5 Strategies To Take Stunning Concert Photos, with Randy Gunter
I had the pleasure of interviewing Randy Gunter, partner and creative director for the Gunter Agency. Randy has worked on the marketing for companies that include Kimberly-Clark, John Deere, OshKosh B’Gosh, Oscar Mayer, Firestone, Rayovac and other well-known brands. As part of his agency work, he directs and gets involved in video and photoshoots.
Randy enjoys working with musicians and has been photographing musicians for a number of years, both as part of the agency business and as personal projects.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was growing up in the 60s, I lived down the street from my grandparents and my Uncle John, who is ten years older than I am. So I used to hang out with him and his friends, and he was always playing in bands, and listening to the Beatles and other bands, so I was immersed into music at a very young age. A few years later my Dad bought a nice camera, I believe it was a Yashika 35mm, and gave me his old Kodak “Hawkeye”, and I started shooting photos. So although my career path was more in graphics, I have been involved in photography for some time.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Over the years I’ve had plenty of opportunities to rub elbows with a lot of interesting people. Our agency helped launch the All Star Smooth Jazz Cruise, so I’ve met pretty much everybody that is somebody in smooth jazz. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Martin Mull on a project for Firestone (fantastic guy to work with.) I’ve worked with some great blues musicians, Eric Sardinas and Billy Branch, on some award-winning beer commercials. I think the most interesting thing is finding out that all of these people are really just regular guys and gals to sit down and hang out with.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the funniest mistakes that has happened in my career really happened quite recently. I was working on creating a video for a phenomenal singer-songwriter named Mark Croft. (Visit MarkCroftMusic.com.) He was performing at The Barn in LaGrange, WI and kind of last minute we decided to do a two camera video shoot. Not having a chance to scout it out in advance, we just showed up before the show. Unfortunately, when we got there we realized we really didn’t have a good place to set our “safe” camera. Whenever we do a live video shoot, we have one camera that doesn’t move that captures the band. If another camera is moving or out of focus or whatever, we can always rely on the safe camera’s shot when editing.
The safe camera is usually positioned straight out in front of the stage, but because of the seating arrangement at the barn, we couldn’t set it there for this show. So we opted for a side stage shot. Mark was playing with a trio. His violin player, Jon Vriesacker, was stage right and playing bass was Dan Kennedy stage left. Mark was in the middle. We set up our camera stage right and when we did a test shot during sound check; everything seemed to look just fine.
However, prior to the actual show, either our camera’s tripod got moved or Jon’s microphone got moved. So now the microphone on stage right was perfectly lined up with Mark’s microphone in the middle of the stage. So for most of the concert, when Mark would step up to sing a song, instead of our shot showing him stepping up to the microphone in the middle, there was the illusion that he was stepping up to the microphone at the side of the stage because they were perfectly aligned. And of course, since that microphone was a lot closer to the camera, it looked huge. So during the show our side camera shot made it look like our lead singer was singing into a gigantic, comic microphone.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I am involved in more than one company, I have the agency business but I am also a partner in a manufacturing and distribution company (McNessStore.com), so we bring a very holistic approach to solving business problems. We deal with manufacturing, warehousing, shipping and a myriad of other issues that a typical ad agency would never deal with. And with things like working with musicians and artists, we like to have fun too.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4slMpbXvmU (this is a video on YouTube about how we work with musicians and music in our agency)
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think that, if you are a smaller company like we are, it is important to include the personal things in your life into your business. So the reason there is so much music in our business dealings really does deal with my personal interest in music. That helps to make things fun where you look forward to the next project.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Right now I am involved in another project called the Fusion Resource Network (FusionResourceNetwork.com). With that I get to work with Andy Davis and Dan Paulson. Andy and I have known each other for going on 20 years. It is an interesting dynamic, he is one part mentor and one part peer. Our “network” works with businesses and includes experts in financials (Andy), business (Dan) and marketing (myself) and brings in others as needed. This is part of a not-for-profit organization, so we don’t get paid for our initial consulting work but instead ask for a donation for the Madison Youth Performing Arts Foundation (MYPAF.)
I have definitely enjoyed Andy’s advice and friendship.
Another person, who I will not name, was the owner of an ad agency out in Omaha, Nebraska who fired me from my Creative Director role there many years ago. He also sabotaged my next job in Des Moines, Iowa. If he hadn’t fired me, I might not have found my way to Madison, Wisconsin, and I am definitely grateful for being here. (And actually I am out in the country south of Madison, in the picturesque rolling hills of New Glarus, Wisconsin.)
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
An exciting project we are working on right now is that we are designing a new multi-tenant building in Belleville, Wisconsin and, along with having a place for our ad agency and a warehouse for the other business, we’re hoping to also have a place for events and musicians to perform. We are also looking at having a sound-proof place for audio recording.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
MYPAF is an organization that helps create fund-raising events for numerous non-for-profit organizations in the Madison and Southern Wisconsin/Northern Illinois regions. It primarily helps with organizations dedicated to young people and the arts.
Can you share “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Take Stunning Photos”. Please an example for each.
Please rephrase to “5 thing people can do to get better concert photos”
I’ve been shooting photos at concerts for over 30 years. Here are some tips to get better photos shooting at live venues.
1) Try to get permission, or even a photo pass, in advance.
For touring musicians, I’ve contacted their management to get permission to bring in my better cameras and shoot at live events. Typically you can find the management online and email them directly. I explain who I am, what I want to do, and why. I typically will send a photo or two as samples, or even better, a link to a website. I rarely get turned down to shoot a show and I’ve even been offered free tickets to shows.
Most touring bands and larger venues will hand out photo passes. This is a pass on a lanyard or a sticker that you put on your clothes. (Much like the back-stage pass.) Without being a jerk, use the pass to get where you want to go. With a photo pass, I’ve walked right up to the stage numerous times. I’m friendly to the people around me and often I do let them know that I’m only going to be there for a few minutes. But for most public venues, having the pass makes you special and people don’t question you when you walk around with your camera.
Of course, with the above, you can’t walk around shooting pics with your phone. Even though they often do a great job, if you are playing the role of a photographer you have to look the part with at least a decent SLR. And dress the part too, no cut-offs or fan t-shirts. I typically find dressing in a black shirt and dark jeans screams “professional photographer, let him through”.
2) You aren’t shooting with a flash.
Shooting with a flash, especially up close to the stage, is a definite no-no. It’s disconcerting to the musicians and others around you. It can interfere with a light show on stage. Just don’t do it. So, first of all, you have to learn how to take photos without the flash. (That means figure out how to turn it off in advance, you don’t want to learn how to do that on the fly.)
Because most concerts are low-light, shooting without a flash causes one of two problems. First is blurred images. If your shutter speed is too slow, everything will be a blur. The blur can be a neat effect once in awhile, but you are going to want some clear photos at the end of the night. So turn off the automatic setting on your camera, go manual and open up your aperture as much as you can,. If you can set your ISO higher, do that, and make sure that your camera speed is at least 1/60 or 1/100 of a second. (The higher the number, 1/200, etc. the better. If someone is moving around a lot on stage, 1/60 might be too slow.)
Of course, in a concert setting, you can’t bring a tripod. But often you can bring a monopod, which is a straight stick that your camera attaches to. This little extra support can make the difference between a blurred image caused by a little shake and a much better photo. I also bring a little bean bag support that can help hold a camera steady.
The other problem that happens in low light situations is that when you use a wide aperture or high ISO in order to get a faster shutter speed, you can get a “noisy” image. Noise is the colorful little flecks you get on the screen or your printouts when viewing the image. (Back when we were shooting on film, we had a similar problem that we referred to as “grain”.)
If you have to choose, choose noise rather than blur. You can fix noise to some degree. You can also make a photo lighter if it is a little dark, but you it is much harder to fix a blurred picture. (See number 5 below about software.)
3) Try going wide.
It’s impressive to others when you can zoom in close to the musician on stage so much so that you can see the sweat on the brow. People will wonder how you got so close. But some of my personal favorite concert photos use a wide angle, especially shooting from down below. So if you have the opportunity to get right next to the stage (see no. 2 above), don’t be afraid to set the camera right on the stage with a wide angle lens and get some shots of the entire stage.
4) There are some fixes after the fact.
So what happens if you get a blurred, noisy, or dark picture (that happens so often when you shoot concert pics)? If you have or know someone with photoretouching software, often images can be saved. We use Photoshop primarily, but there are other software packages out there too.
For blurred photos, there really isn’t a lot you can do if the blur is bad. I pretty much always use the sharpen feature with the lens blur setting a little, even if the photo doesn’t look really blurry. Adding a little sharpness typically helps, but don’t overdo it.
For noise, I use a plug-in from McPhun called Noiseless CK. It does a great job of getting rid of noise. (Not affiliated with the company, just a happy customer.)
Last but not least, adjusting the lightness and contrast is typically a must in concert photography, and adding a little saturation typically helps. Photoshop does not have a quick learning curve, so if you don’t use it all of the time, perhaps you can check out some of the software that automates the processes.
(Note: the original picture of Kaki King was extremely low light and had a lot of noise.)
5) Stop and listen to the music.
Hey, you’re at a concert. Enjoy the show and actually look at the musician with your own eyes and listen to the music. It’s easy to shoot several hundred photos in a few minutes, you don’t need thousands of them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I have been witnessing how the business world is turned upside down for artists. It is hard to make a living being a musician or fine artist. If I could wave a magic wand, I would try to figure out a way to make sure that musicians and artists get paid fairly for what they do. So no more asking for free performances, doesn’t matter if it gives them “exposure”. (The only exception that I can think of is if there is a fund-raising component and all moneys are given to a greater good.)
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!