We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
While you were sweating your hairspray out in the front row of a Priests show or jumping, eyes shut, off the St. Stephen’s floorboards, D.C.’s show photographers were watching. These participant-observers translate their music fandom into portrait art that bleeds energy and noise, documenting the on- and offstage personalities of the local music scene and stirring up some serious FOMO for couch-sitters who skipped the show. This Saturday, at Paperhaus’ album release gig at 9:30 Club, four D.C. artists will stage the venue’s first pop-up music photography exhibit. Deconstruct their work with the stories behind their images and pro tips for amateurs who want to look as hard as they listen.
Photographer for: Her whole life
The photo: Damaged City Fest, St. Stephen’s, April 12, 2014. My gear was nearly crushed and I walked out with a concussion; however, it’s the only concert I’ve ever shot where I walked out with 300-plus photos I absolutely loved. This shot was out of good timing and luck. Somehow this kid launched himself that high in the air. I don’t know how he did it, but he made this one of the best crowd shots I’ve ever taken.
Good advice: For amateur photogs who want to take better photos, I would discourage using flash and instead recommend use faster lenses and decent DSLR. There are plenty of venues around D.C. that don’t allow flash, so you’ll be better off getting into the habit of not using it. Staying away from flash gives you the chance to occasionally turn around and look at the crowd without ruining the concert for them by blinding them with the flash.
Photographer for: Eight months
The photo: Net Neutrality benefit, St. Stephen’s, Jan. 17, 2014. One of the most underrated local bands in the scene is the Black Sparks. The group is made up of high school-aged kids who are ripping harder than some bands out there that have been around since before these dudes were born. Sometimes you nail a shot because you’re prepared. Sometimes you fire when you see movement and hope for the best. Sometimes you just get lucky. I’m not good at Venn diagrams, but I was somewhere in between all that for this shot.
Good advice: Some of the larger venues here like Black Cat (both upstairs and downstairs) and DC9 have lighting that is hard to manage, and difficult to correct later—let alone the dark basements at house venues. Flash is your best friend for color control. But definitely do not be the dude in the front the whole show, strobing in someone’s face all night.
Photographer for: 17 years
The photo: In It Together Fest, St. Stephen’s, Aug. 2, 2014. I wanted all my photos from InFest to have a uniform look so I used a slow shutter speed with a flash to create somewhat surreal images full of motion and color. Loud Boyz always put on such high energy shows, it’s hard not to take great photos of them, but I really liked how Alex [Anderson] was framed by the InFest poster in this shot.
Good advice: Try not to ever become the center of attention by using excessive flash (if a flash is even necessary) or by blocking the crowd’s view too much. Concerts are dark, especially at the smaller venues, so invest in a camera that can handle shooting at a high ISO and fast f/2.8 lens so you don’t have to rely on using a flash every time.
Photographer for: Three years
The photo: Priests, Black Cat, Sep. 7, 2014. Priests is one of my favorite bands of all time and I have been documenting their music for over two years now. The challenge about shooting a band more than once is finding new ways to showcase them. Katie Alice Greer, the lead singer, has an uncanny ability to draw all kinds of emotions from the crowd, and this photo shows that in everyone’s faces.
Good advice: If you want to take better pictures at shows, you need to not worry so much about not having the best gear but worry about capturing a unique moment. Don’t ignore the crowd in your photos; including them adds a perfect element to your composition. Be respectful of others who have paid money to see the bands, don’t be afraid to get close to your subject, and be cautious of over-editing.