Shooting inside the press pit is very exciting but very frustrating if you are not prepared. Common rule inside the press pit is you are only allowed to shoot the first three songs, some will allow you to shoot 30s of the first three songs, others will let you shoot the first 3 songs but you need to position yourself in one spot only (left or right side of the stage, not allowed to shoot in the center) while some events will allow you to shoot the whole time of the show. The worst rule is - no photographers are allowed in the pit, it's either you will be positioned hundred meters off the stage or you will be standing near the soundboard area and you will be guarded by the event staff. And the worst of the worst rule is - in addition to the worst rule, they will escorted you out of the venue after the first 3 songs.
Shooting during the first three songs are quite reasonable.... only if the lights are sufficient to give a proper exposure or the artists are not hiding somewhere at the farthest side of the stage or no intense smoke enveloping the whole stage. But if all of the above are present in the show, shoot rapidly availing your camera's allowable frame per second and pray to have a decent shots. Condition yourself for the post processing marathon.
Allowing you to shoot inside the press pit the whole event doesn't mean that you don't need to shoot outside the pit. It's understandable that shooting inside the pit is very exciting but shooting there the whole 1 to 2 hours is insane, first of all you will annoy the audiences who paid a much more higher prices to be upfront. Secondly, your point of view is very limited, shots will be redundant. Compelling shots cannot be obtained from the press pit alone, dramatic shots can also be obtained from the audience's point of view or from elevated VIP area's vantage point.
Having a photographer's pass doesn't mean you are entitled to come in anytime you want, bearing in mind that you don't need to queue and you can go directly in the stage front in no time. But being early in the venue enables you to scout for different vantage points, getting familiar with spots with a good point of view and you can do test shots on the front acts if there will be.
Here are the gears and setups I usually followed inside the press pit:
1. D810 and 70-200mm f/2.8 on a Black Rapid Sport strap on my right side – to shoot a closer shot of the artists. The strap is so handy, I can free my other hand while shooting wide.
ISO, the lowest possible (400-800) however if I need to compensate more I will boost it up to 2000. Check your camera, assess on what ISO value will be acceptable to your liking.
Aperture, f/2.8 is the setting for most cases, but I preferred to step it down to f/4 if possible. At wider aperture (lower f/number), area in focus will be much smaller, focusing on the face will give you a slight blur on the other parts of the subject, a slight movement of the subject might cause the image to be out of focus. Choosing a smaller aperture (high f/number) will result in more areas in focus.
Shutter Speed, if subject has a minimal movement, I can attach the camera on a monopod to lower the shutter speed of up to 1/125s. In this case I can lower the ISO value or step down my aperture. If handheld, 1/200s will be my minimum, my trusted shutter speed without camera shake. If the subject moves a lot, I will increase my shutter speed and boost my ISO.
2.1 D800 and 16mm fisheye on a Manfrotto Monopod – my favorite setup when taking crowd shot, of course this shot will only be effective on a crowded gig.
Timer, delay time: 2s, number of shots: depends on the user, I normally set it to 2 shots for backup. The first shot might give you an out of focus image but the second one will give you a high probability of a focus image.
Shutter Speed, since I will be raising the camera on a stick, a fast shutter speed is required to avoid camera shake resulting to a blurred image. Minimum of 1/125s is sufficient for me to avoid camera shake. Tip: If you need to lower the shutter speed, use the camera's pop-up flash (minimal power) to freeze the subjects.
Aperture, everybody in the crowd should be in focus, stepping down the aperture between f/3.5 to f/4 will give you a sharp, focus images. However, Nikkor 16mm gives you a good focus even at the widest setting, giving you more room to adjust your ISO or shutter speed. see photo below.
ISO, depends on the setting of Aperture & Shutter Speed. I set it as high as 4000 depending on the right exposure.
Step: Test the right exposure of the subject while handheld. Once you nailed the right exposure, set the timer, focus someone on the frame, then immediately raise the stick and let your camera do the the work.
2.2 D800 and 14-24mm f/2.8 on a Manfrotto Monopod or handheld on my left side – to shoot a closer wide shot of the stage and the artists in an elevated point of view. I read a lot of articles regarding raising your camera on a monopod, a lot of photographers hated and cursed other photographers who practice this. I have some limits of using it, since stage are often higher, there will be a hard way to get a wider elevated shot of the stage without using a stick. But before doing this, I consider showing some respect and ethics to other photographers and safety precaution of anyone near me.
Here are some of the points I gathered through my shooting experience inside the Press Pit:
a. RAISING THE CAMERA. If you are using stick to raise the camera, make sure you don’t obstruct other photographers, I positioned myself at the back of other photographers to avoid myself being a nuisance. I may block some of the crowd but I don’t raise my camera the whole time, just a few times enough to have a sharp wide shot of the stage and the artists.
Make sure that the camera is properly secured on the monopod. Double check that the monopod head is tightened properly with the monopod, there might be some time that it will be loosen without you noticing it, trust me it happened to me. Check also if the plate beneath the camera is tightened and it is properly fastened in the monopod head. As an extra safety measure, I wrapped around the camera strap to the monopod just in case the camera accidentally slipped or loosen on the monopod. Check the tightness all the time, if you can check it every time you raise it – check it.
b. CAMERA HANDHELD. Once I am satisfied with a few wide shots of the stage and the artists, I removed my camera from the monopod and shoot the artist/s handheld on a lower angle, especially if they are performing at the edge of the stage. I like the vantage point, it’s distorted but the effect is appealing, you can capture a wide shot of the artist under the dazzling lights.
c. Shooting first on a stick or handheld will be different from any single show. Just for example, if the artists started his show playing the piano at the middle of the stage, then camera on a monopod is the best setup to start with. So be quick in changing lenses.
Shooting inside the press pit is a little bit intimidating but when you get used to it it will be fun and exciting.