Christian Stewart is a soft spoken and highly talented concert photographer who works consistently with AC Entertainment to shoot concerts at the Tivoli Theatre and Track 29 while simultaneously maintaining a full time job at Luken Communications. Christian got his start with concert photography through Monica and Adam Kinsey, owners of Track 29 and close friends of his. Eventually he was hired and paid for his work at Track 29 and then hired as the house photographer along with William Johnson through AC Entertainment very soon after. His work has recently been published in world renowned publications such as Rolling Stone Magazine and the Wall Street Journal after attending the Big Ears Festival in 2017.
How do you position yourself at concerts? What if there isn’t a special place for photographers to stand, like at Track 29?
Christian: I’ve been going to see music for a long time, and that’s really what got me into concert photography. I’d say that you have to be cool with the crowd. Try not to act like you’re better than others or like you deserve to be in front of them. Be nice to the people around you. It’s pretty easy for me to get in front because I’m short, but I also don’t stay there for very long. I take a couple of shots and then leave. Show up early for shows if there isn’t a photo pit.
What equipment do you typically bring?
Christian: I bring a Sony mirrorless camera, which are smaller than the DSLR cameras that are regularly used to shoot shows. I also tend to use a lot of prime lenses, which don’t zoom, with a manual focus. For about a year I had an older camera body with used Legacy lenses, which were all old, cheap manual lenses. I really learned how to shoot by using older manual gear. But I recently upgraded to a newer body model and I use a 24-70mm lens, which has a good wide angle, and a 70-200mm lens for shots further away. Those two lenses are my go-to’s. I try not to bring out the fish eye too often because I think it’s a little gimmicky. It’s not for every show.
What do you do when you have bad lighting at a concert?
Christian: I have a glass prism that I use to create effects in the photos that enhance the lighting and crank up the ISO until right before the photo quality turns grainy and noisy. There’s not much else you can do, but it helps to understand how your camera works. I typically shoot manually, which I think is the best way to learn the ins and outs of your camera. But since I’ve graduated out of the smaller clubs, I’ve found that shooting is easier because there is consistently better lighting.
Have you considered pursuing a full time career in concert photography?
Christian: Yes, if I got paid enough to do that. I would love to go on tour for a month with a band, but I’m also married, so I wouldn’t want to be on the road a lot. I love music, I really do. I’m not doing this for the money. I love to be around people that like music. It’s very natural for me to be at a show, which I think has aided my photography. I can anticipate special moments in shows, especially if it’s a band I know. I’ll know how the songs go and somewhat know what they will visually do to enhance that part of the song.
What advice would you give someone who wants to do this professionally?
Christian: Start locally. Ask around to the local bars in town. Talk to the booking agents or managers of a venue and do it, even if it’s for free at the beginning. You have to get out there and hustle. Once people can see what you can do, then they’ll reward you for assisting them. AC Entertainment will ask me to upload photos while the concert is still happening so they can post it to Instagram and Twitter. My camera can link to wifi, so I don’t need a laptop to send photos. All I need to do is make my finals edits, sync to the internet, and send it off. Work your butt off and go to the weekday shows that don’t get as many people because it’s good practice. I would recommend learning about your camera by shooting manually, because it will help you better understand what settings will get you the best quality at each concert.
What makes best the photo in your opinion?
Christian: Framing. I don’t like to see half an instrument, like the neck of a bass, sticking out behind a singer. Make sure your shutter speed is set to the speed you want it to be, because you don’t want to focus in on guitar strings and have a blurry shot just because your shutter is slow. I like clean, sharp images. Make sure your ISO (light sensitivity) isn’t pushed too high because you’ll then get a grainy, noisy look.
For more samples of his work, look at his website here.