It’s funny that even with 14 years of photography experience my confidence can still ebb and flow. A couple of weeks ago I photographed two gigs in quick succession, and I think the experience really demonstrates how my confidence can fluctuate.
Have you ever heard of Charlie and Jake? They’re a Bristol-based duo who make loopy, groovy, jazzy tunes and back in mid-September I had the pleasure of photographing them twice in two days.
The first gig was a lunchtime concert in a church; there were lovely big windows and it was a bright day, so the church was filled with light. It was an ideal space to work in, and being in that kind of environment made me feel very capable; I could move around easily, I was able to really focus on image composition, and I was able to enjoy the music. More than all that, I felt completely and utterly confident in the fact that the photos I was getting were fantastic.
So it makes for a very stark contrast with the following evening, where I felt much more under pressure. This time I was taking photos of Charlie and Jake’s single launch, and this time they were in the cafe at the back of a shop. It really was a gorgeous space for a gig; there were fairy lights and plants everywhere, all sorts of interesting décor on the walls, and the audience members were sitting on armchairs, at tables or even cross-legged on the floor. It was a relaxed and intimate atmosphere to be in.
But taking photographs in that kind of space? Well, that was another matter entirely.
The lighting was low in that warm, intimate kind of way, but unfortunately it was so low that my camera was struggling to focus. The sit-anywhere vibe made moving around extremely difficult – especially moving around subtly and making sure I wasn’t obstructing anyone’s sightline – and I found that a few of the angles I would have liked to take photos from were impossible to get to. While the décor was interesting, there was so much of it around that I felt like my photos looked cluttered. One particular picture of a stag was frustratingly impossible to avoid; it was almost as though he really, really wanted to be part of the band! The conditions were so difficult that I pushed my camera settings right to their limit, and yet it still felt like the photos I was taking weren’t good enough.
At the time, it felt like such a blow to my confidence. I’d arrived on a high, having taken some gorgeous photos of the exact same band only one day previously. That had felt so easy! But now I’d been plunged into an environment where I had to work extremely hard, yet despite my hard work it still felt like my photos were disappointing, and like I wouldn’t have anything decent to share at the end of it all.
That wasn’t the case, of course. Once I got home and put all the photos on my computer they didn’t turn out all that bad. I’ve got three or four that I really like, and the musicians liked one of them so much that they’ve requested to use it as their cover photo on social media and Spotify. I guess it just goes to show how skewed my perspective can be when I feel stressed out, especially when it’s that “oh no the light is so dark in here what will I do?” kind of stress.
I think it’s really important for me to remember this gig when I’m lacking self-confidence in the future. Not only is it an example of things turning out better than I thought they would, it’s also a mark of how much I’ve grown as a photographer in the past year. I remember being in a similar position on my very first occasion trying gig photography; with no previous experience, when the lighting got difficult I immediately went into panic mode and started taking as many photos as possible in the hope that at least one of them would turn out okay. This time I kept my cool; I took my time examining the light, thinking about what I could do with it, and figuring out how to work with the environment.
Hopefully thinking back on this will remind me that regardless of what I think of my photographs, I can still be confident in my own process and ability.