How did you get involved in photography?
When I finished high school, I couldn’t find myself in the career I had chosen: Computer Engineering. A friend of mine suggested to start a basic photography course, I took the risk of leaving school and went for it. That’s where I discovered a new creative world and I started studying photography as a career.
Why do you choose to photograph live bands?
Taking live photos gives you freedom to do whatever you like. Things happen and you have to be there to capture it all in a short time frame. You have to deal with many factors like darkness, smoke, movement, noise, people. The key moments happen only once and you have to be ready for that, being in constant movement and not just staying in one spot.
Many of your photos are close to the band members. How do you interact with them in order to create these intimate shots?
It’s about creating a bond with these bands. There can be up to 200 people coming in and out of a backstage dressing room. If you’re just going to take photos and leave, the musician will never remember you. It’s important to have presence, engage in a conversation with them, hang out, create that trust. Just by going to 3-4 shows of theirs in a row, they’ll start remembering you and therefore trusting you more, but I also build that trust by talking about other things. They start to relax. It’s not just a job. It’s a relationship too. With time, they become more comfortable with me and so they’re more themselves in front of my camera. I can tell them to jump, or look at me, play around. They feel more loose and trust me to show their real side.
What do you look for in this type of image?
I look to express a sensation, an expression. I don’t want to show just the artist, but also the atmosphere that they create, be it during the show or on a closer level backstage. I like to create cinematographic looks by playing with colors and compositions, using the stage lights to capture a mood.
Does that intention change depending on the personality you are photographing?
There are many diﬀerent personalities in the music world. Some are shy, other can be very extravagant. I try to show this in my photos both with artists who I know for a long time or just the ones I met one night.
Good timing and the right positioning is decisive to capture a powerful image. How do you find your place around the stage?
It’s key to be in constant motion: behind the stage, in front, sometimes with the crowd. One should never be in the same positions always and avoir the same point of view. It’s important to create variety. When I know a band and their shows, I already know at what moment there will be more energy or the crowd gets more wild, so I know where to position myself. At the end of the show there’s generally a lot of energy so I head to the back of the venue to capture the global large shots of people cheering and applauding. When I know they’ll crowd surf I position myself backstage on the sides of the stage to capture the moment and interaction between the audience and the musician.
What normally happens in big shows is that there are a lot of credited photographers. They all want to capture the first moments of the shows, maybe because they’re big fans of the band, and stick as closely as possible to the stage. It’s chaotic, so I just head to the back, chill out and wait my turn. If the venue is really big and the stage is far from the audience, I generally put more emphasis in the backstage, sticking with the band, asking the guys to pose in hallways and stuff like that.
When shooting a live concert, what is your typical equipment setup?
I normally use a Canon 6D and my favorite lens, which is a 50mm 1.4. If I’m in a festival where the stages are huge, I’ll use a 200mm. The 50mm is more for backstage moments. Sometimes I also use my analogical compact camera for instant moments. It’s more spontaneous and the images always look good. Musicians love analogical cameras and change up the routine of the digital photos. I think having a simple set up is the best though, if not you’ll just put yourself in a complicated situation. Moving around in a tight space with so many people can be chaotic if you have too many lenses or heavy equipment.
How do you attain your final images through post-production?
I shoot in RAW and edit photo per photo in Photoshop. I have a few filters that I use on the software. I like adding grain to the image to create a more analog look, but that also depends on the artist. If it’s a musician that has a more sleek look, I don’t add too much grain. I like to reproduce an image that goes with that artist’s universe. I prefer shooting in color. I play with complementary colors and maintain the same color range in the whole series. If I see that there’s red and blues in the photo, I like to accentuate them even more. I like creating an atmosphere that’s more cinematographic.
Looking back at your first shows, how have you evolved in your practice?
I think that the biggest change I made was that I used to take 1000-1500 photos per show. I would go crazy editing them and after only 200 of 1500 would work. Now I I just take about 300 photos per show. They’re much less shots, but they’re all shots of key moments. It’s nice because my eye started noticing which moment was important and which one wasn’t. Depending on the light of the stage, I now know what works and what will be too contrasted, dark, or over-exposed.
What advice would you give to photographers who want to shoot live concert photography?
Live music photographers that are just starting tend to aim to photograph the best bands at the moment. That’s not the best thing to do. I would photograph small bands, bands that no photographer would go shoot. Those are the situations where you start to understand how things work. You connect quicker with the musicians, let yourself be free to move around, try things out. I think it’s important to start from the bottom, connect with each moment in a humane way and grow with the artists.
Interview by Moira Ball
More information on Leandro Frutos:
On Instagram here.