This post is mostly for you photogs who might be shooting the current ginormous Black Eyed Peas arena tour (there might be lots of you out there, this doesn’t seem like a particularly tough pass to get – lots of bloggers etc at the show I covered last night). If you just want to see the photos, go to my Flickr set here. This was a really fun show to shoot, which is good because that’s the only reason I went (I like a few older Black Eyed Peas songs but pretty much nothing since Fergie joined the band… also, her solo album is one of the worst things I’ve ever heard in my life). But the visuals were great, the lighting was amazing, and the production through the roof, so as a photographer I had a lot of fun.
First things first: the stage was set up with a huge catwalk extending into the audience from the middle. Photogs were in the pit for three songs for each band (except really only two and a half for Black Eyed Peas; more on that in a sec), and the pit extended all the way around the catwalk and on both sides of the stage. Nice. The two spots where the stage met the catwalk were generally the most popular spots to shoot from, and photogs at the DC show crowded around there. I found, though, that the stage was so high that shooting from there meant lots of up-the-nose shots, so on several occasions I backed off further down the catwalk and shot with a long lens. That way, the upward angle on my shots wasn’t quite as extreme, and I got cleaner shots without monitors and other stage gear in the frame.
BEP’s first three songs involve a half song’s worth of intro in which the band rise up from beneath the stage, highlighted by bright green spotlights. Getting a clean shot of them at this point is tough. During the first song, they pretty much all stay off the catwalk, except at the DC show Taboo wandered out a bit. Here’s the key: immediately at the end of the first song, I highly recommend moving all the way to the end of the catwalk. If you have two bodies, keep your long lens on one of them and put the widest lens you have on your other body. (My main regret from this show is not switching to my 14-24 at this point, instead leaving the 24-70 on my D700.) Fergie and will.i.am are going to walk down all the way to the end of the catwalk at the start of the second song, with apl.de.ap and Taboo following. If you get to the end of the catwalk before the rest of the photogs following the band get there, you’ll have your pick of a prime shooting spot, and you’ll be able to get nice long shots of them coming down towards you (as above) – shots that no photographers that don’t know what’s going on are going to get.
The group will hang out here for most of the second song. Here’s where your ultrawide comes in handy, because they are gonna be close. On my full-frame camera, 24mm really wasn’t wide enough for what I wanted to do – the above shot is a perfect illustration. It’s fine, but it’s lacking the impact that a wider view would have helped impart. Regardless, this is probably where your highlight photos are going to come from. The catwalk is way lower than the main stage, so the angle that you have to work with are much more appealing. Have fun with it, it’s only a couple of minutes.
The band will head back towards the stage at the end of the second song, and disappear for a while. In their place, some bizarrely costumed dancers will take the stage and catwalk. I shot a couple frames of the dancers (see below) and then used this time to take some crowd shots. This would also be a good time to take that ultrawide lens off of your camera and put your normal lens back on – in the time remaining the group isn’t likely to get close enough to you for you to get any more use out of an ultrawide.
As the third song begins, the visual highlight is clearly Fergie, who reappears before the rest of the group does. She’ll stand in the center of the stage, at the top of the steps down to the catwalk, and do a slow, fluid dance with her arms and upper body. White light on her plus some brilliantly colored fog in the background: here’s another chance to get some portfolio-worthy shots, such as the one I used to headline this post. Your best bet is to shoot this from somewhere along the catwalk, not too close to the stage so you’re not looking at too much of an up-angle, with a long lens. The headline shot is right at 200mm (35mm equivalent), and I was positioned alongside the catwalk maybe ten feet from the stage. Here’s a slightly wider image of what’s going on:
You’ve only got a minute or so at this point. The other members of the group will appear, but once will.i.am (I think it was him) shows up zooming around the air on wires, you’ll be escorted out. During the third song I’d recommend hanging out on the side of the catwalk further from the exit, so you have a few extra moments to grab some crowd shots or extra shots of the stage while walking back around to leave.
And that’s that: two and a half songs worth of brilliant lighting and sparkling costumes. The group doesn’t really pose for photographers the way some groups do, but they don’t need to; the visuals are already striking enough. As for the lighting, this is one show you can shoot without the benefit of fast primes or f/2.8 zooms – I was often at ISO 800, f4, 1/500th. It may have been the brightest show I have ever shot, and it helps that the costume design for the first three songs doesn’t involve all that much black clothing.
As for the opening bands: they’re also fun to shoot, and also very well-lit. They don’t use the catwalk at all, though, so you’ll be shooting upwards a lot. Be aware that Ludacris tends to hold his mic very close to his mouth, so you’ll need good timing and some side angles to get anything but mic-eating shots. Also, Ludacris has a bunch of dancers that jump around a lot, and if you can find the right angle, you can get some cool stuff like this:
Two final notes: one, I was pleased to find that there are no restrictive contracts to sign in order to shoot any of the groups. Unfortunately, this seems to be an increasingly rare thing at the big arena/stadium shows. Two, yes – I do a bunch of research before shooting shows that I know are going to be tightly scripted. The Internet (especially YouTube) makes it pretty easy, and it pays off. If you know what’s going to happen next, you have a way better chance of getting the shot you want, not to mention a shot few other photographers will get.