Shooting Idols and Artists in Japan

While many musical artists in Japan are still pretty protective of their public images, there are a few that are open to the idea of letting their fans spread their images all over the Internet. Whether it’s a bunch of struggling independent bands or major label artists, it has become harder to ignore technology and social media trends. On one hand, it’s nice to be able to enjoy a concert without the distracting glow of screens of people around you, the urge to document and share exciting things is pretty difficult to resist. For better or worse (depending on your stance), things are changing.

BiS – Orion Square, Utsunomiya, Tochigi – October 30, 2016

But why do talent agencies/record companies control the public images of their artists so tightly, especially when they’re supposed to be promoting them? Have you have seen how Beyonce became a meme after her performance at the 2013 Super Bowl Halftime show? The chances of someone capturing an unflattering image are pretty high during a performance; try pausing a music video randomly for more evidence.

Chiba Omoka – Puchi PASSPO☆ – HMV&BOOKS TOKYO, Shibuya, Tokyo – February 18, 2017

Groups like Wasuta (わーすた), GEM, Appare Harajuku(天晴れ原宿), Puchi PASSPO☆(ぷちぱすぽ☆)regularly allow smartphone photos/video during events. DSLRs and other higher-spec cameras are commonplace at events for groups like notall, BiS, GANG PARADE, and BiSH. Others may offer special photography/video areas (for a price) at concerts as well. There are probably many more groups/artists with similar policies, so keep an eye out for the words “satsuei kanō”(撮影可能)which means “photography allowed”.

Momoko Gumi Company & Ling Ling – BiSH – Tower Records, Shibuya, Tokyo – March 25, 2017

Compared to professional/press photographers, you will not likely be able to move around too much during the performance. Depending on how crowded it is, you might not be able to move at all so it is advised you go as early as possible in hopes of grabbing a good spot. In the case of an in-store event where entry into the space is determined by numbered tickets, even if the numbers may be random, the longer you wait, the lower your chances become. The closer you can get to the stage, the less heads, hands, and cameras will be in your way. I have seen people posted up near the walls with little step stools and telephoto lenses before but it’s not that common.

Guso Drop – Rock Maykan, Meguro, Tokyo – May 8, 2017

Having shot hundreds (thousands?) of photos using a mobile phone for years, getting a decent camera was a revelation. Yes, it’s easier to use a smartphone but I’ve yet to see one capable of matching up to a high spec DSLR or mirrorless camera, even if you have a clip-on lens. However, some groups/artists will limit photo/video to those taken by mobile devices. After all, “real cameras” are a lot more dangerous/expensive when combined with a group of fans that are just there to dance, sing, and cheer on their favorite performers. Be alert and don’t get in the way of others.

Ririka – Hajirai Rescue JPN – DESEO, Shibuya, Tokyo – February 28, 2017

Whether you’re using a mobile device or a camera, do not under any circumstances use the flash during the event! It’s distracting and usually just makes the picture look terrible. The worst is seeing someone super far away from the stage (like in the balcony or something) snapping away with the built in flash on their camera. I will admit that for the first few months, I had been shooting with the auto-focus assist light switched on. It might have helped in some cases but it’s a really bright and distracting light so that should also be turned off for live photography. The lighting during a performance will change a lot so knowing how to make quick adjustments is key.

Nadeshiko – Yanakoto Sotto Mute – Studio Coast, Shin-Kiba, Tokyo – May 4, 2017

If you’re just starting out, it might not be too necessary to have the fastest lenses or camera with the most megapixels. In my limited experience, being able to anticipate moments can be more important than knowing which ISO, shutter speed, or aperture works best. Don’t feel like you need to capture everything, especially if there is a lot of fast movement. I’m still in the mode where I shoot as much as possible but, the “spray and pray” method usually results in diminishing returns as you pore through the hundreds and hundreds of photos. Auto-focus can be handy but sometimes it will focus on the subject’s hand instead of their face or worse yet, someone standing between you and the stage. A lot of experienced photographers will say that shooting raw and full manual is the way to go but start with what works for you and go from there.

Hirasawa Mei – There There Theres – club asia, Shibuya, Tokyo – March 24, 2017

Now that you’ve taken the photos, you’re only halfway done. Pick out the ones you think are the best and don’t get hung up on trying to salvage ones that might need extensive editing. The longer you take in selecting, the quicker they lose their freshness! Editing the photos takes time as well, especially if you were shooting in raw. Don’t be too discouraged if several hundred shots produce only a handful of decent photos. Sometimes I end up procrastinating on uploading due to the ridiculous amount of photos I took. Just be glad we don’t have to shoot film anymore? Upload them to whatever social media platforms you use, tag the people in the pics and hope that you get some likes, comments, and/or shares/retweets because isn’t that what the game is all about?

Seisei – MIGMA SHELTER – Studio Coast, Shin-Kiba, Tokyo – May 4, 2017

You may have noticed that there was no real specific technical advice about how to photograph live performances. That is because 1) I am still learning and feel like I am in no position to tell anyone anything 2) I feel like most people with an interest in shooting lives may also have no background in photography. Todd Owyoung has a bunch of easy to understand resources on his site for anyone looking to get started. In closing, if you have an interest in photography and are a fan of an artist that allows it, why not bring your camera to their next performance and see what you can get?

You can see more live photos I have taken (and other randomness) on my Instagram account @sneakermania.


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