10 must-have photos from your choir or orchestra concert

Charity Symphony Orchestra in Romsey Abbey, viewed from the rear of the nave

You put a lot of time and trouble into preparing your performances. High-quality photos give you a fitting visual record of the concert and all the hard work that went into it.They’re ideal for your next concert programme and, of course, your website and social media presence.

The pre-concert rehearsal is where a good photographer should start. Shooting without an audience allows a greater variety of camera angles.

1. Zoomed right out. This is a good way to set the scene. Taken from the west end of Romsey Abbey, this shot shows its size.

Charity Symphony Orchestra rehearsing in nave of Romsey Abbey

2. Wide angle close-up. During the rehearsal, your photographer can get up quite close and convey the size of the orchestra. Here, over 100 players were assembled for the epic Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss.

Large orchestra rehearsing in Romsey Abbey

3. The conductor and players. This composition puts the maestro centre-stage while showing surrounding players. Everybody is dressed casually but concentrating hard with the performance approaching.

Orchestra conductor

Now let’s look at shots of the performance itself.

4. Soloist close-ups. As freelancers, they need to build a public profile, not least via social media. Good-quality photos are help them build their following.

5. Orchestral climaxes. Sports photographers look to capture the ‘peak moment of action’. It’s the same idea with music.

Conductor with arms outspread in front of an orchestra

6. Sections of the orchestra. These help to tell the story of the concert. For example, the woodwind:


Here, a shaft of light illuminates a viola player:


A shallow depth of field makes a flautist stand out:

Blonde clarinettist in the Charity Symphony Orchestra

And the brass section glitters under the lights, just as it cuts through the musical textures.


8. Behind the orchestra, if possible. This image conveys the size of the venue and puts the conductor centre-stage, albeit at a distance.


9. Zoomed in on the conductor at the climaxes. Gestures from the podium convey the drama like nothing else.


10. The curtain calls. These show most of the players, so they’re images they’ll want to see and share.

Conductor acknowledging applause at the end of concert

I’m grateful to the Charity Symphony Orchestra and their conductor, Craig Lawton, for permitting me to photograph their concert on behalf of Romsey Abbey.

If you’d like me to capture images like these of your concert, please get in touch.

Freeze frame versus motion blur

Several steam train specials run across the British mainline network some 50 years since steam traction was withdrawn from the network – testament to a very British nostalgia. They make excellent photographic subjects and I captured a couple near my home in Hampshire recently. The first was captured at a shutter speed of 1/1600 second and completely freezes the action:

Steam locomotive speeding through a railway station
Steam at speed

The only give-away that the train isn’t stationary is the smoke billowing behind the loco.

Last week I tried another technique, standing much further back and panning as it rounded a curve:

Steam train
Mayflower at full steam


My shutter speed of 1/60 second blurred the background slightly while keeping the locomotive in sharp focus. This conveyed the sense of motion much better, even though this train was travelling at half the speed of the other one.

Why not give it a try? It would work well on cars, HGVs, cyclists, horses or even runners.


5 tips for photographing a city in under an hour

One of the highlights of a recent holiday to Switzerland was a lightning visit to Zürich. Staying at Chur, some 70 miles to the east, I used my Swiss Pass to take a train to the city’s central station. Arriving just after 9.20pm, to be fair to my wife who wouldn’t really have wanted me to wake the hotel up at 1am, I needed to be on a return train 45 minutes later.

My plan was to get as close as I could to the shore of the lake as possible and then work my way back up the Linmatquai, taking long-exposure shots along the river. A tram going in the right direction came within a couple of minutes of waiting and took me to a suitable stop in about 10 minutes. I abandoned the idea of going right to the lake front, lest it took me too long to get back, and made instead for the Münsterbrücke. As I was setting up my tripod, all the nearby building floodlights were switched on, taking the beauty of the scene to a completely different level:

Grossmünster, Zürich
Grossmünster, Zürich

This is looking further along the quayside towards the Rathaus:

River in historic city at dusk
Rathaus, Zürich

Then I moved adjacent to the Rathaus and got a really nice shot along the other bank, dominated by the Frauenmünster:

Zürich – Fraumünster und Münsterbrücke
Zürich – Fraumünster und Münsterbrücke

Finally, with the clock towards my train home starting to tick very loudly, I snatched one last shot of the Groβmünster:

Zürich – Grossmünster
Zürich – Grossmünster

Walking briskly and then running down the station concourse, I made it to my train home with a minute to spare!

So here are the lessons I draw from my crazy night:

1. Research what you want to photograph beforehand. Sites like 500px.com and Flickr are invaluable planning tools, whilst apps like the Photographer’s Ephemeris will tell you when the sun’s going to rise or set.

2. Work out how to get there and, if time is very limited, what you can cut out of your itinerary.

3. Set up quickly and efficiently. I travelled with a Lowepro Fastpack 350, which enables quick access to my camera body. Beneath a  flap it also carries my light-weight travel tripod. Assembling this involves extending legs that each telescope into five segments, so this was a little time-consuming, but usually it’s a worthwhile trade-off against bulk.

4. Take your personal security seriously. I was alone, carrying expensive gear in a strange city at nightfall, so I stuck to popular areas that should be safer.

5. If you get the opportunity like this, take it! I got some great shots, and since I was travelling on a pre-paid travel pass, the evening didn’t cost me a pfennig extra.

Joe McNally: the location and the light

Earlier this month, I attended a talk, The location and the light, by the renowned documentary photographer Joe McNally at The Photography Show, held at the NEC. He gave a fascinating tour d’horizon of his career and his approach to photography, as well as some of the people he has photographed. Here are the lessons I drew from it.

1. Take the breaks you’re offered and be grateful for them

Having secured the opportunity to work for National Geographic by some judicious networking, he built his reputation as their go-to guy for assignments nobody else would take, flying off around the world at very short notice, shooting the core of a nuclear reactor and accompanying the man who changes the light bulb at the very top of the Empire State Building on his climb.

2. Gear and technique isn’t the last word in photography

Most photos he has taken, he thinks, probably have some small technical flaw in them. What counts at the end of the day are the stories they tell.

3. Be flexible and approach your brief creatively

One National Graphic story covered different aspects of the brain. Thus he attended an operation during which part of somebody’s brain was removed to capture a shot of the living organ; he also spent time with people suffering from mental illness to capture a different dimension. Projects, then, can and should involve multiple genres of photography.

3. Think big

He can spends several days and thousands of dollars setting up a shoot. For example, to photograph the Very Large Telescope in Chile, he hired a big crane and directed proceedings via walkie-talkie from 300ft aloft, capturing the right moment at dawn after a very early start.

4. Know your place

Even though, the shoot itself might be complicated and expensive, his day-rate is still on $650. Photographers, he suggested, are still the ultimate expendable resource for publishers.

5. Get to know your subjects, and keep in touch with them

Nowhere was this more true for him than the survivors of 9/11 who he met and photographed in the aftermath of the tragedy. Being the good shepherd of their images, as he put it, earned the trust of his subjects and created the opportunity to return to their lives ten years later and update their stories.

6. Catch the off-guard moments

The essence of documentary photography – his speciality – is capturing the face behind the mask: real emotion and natural behaviour rather than a pose for the camera.

7. Be humble, polite and interested in the other person

This lesson I took from his demeanour in front of us. A few minutes before he started, he entered the hall quietly and shook hands with everybody in the front row of his audience, whilst sharing pleasantries with them. Afterwards, he waited patiently behind to enable everybody who wanted a quick chat, an autograph – or indeed a shared selfie –to spend a moment with him.

Man signing autographs
Joe McNally signing autographs

To be one of the world’s leading photographers and yet still have time for the little guy: that is the mark of a true professional.

Over to you: which photographers particularly inspire you and what impresses you about their style?