Chip Kalback on Photographing Concerts

Photographer Chip Kalback ( is an independent photographer based out of Denver, Colorado who shoots commercial and editorial photography with a focus on lifestyle sports and music.  He is represented by Wonderful Machine.  We caught up with him in his busy schedule to ask specifically about how he gets his fantastic concert and music shots.

Pictureline:  First, how does a photographer like you suddenly get access to all these great concerts with apparently up close and personal shots?  What's been your path through photography?

Chip Kalback:  "Years of shooting concerts, making connections in the music industry, and slowly building the music side of my portfolio. Although, the majority of what I’m shooting now is commercial and editorial lifestyle sports photography, I actually got my start by photographing concerts.

"I’ve played drums since the 4th grade, and in high school I was heavily involved in our school music program, so I would go to concerts with friends as often as possible to see my favorite drummers play live. During the fall of my first year at college in 2001, a friend of mine who had started a website about the music scene in Cleveland emailed me asking if I wanted to try photographing one of my favorite bands, AFI, at their upcoming concert. I had never photographed a concert, nor did I even own my own camera at that time, so I went to the university library and rented a Sony Mavica digital camera, which had 3 megapixels and saved images to a 3.5" floppy disk. The images I shot were horrible, but I was hooked.

"As for access and getting up close to the musicians I’ve photographed, it’s usually just a mix of timing, anticipating things before they happen, and luck. Sometimes I’ll get a unique opportunity to shoot in close quarters, like when the manager of Sublime emailed me to ask if I would want to shoot the band in their dressing room prior to their concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Typically if you’re shooting a larger more well known group, you’ll get escorted in as the band is hitting the stage, you get 2-3 songs at most to shoot everything you wanted to shoot, and then you’re escorted back out of the venue. Aside from yourself, you’ll have about 8-10 other photographers, as well as numerous 300-lb. security guards, all lumped into what is effectively a moat between the stage and the crowd. This space will be about the width of the stage and maybe 10 feet deep at best, so you’re always in someone's way. If you figure each song will last for about 3 to 4 minutes per song, and you’re only allowed to shoot for 2 to 3 songs at most, then you have anywhere from about 6 to 12 minutes to get all of your work done. In that time, not only are you trying to be creative and get something unique, but you’re ducking around other photographers so you don’t ruin their shots, trying not to get hit in the back of the head by crowd surfers, weaving your way through security guards in the moat, and doing your best to anticipate where the band members are headed as they make their way around the stage.

Pictureline:  Tell about how you position yourself for these great, storytelling-type images. How do you anticipate great shots in the concert settings?

Chip Kalback: "Being 6’ 2" definitely has its advantages! I also keep numerous camera bodies on me while I’m shooting. Typically one body will have my Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L on it, and the other will have my Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS. Pretty much anywhere the musicians go on stage, I’ll be ready with the appropriate lens to get the shot I’m trying to get. I also take note of the lighting and the stage setup too. You can assume if there’s a catwalk on the stage that the musicians will be using it to their full potential, so you just start to predict where people will be go and hope for the best. If helps to be familiar with the band’s music as well. For example, if you know the song and you know there’s a drum solo coming up, position yourself ahead of time so you have the best angle possible where you can see that drummer’s face as he’s playing his solo under the spot light.

Pictureline:  Talk about your lifestyle work. Does that mesh with your personal life and how did you develop a style in this genre?  

Chip Kalback: "I would say my lifestyle work is just an extension of my own interests. I’ve always been interested in lifestyle sports, like skiing, snowboarding, etc.; sports that you do on your own terms with your own creativity. As for style, I just try to capture the feeling of what was happening at the time I took the photo. One of my favorite things when looking at the work of other photographers is when you can feel how things felt when they shot the image.

Pictureline:  Tell us specifically about the image with the guitarist off center right flooded with light, what the background for the image?  Setup, anticipation, equipment, settings, post?

Chip Kalback: "That’s an image I shot of Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters last fall at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Just as they were wrapping up the third song and we were about to be escorted out, Dave made his way out to the end of the catwalk on the stage. Most of the photographers were already packing up their cameras and I was hanging behind trying to see if there were any last-minute opportunities. He stood right in front of the spot light, and I just shot away. For that image I was using my Canon 5D Mk II and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. It was shot at 1/100 at f/5.6, ISO 3200. The 5D Mk II was especially attractive to me when it first came out because of the ISO capabilities it had. I just picked up the 5D Mk III so I’m really excited to see how far I can push it with some upcoming concerts I’m shooting. Adjustments were made in Lightroom, and I focused on making Dave pop against that spot light while still trying to retain some detail in the crowd and backdrop for context.

Pictureline: Where do you want all this to go? Do you see defining your photography anymore into a single genre or wish to expand? 

Chip Kalback: "Ideally I’d like to start combining my concert shooting with my lifestyle work and work with various artists and publications on promotional and editorial material. Music is as much a lifestyle as the action sports work that I shoot, and I’d like to start documenting that lifestyle more if given the opportunity."

Stay connected to Chip:  Website | Blog | Facebook Twitter | Wonderful Machine



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August 2012CelebrityChip kalbackConcertDenverMusicPhotographerPhotojournalismPicturelineWonderful machine