Concert Photography: Heavy Metal vs. Classical Music

My first foray into photojournalism was concert photography. Because I was a heavy metal musician for many years, I got assigned to a lot of metal concerts. These were some of the toughest assignments because heavy metal bands like to create an ominous, theatrical atmosphere with red, purple, or blue lighting. It took me a while to adjust to such low lighting. Even though it was a challenge, I still enjoyed the process and in the end I became a much better photographer.


Recently, I was hired to photograph the East Valley Youth Symphony. From a photographer’s perspective, this environment is very different from rock n’ roll and heavy metal. At a rock concert you have the photo pit and three songs to get all your photos. However, with the symphony, you have seated guests and the musicians sit close together. Being discreet and quiet is of utmost importance. Most cameras make a noise when the shutter is released. This means you don’t want to shoot when the music is really quiet. Following a dress code is also important. Wearing black or dark colors is advised so that you don’t stick out and distract the audience from the performance.


Being a musician has helped me a lot with concert photography because I know what it’s like to be on either side of the camera. A few years ago I switched from playing guitar in metal bands to playing the cello in the orchestra. It was a completely different world for me. I was used to learning music by ear and improvising. Now, I had to learn how to read sheet music and keep time. It was painful at first, and, for the first two seasons, I didn’t think I would ever fit in with the group because I had so much catching up to do. Heavy metal and hard rock is a lot more casual. It’s wasn’t too uncommon for people to show up late for practice or drink beer while jamming. That absolutely never happens at an orchestra rehearsal. Punctuality is required and everyone is expected to practice on their own time. I could continue going on about the differences, but the point here is that even when it comes to music, there are differences that the musician and the photographer have to keep in mind.


As a photographer and musician, I had to adjust to being in a vastly different settings and really push myself as an artist. I think it’s great for any creative person to explore different styles and genres. Even if it doesn’t work out, I think there is something valuable to learn when you step out of your comfort zone. Unfortunately, I don’t photograph as many metal shows as I used to, but I’m incredibly grateful to have had those opportunities and develop my skills as a concert photographer.



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