Picturing Hanson 2
The first part I contributed to Mmmboptastic a few weeks ago looked back to the London 5 of 5 in 2011, which was my first Hanson concert experience. Featured were some of my favourite images resulting from those five amazing nights. Since then I’ve seen Hanson several times and also managed to upgrade a lot of the camera gear. This part focuses more on the photography itself, the gear and the challenges anyone taking concert photos faces. The photos featured in this part are a selection of my favourites from a couple of concerts in 2013 and 2017, namely the Anthem World Tour, and some recent photos from the first leg of the Middle Of Everywhere Tour.
With live music photography, sometimes you need to ask yourself what you are trying to capture. Trying to answer that, my primary aim is to get a good photograph. It’s not about just getting that good facial expression immortalised, that smile, or the “singing face” that every performer has. It’s part of the goal, but I always hope I’ve managed a few solid photos, period – whether it is a Hanson fan, a music fan in general, or a fan of photography looking at that photo. No, scratch that, I mean anybody that might take a look at that photo.
By that goal I mean that the composition, the lighting, the sharpness, the tones and shadows should hopefully fall in place nicely. The image should also be able to convey a certain mood, that something that is the hardest thing to define. It is a huge goal, and not one I feel I have reached at every concert I’ve taken pictures at, not by a long shot. So you keep trying to enjoy the never-ending quest for great photos.
The image on the left is a black and white edit of the picture at the top of the page. The lighting and tones on this image provided an interesting challenge.
A lot of the camera gear I have with my husband has been upgraded since those first Hanson photos in 2011. We got the Canon EOS 60D DSLR (which we still use) in the autumn of 2013, just in time for the Anthem tour concert in Paris in December. That year brought also the addition of a new lens suited to concert photography, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8. Those with a DSLR or an interest in the slightly more technical side will recognize what that figure means. The smaller the F number on a lens, the bigger the maximum aperture for taking in the ambient light, hence better performance in low light conditions, and also better in creating the bokeh effect, separating the subject from the background.
A good lens with an aperture like that can also give you those lovely, hazy “bokeh balls” in the background, provided that there is some backlighting going on in the background, meaning a light source behind the subject you shoot and in front of your camera. Sounds like a concert stage, doesn’t it? However, Hanson does not usually seem to use as many different kinds of lighting as some other bands do, and of course it is also up to the venue in question and what they offer, so I find that not that many Hanson concert photos of mine have as much of the beautiful bokeh effect as I’d love.
Usually at shows I’ve seen, the lighting comes mainly from above and in front of the band, and in part from the side of the stage, and the pros of that are that that kind of lighting tends to illuminate the band’s faces quite well. The con then is the scarcity of perhaps more unusual, more artistic shots you could achieve with more varied lighting effects.
Back to the 100mm lens and Paris though. That lens is a prime lens with a fixed focal length, so there is no zoom function shooting with it. Prime lenses in general offer better optical quality and a bigger aperture, both great features for relatively low light at indoor venues. But yes, the trade-off is not being able modify the composition by quickly zooming in and out. In many other circumstances, like shooting parties or landscape, you simply do the zooming yourself by walking. A few steps forward or backwards can give you the perfect perspective you were looking for. As we all know, taking a few steps in any direction at a Hanson concert is practically impossible, especially within the first five or ten rows. What you are left with is the spot you occupy, and you play the waiting game. You have your settings ready for the aperture and shutter speed (I prefer to shoot in manual mode, always adjusting those two essential functions for each photo), and you keep a close eye on when one of the band members moves to within your fixed frame composition. In that second, you’d better be fast.
If it looks like a perfect composition, you take several frames, hoping one of those will be the concert image you dream of. If you look at the photos from Paris 2013 here, you can see how tight the composition in each picture is. There’s no zoom, just the closeup composition you get from the third row with a 100mm lens. Using it was a big challenge, but if you are patient enough, you are rewarded with a few images that are better than you could’ve taken with your zoom lens in the same conditions. Considering it was quite a new camera and a lens for me at that point, I am quite happy with the Anthem tour photos from that one tour stop.
Another set of photos featured are from this year’s anniversary tour, the Middle of Everywhere Tour, and specifically from Hamburg, Germany, which was the only concert I attended.
For that show, I used a prime lens again, this time a 50mm lens. Five years earlier in London, we had a 50mm too, but since then there has been an upgrade from the f/1.8 to the Canon EF f/1.4 USM model. The figure 1.4 again means better performance in low light, and overall it has better image quality compared to our old lens. The acronym USM refers to Canon’s ultrasonic motor system, which is designed to provide faster autofocus. With a good lens like that, I was quite content with the results from one show again. With hindsight, I wish I had had the 100mm at hand, too, considering the fact that we stood in the fifth row, not necessarily close enough with this lens. Sometimes the choice is guided by the venue restrictions, too, and if there is no certainty on whether DSLRs are allowed, it is simply easier to sneak in and get away with the smaller size 50mm lens.
The security did not spot the camera at doors, but had we equipped it with the bulky 100mm lens, I’m not sure what they might have said. The good thing with the 50mm however, is that it makes it easier to get two, sometimes even three band members in the same frame, so you are given more options. The lighting I found surprisingly good at that small venue, so I kept most of the pictures in colour, as the tones remained natural enough.
There will be a third part in this photo series as well, with the focus on the Hop Jam festival in Tulsa. Along with photos from the events, I will also discuss the use of a zoom lens there, and post-processing photos in Adobe Lightroom, which I regularly use. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these shots, and if you do, feel free to share (with credit or this source, please!).
Many Thanks to Minna for sharing her love of Hanson pictures with us.
Find Minna’s Hanson pictures on Instagram here.
Please do not use any of Minna’s pictures without credit.