What anyone needs to know when photographing concerts is that there are expectations and then there are actualities. The moment I received an email saying I could interview and photograph Say Anything, I had expectations of what it would be like, or should be like. I anticipated the day: writing up questions to ask, charging the batteries, and anxiously awaiting an amazing time.
The day came. I drove myself down to Seyreville, NJ, to the Starland Ballroom with my basic white girl cup of iced Dunkin coffee laying in the cup holder. I found myself at the venue and I had expectations. I left close to midnight with changed insight of the actualities.
First, when you go to interview a band, you expect that everything will run smoothly, chatting like old best friends. Instead, you’ll walk aimlessly around the venue, waiting to call the contact you were given. When I first got to the Starland, it was half an hour earlier than I should’ve been there; the line had already started outside the door. As I waited behind the tour buses, I kept getting in the way of the crew going in and out of the side door with equipment until finally someone came to get me.
I walked into the tour bus expecting to see a large RV with amazing features, like those seen on TV. Turns out, tour buses aren’t like that, though there was a wide space to walk, there’s not too much room to walk without bumping someone else. As Max Bemis walked out, shielding the back rooms with a black curtain, I giggled like a school girl. How embarrassing.
“I’m so sorry in advance,” I said. “I’ve never actually interviewed a band before.”
I probably should not have said that, but Max was super chill about the entire interview. He answered each question seriously and I met the man the album was inspired by: his elementary school friend, Josh Sultan. Fifteen minutes had passed and I had to leave the RV as they set up for their set.
Second, you expect to just know where to go once you enter then venue hall. Instead, you’ll wait at will call waiting for your passes before asking security where you’re meant to stand. I made my way down to the stage, looking around like a lost puppy, until I came to the photo pit in front of the stage. I showed my pass to the security there and he just nodded. Was I in the right place? Do I just stand here and take photos?
“When the bands go on stage, we’ll go into the pit,” a fellow photographer said after he noticed my lost expression. So, I waited there until the lights dimmed and we were allowed to enter.
Third, as a photographer, you know to keep the F-stop low and the ISO high. This is common knowledge; everyone should know this. However, it’s so much harder than simply putting in two different numbers. You have to account for angles to shoot and the correct amount of light needed to go through the camera. You’ll also learn that red lighting is the absolute worst when you’re taking pictures.
Fourth, photographing the concert is a piece of cake where each picture comes out perfectly. When in the pit, you’re only allowed to stay for about three songs. Looking back through the photos, there was thick graininess and light issues with some. A little editing can go a long way, but it takes practice to immediately figure out which settings to use.
Fifth, you never have to stand awkwardly alone for the rest of the concert. Instead, you’re alone the entire time, criticizing your own work as the bands continue to perform, singing their heart out to an anxious crowd. For me, this wasn’t an issue; I anticipated being alone. What I didn’t expect was Kenny, the guitarist of Say Anything, to make his way specifically to me while Max sang his final encore.
“How’d your pictures come out?” he asked me. I was so stunned that his goal of scaling the security gate was simply to ask me about my photos.
“I loved your energy on stage,” I said to him.
“Thanks!” he said. “Yeah, being in a parking lot all day really gives a person pent up energy.”
After a few minutes, a quick picture, and a subtle goodbye, he went back to the gate. As Max came down, the two walked backstage, signaling the end of the concert.
Despite all the flaws of the night, I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience. I met an amazing artist who was nothing but sweet. Even though I went alone, I met some pretty fantastic people who taught me what goes on in the photo pit and how to set my camera to the lights of the stage. Though my camera was having a small bit of a meltdown, my trusty phone had my back and took some amazing shots. Finally, personally meeting a guitarist made my night because he had no other reason for going into the crowd. The realities of photographing concerts outweighs any expectation and I can’t thank Say Anything enough for everything they’ve done for me to create a beautiful memory.
Read Kristyn’s interview with Max Bemis here