Photographing a Blues Legend: B.B. King in Concert

By Ferenc Szelepcsenyi, Shutterstock Submitter

Story Behind the Photo

is an ongoing series that highlights a unique story behind a photo or photos taken by a Shutterstock submitter. This month’s featured story comes from Ferenc Szelepcsenyi. Mr. Szelepcsenyi recently participated in Shutterstock’s On The Red Carpet program, which specializes in obtaining media clearance for Shutterstock photographers to access celebrity-themed or newsworthy events – in this case, B.B. King live in Budapest, Hungary. The On The Red Carpet program is a great way for subscribers to source Shutterstock images for editorial usage. You can view Mr. Szelepcsenyi’s gallery here and learn more about the On The Red Carpet program here.

I had first heard of Shutterstock’s On The Red Carpet program a few weeks before B.B. King was to perform near my home. It was a fortunate accident for me ““ I hadn’t really thought about the program until I realized it could get me access to shoot the concert. Only two days after contacting the Red Carpet team, I received confirmation that my media access was granted.

Before shooting a concert, I like to do some online research first: what kind of music will be performed, and how might that influence the photo? How do current photos of this artist or band look?

I will also try to listen to some of the artist or band’s songs to get to know the feeling. For example, the atmosphere of a blues concert is completely different from a rock or a classical show. Depending on the style, different things can happen on stage—the lights are placed elsewhere, and the musicians stand or sit differently. All of this can influence the shoot. It is also important to know how many musicians will be performing, as well as where they are located in relation to each other and to me.

While shooting, I always think about how I can capture the exact atmosphere of a concert so that a viewer can imagine what it was like to be there.

Here are a few of my tips for shooting like a rock star (or a blues star) at your next concert:

– The face of the performer should not be obscured by the microphone

– If he/she is playing an instrument, that should be seen in the photo as well

– Close-ups are great, but there should also be something relevant from that particular concert

– Instead of just “taking pictures,” try to depict feelings and atmosphere

– Never simply shoot out of habit — always try something new

– Try to shoot from multiple perspectives and angles

Lastly, even if I don’t succeed, I can always learn from that as well.

I shoot only RAW format. This facilitates processing for me because it’s easier to set the color balance and the correction of exposure. It’s vital to take sharp, nice and close photos of the performers, especially when they’re giving themselves to the joy of music.

As the day of the B.B. King concert approached, I went to work preparing my equipment. I took test photos and formatted all of my memory cards. I prefer the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L, because I can shoot both close-up as well as distant with less light. I also use a Canon 17-40 f/4L, because if I can get close enough to the stage, I can take really interesting pictures.

When I arrived for the concert, I was amazed to see that thousands of people had gathered, waiting to get into the venue. Everyone seemed happy ““ people were singing and enjoying blues music, and I could feel the anticipation in the air.

I was grouped in with five other photographers and security brought us in early for briefing. The rules were straightforward: no flashes, and only the first four songs.

Time passed slowly. I chatted with the other photographers and we examined each others’ cameras. Soon, we heard shouting, coming from a large crowd. They were letting the people into the show. At that moment, the door opened and the security guard switched on his flashlight and yelled to us: “Hurry, if you stay here, you cannot come in later!”

We ran, following the flashlight down a dark hall, being careful not to bump into each other or fall. While we sprinted for approximately 20 meters, I smiled to myself, thinking this similar to military training.

When we arrived, the orchestra was about to start the first song. The crowd cheered, and we were struggling to take as many good photos as we could.

Working within this limited time and space, we had to follow certain unmentioned rules. As concert photographers, you have to keep an eye on each other while taking photos. If you stand in front of someone, or if you accidentally hit someone, they cannot work. It’s likely that the same thing will happen repeatedly if nobody’s careful and the next thing you know, no one will have a decent picture. In my experience, you must be determined but simultaneously polite. You have no time to apologize. Do your job as best as you can, but let your colleagues do the same.

The fourth song concluded, and the security guard came and led us out. A couple of photographers tried to get in a few last shots, but the other photographers told them to stop. It is very important to be polite – if you are perceived as causing trouble, the venue will be quick to ban you.

As we were leaving, the concert organizers gave us the opportunity to stay for the rest of the show as long as we handed over our cameras to security for the duration of the performance. For me, this was a wonderful opportunity to experience B.B. King live!

By the time I got home, it was already very late but I was not able to go to bed until I edited the pictures. I was happy to see how many good shots I created. The submission and approval process was easy and fast ““ my photos were on Shutterstock’s site the next day.

Below is one of my favorites, as well as the technical info:

– Lens: Canon 70-200 f/2.8 at 140mm focal length

– Shutterspeed: 1/160 sec (I generally use 1/160 and 1/200)

– ISO400 (I shoot between 400 and 800, rarely smaller, never bigger)

– Aperture: f/2.8

– TV mode 1/200

Since the B.B. King concert, I have taken part in a few more events thanks to Shutterstock On The Red Carpet. I feel that this program has been a great help, and I am grateful to Shutterstock for having started it!