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Tips for Mastering Drum Shots

A Photographer's Guide to Illuminating Metal's Hidden Heroes


Capturing the heartbeat of a metal concert lies in the hands of the often-overlooked drummers. Positioned at the back of the stage and shrouded in smoke or challenging lighting, they become elusive subjects. Yet, drum shots are my absolute favorites - they convey the pulse, the energy, and the driving force behind the metal symphony.


In this guide, I unveil tips to master the art of shooting drummers, acknowledging the challenges and celebrating the rewards.


Nordjevel 2022 (Shot with Canon RP with Sigma lens 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, f/2.8 1/250 200mm ISO 4000)

Conquer the Shadows

Metal concerts are notorious for dim lighting and atmospheric fog, which can shroud drummers in shadows. Embrace the challenge by using spot metering to focus on the drummer's well-lit areas. Experiment with exposure settings to reveal details in the darker regions, ensuring the drummer emerges from the shadows.


Sunny Pro Tip I never ever use continuous shooting settings because I think it has very little to do with capturing an exact moment BUT if lighting is really difficult and I am talking about '3 candles on stage for all the lighting'-situation plus fog apocalpyse, I use it in hope that one of the shots will be in the right exposure. I even waited one time for a technician to open the side door of the stage so a tiny bit of light got onto the stage and took my shot. So patience is definitely another key factor when shooting drummers.


Asagraum 2023 (Shot with Canon R with Sigma lens 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, f/2.8 1/80 166mm ISO 400)

Play with Perspective Drummers may be tucked away at the back, but their presence can be magnified through creative perspectives. Get low for a powerful front-facing shot that emphasizes their command over the drum kit. Alternatively, shoot from behind the kit to capture the drummer's unique viewpoint and dynamic movements.


Sunny Pro Tip I am more of an introvert type of person so going on stage for me is THE very last option perspective. I love shooting drummers out of the photopit which is probably the most challenging one. Try front shoots with holding your camera up so you can clearly capture the face or try shooting from the sides. Every drummer sets up his instrument in a different way so keep an eye on where the cymbals are placed so they are not getting into the way of your head shots. I also love shooting from the complete sides of a stage when possible. Also be patient there, as the drummer might look to the side at one point and exactly into your camera which is a photographic 'bingo'.


Belphegor 2023 (Shot with Canon RP with Sigma lens 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, f/2.8 1/125 114mm ISO 3200)

Embrace Motion for Impact

Drummers are known for their rapid and energetic movements. Embrace this kinetic energy by experimenting with slower shutter speeds to introduce controlled motion blur. This technique not only captures the drummer's dynamism but also adds a sense of artistic flair to your shots.


Sunny Pro Tip I try to get as less blur as possible in my shots. I love portraits that feel like frozen within a moment with a very clear and crisp aesthetic. However, with some drum shots I don't mind a little blur, for example, blurred drum sticks or a bit of a movement blur on the hands. Nevertheless, for me the face always has to be sharp. If a more dynamic approach is your style go for slower shutter speed as it can result in some lovely artistic shots. Just not my cup of tea... or coffee in my case.


Sunken 2023 (Shot with Canon RP with Sigma lens 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, f/2.8 1/125 120mm ISO 1000)

Capture Expressions and Emotions

Beyond the technical aspects, focus on the drummer's expressions and emotions. Drummers often display intense concentration, passion, and moments of exhilaration. Zoom in on their facial expressions, capturing the emotional journey they embark on while driving the rhythm of the performance.


Sunny Pro Tip This is my all-time favorite advice. Facial expressions for me is the key for great musician portraits and with them you can truly capture the essence of a person in the most passionate moment. Some musicians can appear very stiff or with the same expression on their face all night long, which for my photographic approach is very boring. Probably that is why I love drum shots so much. Drummers give you about 50 different expressions on their face in 10 seconds and I love it. They are dynamic, they are moving and they always give you something fresh to capture. Bands with masks or capes have a cool aesthetic too, but I absolutely die for real human facial expressions. Nothing gets me more exited.


Keres 2024 (Shot with Canon RP with Sigma lens 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, f/2.8 1/125 114mm ISO 3200)

Conclusion

Drummers, though often hidden in the background, are the unsung heroes of metal concerts. Mastering the art of capturing their essence requires navigating challenges, but the rewards are unparalleled. Through strategic lighting, creative perspectives, and a keen eye for emotions, you can elevate drum shots from being forgotten to becoming the beating heart of your concert photography portfolio.


Schammasch 2023 (Shot with Canon RP with Sigma lens 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, f/2.8 1/80 200mm ISO 320)

If you are a beginner, check out the basics below this article or read some of my other blog articles that explain camera settings and technical basics more in detail. Have fun trying out my tips and let me know any other areas you'd like to learn more about.


xoxo, Sunny


PS: This article featured pictures of some of my all-time favorite metal drummers Nils Fjellström (Nordjevel), A. Morthaemer (Asagraum), James Stewart (Belphegor), Joachim Hojer Larsen (Sunken), Federico Leone (Keres) and Florian Musil (Schammasch).



 
Photography Basics

Aperture (f-stop)

Shutter Speed

ISO


Understanding how these settings work together allows photographers to achieve the desired exposure and creative effects in their images. Experimenting with different combinations in various shooting scenarios will deepen your understanding of these fundamental camera controls.


 

My name is Sonja Rodríguez, a concert photographer with over a decade of experience, specializing in the intense landscapes of Black and Death Metal.


If you enjoy my content, don't forget to tip me a coffee via Paypal.Me/sunnyshotmedown

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