Crowd shots:

Do you love them or hate them?
Do you take them or stick to the band?

I tend not to take (let alone blog) crowd photos unless they happen organically. More to the point, unless two metal heads are smashed against the barrier growling and throwing me the horns, I spend every moment of the first three songs with both eyes glued to the band.

However, once in a blue moon, a gig comes along where getting up close and personal (but not too personal) with the fans seems both natural and worth while – The National’s performance for New York Magazine’s 40th Anniversary Party at Hammerstein Ballroom was one of these rare shows. Though not every shot is stellar or particularly flattering, I think the following portraits go a ways towards, in my opinion, the ideal purpose of crowd shots – to convey the atmosphere of the show.

For the photographers out there, every shot is result of the Canon 50mm f/1.4 shot wide open on the 1.3x crop of the EOS-1D Mark III. In 35mm terms, the camera and lens combination yield a 65mm field of view – just shy of the 75mm needed for short portrait range. The ISO was 6400 and shutter speeds were too slow to mention. My full coverage of The National will follow shortly.

Fans of The National…

If you’re in one of these shots and you want:
a copy of the shot
your photo taken off-line
to tell me you love the photo
to tell me you hate the photo

leave me a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you either way.

  1. Great post, Chris. I love the rapt expressions in these.

    I’ve recently started trying to turn around once or twice during a show, for just a second – it’s a whole different world with just a 180 turn!

  2. crowd shots are the best, i love taking photos of people as much as the stage, if not more. there’s something about that unfiltered expression i see in the faces (and the whole body movement sometimes) of the people that make the photos so real and unique. i love street photos for the very same reason.

    who’s that guy at the bottom? he just throws his lenses on the stage like that?? my god he must be friggin rich, or get like unlimited lens supply from the sponsor…

  3. yea i agree that it’d be difficult for you guys to do more crowd shots, especially in club/theater settings with the pit/barricade. i think you’re better off focusing on the stage for indoor shows, but for outdoor concerts and festivals you can definitely try working your way whenever time permits?

    mr. ahmed klink needs to get himself some decent photo bags!

  4. I love crowd shots. I try to take good ones every time. It doesn’t happen at each single show, yet it happens most of the time, as long as there is something interesting going on in the audience. I gotta add that I shoot mostly small shows in tiny venues with lots of interaction between the band and the crowd. Taking photos at concerts with a lot of energy (punk, hardcore) is always a save bet for some great photos. If you’re in a big hall with a lame photo pit it is a totally different story though. But this summer I was the official photographer at some festival and had access to the stage all the time so I could shoot right into the audience and I ended up with a bunch of pretty awesome crowd shots.

  5. Pretty interesting :) I was just passing by like I regularly do and I end up reading people discussing my photo bags issues lol. Well I admit that might look quite adventurous, throwing the lenses like that on stage, but that’s actually not that bad. At least nothing bad has happened.. yet. I do admit that I need a proper photo bag though, seeing the way Chris is handling his lenses is pretty convincing on its use. The 70-200L IS USM 2.8 killed the budget and we all know Music photography isn’t that lucrative of a business… sadly but hey it will be my next investment though. I promise. In the mean time, you gotta do what you gotta do :)

    Nice new design Chris, I like the new Banner and signature. The Buy option is very handy too !

    Be well !

  6. You know me, Chris, I loooooves the crowd shots. I think it makes band photography more honest. It’s not just about the people on stage, it’s about the people who come to see them. Sometimes it’s not fun, or possible, or compelling to get the crowd too, but I find that more often than not it’s possible with the right mindset. Then again, since I’m a SMOKER, I end up making friends with other smokers outside venues.

    @Ahmed – try and drop by Crumpler when they’re having a sale.

  7. Hiya

    One of the publications I shoot for requests crowd shots for every show, but more of the variety of social poses than rapt and natural sneaky captures. I like yours – nice one!

  8. crumpler store soho has 40% off sale.

  9. Crowd Shots

  10. Lem

    Ok so I did a search on suggestions for lenses for the client to rent and came across this post. To throw my 2 cents in I have had a growing appreciation for crowd shots. I’ll admit when I started shooting concerts the crowd was secondary. As I shot more I found that the crowd was more entertaining to me.

    I do have a question that I’ll probably find an answer to here, but I’ll keep searching as well. If your client wants wide shots of a major crowd (several tousand)at night. I plan on coordinating with the lighting crew but I’d like reccomendations between a 14 2.8 and a 17-55 2.8. To give you an idea of the event look at the didtance from stage to crowd in the artist section.

  11. Hi Tasha, thanks so much for adding your thoughts. I’d be interested to see the collection of shots you’ve compiled. In my experience, there’s really no replacement for photographing the crowd while they are enjoying the show. I love people mugging for my camera as much as the next photog, but I think there is something sort of magical about capturing expressions that even the artist on stage may seldom see.

  12. Hi John,

    Thanks for the comment as always. I would love to do more crowd shots like this but it’s difficult to get them when my actual assignment is to shoot the band. I’m sure I could get shots by working my way in afterward but I would afraid that I would be missing that special connection between the artists and the fans in the very front row. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    The guy in the last shot is Ahmed Klink and yes, he regularly leaves his lenses on the stage. As far as I know this is primarily because he lacks a decent photo bag and less because he’s cavalier with his stuff.

  13. Hi Marc, you raise a good point. I think festivals hold great opportunities for crowd shots. A lot of the best crowd shots I took this summer (only a few) were from festivals.

    I must admit that I don’t shoot many punk shows here in NYC. You’ve definitely got some really wild shit in your portfolio. Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Hi Ahmed,

    Yeah, the 70-200L is killer on the budget. I think belt systems or small shoulder bags are the way to go. My number one rule is to have all of my gear on my person at all times. In addition to the obvious advantage of having my entire set of tools at my fingertips, carrying everything means nothing disappears unless I lose it myself. I have friends who have lost lenses, laptops and cameras by leaving them unattended in areas they assumed were safe.

  15. Hi Gabi,

    Stop SMOKING. Then maybe the NON-SMOKER fans will actually let you take their picture.

    @Ahmed – I’ll second the vote for buying Crumpler during a sale. I own 9 different Crumpler products. And no, I’m not ashamed.

  16. Hi Kristen, I checked your site and you’ve got some nice work! As I mentioned above, I tend not to take crowd photos just for the sake of taking them. Luckily, none of the publications I shoot for require them.

    I love that you described the shots as rapt and sneaky but honestly I’m not sure how sneaky I was considering I was only three feet away from a lot of these folks with a massive 1DmarkIII in their faces =P

  17. Dude, seriously? I’m there.

  18. yep i went there last night, bought a 7 million dollar home for $80!

  19. Hi Lem,

    If you have a decent budget, I would recommend either the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 or the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8. If you can stop down a little bit and you have on-stage access, both lenses will give you a great wide angle photo even on a cropped sensor body.

    What type of camera will you be using?

  20. Lem

    I’ll be using a Nikon D80 for sure.I might have a D200 to use as well.

  21. Since both of your camera bodies are DX sensor size, I would check out Tokina wide angle lenses. Tokina makes a 11-16mm f/2.8 and a 12-24mm f/4 that are both good quality and fairly inexpensive compared to the Nikon 14-14mm (which is almost $2000).

    Both Tokina lenses will give you an extremely wide field of view, especially if you have stage access and can talk to the lighting designer about what kind of shot you’re looking for.

    Good luck Lem!

  22. I have Tokina 11-16!