Photographing touring musicians is a fun but uniquely challenging endeavor. While each location is different, the show and its layout tend to be rather consistent. The longer a tour, the more difficult it is for a photographer to make images that actually look distinct from one another. When venues grow in size, that can get even more challenging.
In 2019, Bergman — who is also a Canon Explorer of Light — started touring with country music singer Luke Combs. Combs is extremely popular, so much so that the 2023 North American leg of the tour will take place exclusively in stadiums, which Bergman says is very different than working in traditional venues or even arenas for several reasons.
“First, most stadiums are outdoors, so you have to deal with the elements. I worked for Sports Illustrated for many years and always felt that, if the weather was going to be bad, I wanted it to be really bad. It just makes better pictures that way,” he tells PetaPixel.
“If it’s raining lightly, you get wet and have to protect all your gear, but it’s not enough water to show in the photos. Last year we had a tremendous downpour during Luke’s stadium show in Seattle, so I used it to my advantage and created some interesting images.”
Bergman’s Pro Tip: To make rain or snow look epic, slow down your shutter speed. I usually shoot concerts with fast speeds of 1/500 or higher to freeze the action, but that makes the rain look like small dots. By moving down to 1/30 second or slower, you get much longer streaks that really enhance the feel of your image.
As mentioned, stadiums in particular are tricky because of their sheer size. Bergman says he has a few techniques that help him wrangle the situation.
“In addition to the weather, stadiums are a challenge because of the sheer size of the venue. I have the access to photograph the entire show, so I try to mix things up throughout the night. If I stood in one spot in the photo pit all night long, I’d just wind up with too many repetitive photos,” he says.
“Instead, I shoot from the pit, on stage, out in the crowd, and even in the upper deck to make a wide shot during the concert. It’s important to set the scene and show the scale of the event I’m documenting.”
That scale also means it can take a long time to get from one location to another, though.
“It takes twice as long as you think to get all the way up there. Walking up a lot of stairs and navigating long concourses while dodging fans — some of whom are inebriated — can be very time-consuming. I try to plan my time accordingly so that I don’t miss too much of the show trying to get into position,” Bergman explains.
“In addition, because of the distances involved, long lenses are a virtual necessity to properly photograph a stadium concert. I don’t want to miss anything, so I always use at least two bodies with two lenses to switch quickly between wide-angle and telephoto. Inside an arena, I can capture all the action with my Canon RF 24-70 f/2.8 and RF 70-200 f/2.8. But even when I’m up close in the pit at a stadium, it’s too far away to get tight shots of everyone on stage at 200mm. So I use my Canon RF 100-500 and can even make good images from virtually anywhere.”
Bergman’s Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to crank up your ISO to get a faster shutter speed. On today’s cameras like the Canon R3 and R5, there is very little noise at 6,400 or even 12,800. The 100-500 lens has a maximum aperture of 7.1 at 500mm. I need those high ISOs to get shutter speeds above 1/500 and freeze the action. If you make a great image, no one will notice a little bit of noise in the shadows.
Bergman says that despite the challenges, he’s incredibly grateful for the opportunities he has, especially with his latest tour with Luke Combs. For those interested, Bergman actually works with Combs for one of his workshop series that puts a group of photographers with him during an actual show which gives some real-world experience in the genre.
Image credits: David Bergman