the 2nd song Baptism, so I readied myself for that with ease.


It doesn’t hurt to ask other fellow photographers (or creep them on forums) about what tools they used for shooting the same band. I discovered that instead of the getting the normal 3 songs, pit, no flash rule….accredited photographers actually got 3 songs, side of stage and flash! Most of you know that I am not a flash kind of guy at all, so no SB-910 would be coming with me. Instead, I decided to shoot high ISO (6400-8000) on the D4 with 3D tracking for fun. Surprising, the D4 was able to focus and lock on to lead singer Alice Glass. I shot primarily with the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 from the side of the stage. After the first 3 songs, we were able to shoot from the back of the crowd where I used a the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8.


Unsurprisingly, I did end up with MANY black unlit frames. I ended shooting just over 700 frames and I was able to get around 25 useable shots. I used LightRoom 4 for the bulk of my editing as usual. Because of my preparation and research, I envisioned the stage dive shot in my head and you know what? I got it, as seen above. If you want to see the full set of my photos and a review by one of our writers Mike Gallagher, check it out on Live in Limbo.