Imagine yourself 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.
Today I want to introduce you to Shane Henderson – a member of our community and someone who lives that dream and loves photographing concerts and live gigs. As a suitable backing track to this interview, I highly recommend you download some Iron Maiden to your playlist whilst Shane walks us through his photographic 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 live in Melbourne but grew up in a country town called Swan Hill located in the North West of Victoria on the Murray River. I spent most of my 20’s and 30’s living in London, UK. By day I’m a draftsperson in the building services industry and at night I love to hang out in photo pits capturing the energy of the loudest and heaviest bands I can get access to.
As a child, I was always drawn into imagery and the wonder of photographs and have fond memories of my grandfather’s slideshows where he would showcase family & holiday images of times gone by. The sound of those old slide projectors is still very nostalgic to me.
The first hint of things to come coincided with my first ever concert, Motley Crue in 1990. I remember excitedly taking a disposable camera with me and being bitterly disappointed that every single picture came back from the local chemist totally black. Why? No idea! Not long after in tech school art class we made our own pinhole cameras. I realised then that my teenage self who although enjoyed taking pictures, had no patience at all for developing them in the darkroom. An opportunity missed I guess.
Exactly a decade later it’s the year 2000. Myself and a couple of backpackers are witnessing the most awesome sunrise bathing the beautiful Czech city of Prague in golden light. Whilst I was clicking away with my point and shoot film camera my backpacker friend, who was shooting with an SLR, proceeded to tell me all my pictures would be blurred and underexposed. I received a short explanation about shutter speed, aperture and ISO and even though this information went in one ear and out the other, that right there is when the penny dropped. I was hooked. Soon after I purchased my first SLR and shot it in full Auto for about a year until I purchased a Lonely Planet book on travel photography. This enticed me out of my comfort zone and into the scary world of shooting in manual mode.
BTW my backpacker friend was correct, all the images from that Prague morning were rubbish!
How did you first get into concert photography? What draws you to this genre?
My first show was quite a decent gig. A friend had asked me to take some live shots of his band who were supporting a known international artist in a 500 capacity venue. So here I am with a photo pass and less than half an idea of what I was doing. My camera at the time was only capable of ISO 1600, so against usual protocol, I brought a Speedlite with me. I managed to get a couple of decent shots using the Speedlite and everything else was rubbish to average. But the experience was so much fun and I learnt a lot from it. After that, I started casually taking my camera along to any show I could. Mostly pub gigs as there were no restrictions on cameras. After a few years of doing this I had built up a decent gallery of images and in the hope of securing some bigger shows, emailed a few media outlets. Only one replied to me and offered to put me on their mailing list for upcoming shows. Currently, I shoot for two media outlets.
What draws me to this genre? Simply that three of my favourite things are live music, photography and beer.
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 generally only shoot music I like. That being the many sub-genres of Rock/Heavy Metal. The more extreme genres of metal are what I prefer though. Having a connection to the music absolutely impacts the whole experience and shows in the images I take. Being familiar with a bands music and live performance enables me to predict the shot before it happens. That sounds a little like Jedi talk but it’s all about preparation meeting opportunity. If I’m not familiar with the artist then I will jump on social media and find videos (if available) of their performance, or at the very least listen to their latest album.
They say you should never meet your heroes, but I bet you have had a chance to get close to some of yours. Who were some of the best bands you have seen? What has been the highlight event for you?
I have met a few of my heroes over the years but the Lead singer of Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson is the highlight. Bruce, in addition to being a living legend, is also a commercial airline pilot. During Iron Maidens 2006 European tour he offered flights to certain shows for the fans. I took flight AES666 from London to Stockholm – full to the brim of Iron Maiden fans. We all met Bruce, including having photos taken with him in the cockpit. And we all got to hang out on the stage with him before the show. A humble and humorous chap – definitely a hero worth meeting. I have seen so many bands over the years and living in London for so long enabled me to see a lot that don’t tend to venture to Australia. My most recent highlight was seeing Iron Maiden again in London this year. I took along my Fujifilm XT2 with the XF56mmF1.2 prime and managed to get some very pleasing shots from the crowd. Security didn’t deem a smallish mirrorless camera professional so no problem taking it in with me.
Do you ever get the chance to shoot backstage? Do you get to meet band members?
I’ve never had a chance to shoot backstage. Normally we shoot from a photo pit or sometimes from the crowd or sound desk depending on the venue. I was asked to shoot a group shot of a favourite Melbourne band of mine, King Parrot, on stage with the crowd behind them. For Australian bands, I’ve met quite a few of them and have become friends with some. Internationally it’s different as once the show is over they disappear backstage. Whereas the local acts will often come out and mingle with 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?
For most shows, I shoot with the Fujifilm XT2 with the XF23mmF2 prime and I have the XF56mmF1.2 prime on my Fujifilm XE2. If the stage is quite small I will shoot with the XF14mmF2.8, XF23mmF2 and the XF35mmF2. Larger stages I have been hiring an XF16-55mmF2.8. I do use the XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 zoom on occasion, but it’s not really suited to low light work. Ideally, I will purchase another XT body plus the XF16-55mmF2.8 and the XF50-140mmF2.8 zooms in the near future. EVF!! This is why I love to shoot with Fuji cameras at concerts. Seeing the exposure live while shooting sold it to me very quickly. The handling of the cameras is also huge. They are great to use and quick to adjust settings when needed.
Where can people see your work on social media?
Most of my stuff goes onto Instagram
You can also see my work on Flickr. (It needs a good update though)
I’m in the process of having a website sorted out for early in the new year. My aim is to do a blog on every show I shoot, discussing all components of the evening and of course about my Fuji’s.