Sabaton: Why filming concerts with a smart phone can be a good thing

In Concerts

Filming with smart phones

A lot of people despise people who spend a concert filming with their smart phones. I love those people. I genuinely do. As a concert photographer, shooting a big(ish) act means you only get to shoot the first three songs. Say what you like about that rule, but that’s just how it is and there’s (almost) no way getting around it. So going into the photo pit, you have to prepare really well, if you want to get the best shots. When I prepare for a gig, there are two things I do each time: I check out what the set list has looked like the last few gigs at, and then I watch over and over again shitty smart phone videos of the first three songs to see what happens and what the lights looks like.

Researching the power metal band Sabaton, I saw that their set list hadn’t changed (at least for the three first songs) for quite some time, so finding relevant videos turned out to be quite easy. I’m not too fond of power metal, but when the gig and lights are good, genre doesn’t really matter.

Three things

After looking at several videos from previous concerts, I noticed a few things that tended to happen at more or less the same time in every single concert, and four of those moments, I knew I wanted to catch. As you can see at 2:28 in the video below, vocalist Joakim Brodén often throws his mic in the air. That was the number one shot I wanted. At 4:18, the whole band comes together for the solo in the song, and I also noticed that Brodén has a sort of trademark pose that he does over, and over again (like at 4:45), and I wanted to get that with the tank-drum-kit in the background. The one thing I didn’t get, was the jump at 2:14, but I don’t think he did it during those first three songs here.

All of the shots I wanted to get, were wide-angle shots type of shots, so I was ready with my 16-35mm. Usually at this particular venue, I’ll start out with the 24-70mm, but when most of the shots I wanted would be really wide-angle shots – and with the band playing so close to the edge of the stage, that would have been the wrong lens to start out with. Having to change lenses during that first song, would mean missing a lot of important moments. Of course, I could have worn two cameras, but I don’t like to be weighed down that much.

ISO confusion

Even after all the research I had done, the lights did confuse me quite a bit. Not that they were bad. On the contrary, they were great. In fact, they were so good that I kept overexposing, bumping up the ISO out of habit. At the venue USF Verftet, I’m used to staying at least somewhere around ISO 2000, often having to push beyond that as well. When I saw that I was overexposing, I, again, out of habit, went for a faster shutter speed and ended up shooting half the concert at ISO 1000 and 1/1000 sec shutter speed for no damned reason. After coming to my senses, I came down to about ISO 200 (!), while still having a decent shutter speed.

SabatonThe tradeoff of going in really well prepared is, that you lose out on spontaneity and get really focused on what you’ve already planned to shoot. Like, I did not expect that Brodén would look straight into the camera during his trademark pose, picking his nose… and then eating it. I think the only reason I got those shots, were because of the light being so good that I didn’t have to put too much effort into getting the exposures bright enough. Otherwise, I’m sure I would have been thinking about getting the tank in the right place of the frame – with the right light – rather than what he was actually doing.


Editing the photos, since the lights were so terrific, was almost unnecessary. As always I pushed the contrast a bit, pulled the blacks & highlights down and lifted the midtones and shadows a tad; but really, I barely touched them.

For the full gallery from this concert, click here.


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