Musicians are a great subject if you’re trying to learn how to photograph people whose focus is on what they’re doing. They’re surrounded by audiences, they’re focused on what they’re doing, they expect to be seen and photographed, though if you’re in a ticketed concert in an indoor venue, they also very likely expect to have control over those photographs. They often project a lot of emotion while performing, and there’s a dynamism to their bodies. There’s usually an interesting visual relationship to their instruments. If you’re in the right place to get audience faces in the mix, you can often capture a really evocative connection between the performer and the emotions of the listeners.
Lighting in a dark interior venue also is something most amateur photographers can’t deal with very easily—musicians are usually in motion, you can’t use flash (and you’re probably far enough away most of the time that it wouldn’t help), and if you’re hand-holding, camera shake is probably going to be a big problem—but a tripod is often very intrusive and annoying to other audience members.
So an outdoor free concert, especially a relatively spontaneous small one like this, is a great opportunity to practice. I remember having an interesting challenge right away: did I want the whole performer? Did I want all of them in frame? Did I want a tight focus on one face?
But there were other challenges too that weren’t just compositional. Did I want some motion blur? Did I want audience members to always be bokeh? More importantly in terms of the audience, how could I negotiate moving around a bit for my shots without being an asshole and interfering with people who were there just to listen? That’s a big thing for me: if I’m trying to shoot in public, I never want to assume that my desire to take pictures is more important than anybody else’s public activities. This is also why I don’t want to go to the place that everybody else is going to take the pictures that everybody else is taking, or to run around with a selfie stick. Chasing the Instagram aesthetic has real material consequences in terms of where the would-be influencers are and what they’re doing and how they act towards others.
So if I’m at something like this, I try to pick a place that’s not crowding out others, and I don’t move around a ton. You have to settle for what you can get once you commit, but that’s fine. I’m never taking pictures for an assignment or for money. It’s for me, so what I can get is fine by definition, always.