There are so many cool photographic genres out there that it can be overwhelming at times! At SLR Lounge, we spend a lot of time talking about gear, discussing wedding photography, the latest trends, the top wedding photographers, family portraits, marketing, and we throw in a splash or two of product and landscape photography from time to time. Today, we aren’t going to discuss any of those. Today, we’re switching things up and are going to discuss what might be our first post on music photography. We are specifically going to take a look into the realm of musicians in the studio and how to navigate the ins and outs of capturing a recording session.
Even if you aren’t entering the hallowed domain of a recording studio and standing by as the magic happens, you should be able to apply some of these lessons. They are fairly universal, but I’ll throw some specifics in there as well.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours in the studio with a local St. Louis blues/rock band, Midnight Reveille, while they got to work on their second studio album at Sawhorse Studios. I’ve worked with this band a couple of times in the past, and they’re a great group of guys that love music for music’s sake. As a musician myself, their love for and approach to music are refreshing, and they sound amazing. Go check ‘em out!
Anyway, while in the studio, I had the opportunity to experiment with some fun in-camera effects and lighting. Setting yourself up for an enjoyable time in what is guaranteed to be a potential powder keg of emotion and nerves takes proper preparation and clear communication. It all starts with your interaction with the band.
Discuss Ground Rules
Before you even begin unpacking your gear (be sure you come completely prepared for any eventuality. Recording studio lighting is typically pretty moody and not great for photos, so bring your lighting), chat with the band to get a feel for the types of photos they are looking for from the session. When I arrived at the studios, the band had already been there nearly two hours setting up amps, drums, working with the studio engineer to get everything mic’d up properly and to get warmed up a bit. I brought all of my gear into the entryway and before unpacking a thing, I got with my band contact and the guy in the band handling the creative portion of their website and promo materials to discuss my approach. At this point, you want to go over the types of photos they are looking for, whether or not it’s okay for you to use flash in the studio while they’re recording, and where you can be/stand/move, etc.
It’s incredibly important to remember that these guys are spending a great deal of money to perfectly record their songs and musical parts. Some musicians and singers might be easily distracted by a camera or a strobe going off in their face, or by you even standing near them to take photos of someone else. Setting ground rules up at the very beginning helps ensure that you and the rest of the band are on the same page.
Level of Access
In the same discussion as the setting of ground rules for shooting within the studio, it is important to determine the level of access the band wants you to have. Typically, the recording process follows a predictable pattern. The band will record a basic track to build upon, go into the control room and ensure that each member of the band is happy with their part, each member that isn’t happy will go back into the studio to re-record their part as many times as it takes for them to be happy with it, and eventually, they will move on to the next song. Because perfection is required, this can take hours.
During this time, it’s important that you understand what they need from you. Do they need space away from you to listen and critique their parts? Give it to them! Do they need to you leave them alone as they re-track any instrumental or vocal parts they need to fix? Do it!
Ensure that you are not intruding or distracting from their ultimate goal recording a quality album. The great photos are your responsibility, and just like a wedding photographer has to work around countless restrictions or requests, you have to be able to do so and roll with any changes the band throws your way.
In my case, because I’ve worked with them in the past, I had full access and was able to be part of the group as they moved through the day. It made for a good time and an interesting look into the process.
Whatever you do, don’t under any circumstances…
Once you’ve established your boundaries, it’s important to keep a few other details in mind.
Don’t make any! You are in a room with thousands of dollars of microphones designed to pick up every nuance of a guitar or vocal part. Don’t you think it will pick up the beep of your strobe or flash as it lets you know that it’s ready to fire again? Turn off the audible indicators. Don’t cough, don’t sneeze, don’t move so quickly you trip over something, don’t noisily drink your latte, soda, or other beverages. You need to be a photographic ninja (without the barrel rolls – Have you seen that guy?!?) and live silently while they are recording and sound checking.
It’s a Minefield
Don’t step on anything but the floor! I don’t care if it’s a wire, a box, anything. Stepping on a cord that has a previously unknown short in it might result in a loud buzz that requires the band to retake that part of the song. Stepping on a box or mic stand leg could break it or break the end of the mic or guitar cord. Pay attention to your surroundings and ensure you don’t bump into anything, walk between the microphone and what it’s recording (overhead drum mics can be sneaky as they are…wait for it…overhead!), etc.
Get outside the box. If you are on board for part of a recording session, trust me, you will have TONS of time to think about what you want to do differently, interesting setups to try out, and so on. Enjoy it. Work hard to get photos that others don’t normally get, and you’ll impress the band once you share the photos with them, you’ll have a blast, and potentially get further gigs with that same band or other bands in your area.
Finally, this goes for everyone in every career no matter what it is. Never stop learning! Want to learn to be a lighting rock star? Snag BOTH Lighting 101 and Lighting 201 and absorb every single second! The lessons you’ll learn will be invaluable for anyone wanting to create unique, powerful photos. To level up your game, check out SLR Lounge + CreativeLive for your educational needs.
Then, get out there and SHOOT! Once you do, share with us in the photographic community on Facebook! As always, thanks for reading, you all ROCK, and I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and more tips in the comments below!