Imagine yourself being front and centre at a packed venue. On stage is an amazing live band. You have better than front row access. And you are drenched in sweat, some yours, some the bands. Your ears are pounding. The lighting flicks from full dark to dim, to bright glare and back in the space of a few seconds – nor does it stop for the whole performance. The band’s energy is moving them up and down the stage. Unpredictable movement in doubtful light can be a photographer’s worst nightmare. Not to mention the amount of distraction around you. Yet you must capture the shots. For some, this would be a nightmare. But for others getting in close to this kind of energy and opportunity is a dream come true.
Welcome back to our second interview in this mini-blog series on A Concert Photographers Journey. Today I want to introduce you to Darren Chan – a long term member of our community and someone photographs concerts and live gigs. I wanted to talk to Darren about his choice to take up concert photography and learn even more about his journey.
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR PHOTOGRAPHIC JOURNEY? WHERE ARE YOU FROM? WHEN DID YOU FIRST PICK UP A CAMERA?
I’m married with two young kids and have been living in Melbourne for the past three and a half years. I was born and raised in Sydney and have spent most of my life there.
I started out with photography as a kid, taking happy snaps with cheap point and shoot film cameras. I never really had a strong interest in photography until I bought a DSLR just before my first son was born. I thought it would be nice to get a decent camera to capture memories of our first baby.
I did a three-month photography course in Sydney that taught me all the basics of shooting manual and composition. After that, my interest in photography increased. It’s been quite a varied photographic journey, from just taking candid family pics, to delving into landscape photography, and a bit of street photography on the side.
About 18 months ago, I decided to pursue photography more seriously and started doing some paid freelance work, working on projects for an international media agency, and occasionally shooting corporate events.
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY? WHAT DRAWS YOU TO THIS GENRE?
I’ve always enjoyed photographing bands at public events and have captured my sister-in-law’s jazz performances several times. Earlier this year, I was at the Australian Open and decided to hang around and capture the bands at the AO Festival. I really loved the experience. Shortly after, I saw an ad from an online music publication, “Amplify”, calling for photographers. I applied and submitted my small live music portfolio and got accepted into their probationary program. I spent about a month being mentored by highly experienced music photographers before moving to the main team. It was a wonderful experience, and I learnt so much about composition and editing for live music during this period.
I felt an instant connection with this type of photography; as though I’d finally discovered a part of my calling as a photographer. Music is in my blood and I’ve been a musician for many years, so it made sense to combine my love of music and photography. As my music photography has developed and gained more exposure, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to shoot for a couple of other local and international media outlets as well.
I’ve practised shooting many different genres of photography, but l find live music photography the most technically challenging. When shooting a show, you’re often limited to shooting the first three songs with no flash. You have no control over the environment – musicians running around the stage, fans screaming and going crazy, as well as poor or continually changing lighting conditions. I really enjoy finding ways to overcome and deal with these challenges. It stretches your abilities as a photographer and sometimes you have to come up with creative ways to capture and edit images.
I love it for the social aspect as well. The Australian music photography community has been very welcoming and encouraging, and there is a sense of camaraderie in what we do. At a show, the photographers often congregate and discuss gear, music, swap stories, and have a few laughs. But when it comes time to shoot, it’s game on! In those first three songs, I’m in my photography bubble trying to capture the most poignant moments of a performance and present the band in the best light possible (excuse the pun).
DO YOU ONLY SHOOT EVENTS WHERE IT IS MUSIC YOU ENJOY OR HAVE YOU ALSO SHOT OTHER STYLES OF GIGS? DOES YOUR CONNECTION WITH THE MUSIC IMPACT YOUR PHOTOGRAPHIC EXPERIENCE?
I have diverse tastes in music and generally shoot bands and artists in the rock, pop, blues, indie, and alternative music genres. That said, I like to step out of my comfort zone and experience photographing other genres and artists. I’ve discovered a lot of amazing new music by doing that.
I think my best images are of shows where I have understood the why behind what an artist does. But let’s face it, live music photography is a form of commercial photography – your images are promoting and providing greater exposure to bands and artists in a way that reflects who they are. So your images need to capture the atmosphere and energy of a performance and tell a story that relates to the fans and viewers.
DO YOU EVER GET THE CHANCE TO SHOOT BACKSTAGE? DO YOU GET TO MEET BAND MEMBERS?
When shooting for media outlets, you usually don’t get to shoot backstage unless you know the band, or their management. I’ve occasionally met and gotten to know band members in person. But I mostly interact with them online when they’ve seen and appreciated images I’ve posted on social media.
WHAT HAS BEEN A HIGHLIGHT CONCERT OR BAND EXPERIENCE FOR YOU SO FAR?
I have a bucket-list of bands and artists that I would love to photograph and being able to gradually fulfil this list is a dream come true.
Shooting Vintage Trouble this year has been a highlight because they are incredibly dynamic and energetic onstage, and I dreamt about shooting them last time they toured here a few years ago. But there have been some standout acts I’ve captured this year – Greta Van Fleet, One Republic, and James Morrison (UK songwriter) come to mind. But I think the absolute highlight for me this year was seeing U2 on their Joshua Tree tour. Whilst I didn’t get the opportunity to shoot them for a media outlet, I was able to take my Fujifilm camera and grab a few shots from the crowd.
CAN YOU DETAIL FOR ME THE FUJIFILM KIT YOU WOULD TYPICALLY TAKE TO A CONCERT? DOES THIS EVER CHANGE? WHY DO YOU ENJOY SHOOTING CONCERTS WITH FUJIFILM X SERIES GEAR?
I usually take two Fujifilm camera bodies – an X-T3 and an X-T2. Lenses can vary depending on the venue size and lighting conditions. For arenas and large venues, I use my 16-55mm f2.8 and 50-140mm F2.8. If the venue is small, I’ll use just the 16-55mm F2.8 lens. If I know the venue has poor stage lighting, I will also pack a faster prime lens like the 35mm F1.4 and 23mm F2. I usually pack a Samyang 8mm F2.8 fisheye lens since it is so compact and it’s fun to use in certain situations. With the Fujifilm X system being so compact and light, I have my lenses mounted on the camera bodies and can carry all my gear in a Think Tank Retrospective 10 messenger bag.
Apart from the compact size, I love Fujifilm’s X-series camera design and ergonomics – it has a stylish retro look and feel, similar to film cameras. I really like having physical dials and buttons to change exposure settings. The Fujifilm colours to me seem on-point, and the autofocus on the X-T3 in low light is incredibly fast and accurate – a valuable feature for live music photography. I also appreciate Fujifilm’s Kaizen (improvements) philosophy. They regularly listen to customer feedback and continually add new features and improvements through firmware updates. I don’t know of any other camera brand that does this to the degree that Fujifilm does.
WHERE CAN PEOPLE SEE YOUR WORK ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
You can find some of my work here: