Given the wildly varying conditions of a live show performance, one might think simply showing up and shooting what you can within the allotted time is the only preparation needed for a live shoot. The approach I use is in fact, quite the contrary.
I prepare for a live shoot to the same level of detail as any other professional photographer prepares for a job. There is a standard ritual I follow to ensure I have the right gear, that the gear is prepared to function, and that I am prepared both mentally and creatively to optimize the standard 10-15 minute shooting allotment. I accomplish this through a standard equipment ritual, using information that I know, and researching information that I don’t know prior to the assignment. I truly believe this method provides for both a technical and creative edge in the pit.
My pre show ritual ensures that my equipment is in full working order prior to the shoot. This includes blowing out camera bodies, cleaning lenses, charging batteries, re-organizing my camera bag, cleaning out memory cards, and ensuring my camera straps and their various connecting apparatus are reliably functional. I then pre-stage my gear for the shooting conditions checking internal and external camera settings and setting my traditional exposure starting points for a live shoot. Once this is complete, I perform an operational check of all my gear to ensure it is in working order. If problems are found I attempt to resolve them. If repair is needed, I work with what I have that is functional.
The information you know
The next step in shoot preparation is mental one that I think about throughout preparation in terms of equipment selection and throughout the shoot itself. There is a wealth of information your brain has retained for you, that tremendously increases your odds of a successful shoot. This is the information that you know. Armed with it, you already have another component of the assignment that you can control. You know the venue. You know the stage height. You know the pit configuration. You know the proper exposure for the house lights. You know whether you are going to be escorted in and out of the venue or allowed to loiter about between sets. You know the house follow spots and the proper exposure for them. You know your assignment. You know the shots the editor is desiring for the assignment. Aha Moment Goes Here. Now that you know it, prepare your gear, your head, and your technique accordingly for the venue and assignment at hand.
Finding what you don’t know
Finally, given the information you know, we now need to go about getting at the information we don’t know. This includes photo releases, shooting restrictions, the stage and lighting configuration for the tour, an artists natural movement tendencies, stage prop placement, and the timing of lighting schemes and other special effects. The internet makes it trivial in these pursuits. My pre-shoot preparation includes perusing the concert photography group on Flickr for information relating to the tour and shooting experiences. I also will find and watch fan shot Youtube performances from the current tour on youtube. This tells me a number of things in regards to the lighting scheme, artist movement, artist tendencies such as what side of the mike stand they favor or if lead guitarists come stage front for their solos, if there is a grand entrance by the artist, or if special effects fire off at a certain point in the set. Armed with this knowledge I can know approximately where I want to be positioned in the pit at different points in the performance and have an plan of how I will work the allotted time and what shots I wish to ensure I capture.