band on stage in silhouette

Playing Live

Morten Rygaard

“Live music has returned and it’s wonderful to see,” beams Morten Rygaard, fresh from gigs and festivals in his native Denmark and across Europe. For him, the pleasure of music and photography have long been intertwined. And now, as a professional working across the music industry, he gets to mix the two every day once again. “People are just going totally crazy and wild,” he laughs, “and that’s what I love to see – the emotion that music can bring into the world.”

rammstein on stage at night lit in blue © Morten Rygaard | Sony α1 + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/500s @ f/2.8, ISO 200

That same thrill is easy to see in Morten. “Through music photography, I found a way to communicate and express myself,” he explains, “and I’ve known this was what I wanted to do for a very long time.” The music, it seems, came first, but not by much. A lover of bands from his earliest days, “growing up in Denmark, the radio stations were really boring,” he continues, “but my dad made a big antenna that could tune in radio Luxembourg. So, I’d listen to rock ‘n roll all day, every day, and I loved it!”

singer on stage surrounded by green smoke © Morten Rygaard | Sony α9 II + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II | 1/250s @ f/2.8, ISO 500

While his subjects and their audience have revelled in sound over the years, just like him, Morten celebrates the light as well. But with illumination at gigs varying between ultra-bright and almost non-existent, the right kit and skills are needed to master situations. “One of the most important things is to know everything about your ISO, aperture and shutter speed,” he explains. “You need to freeze the action so a person is sharp no matter the light, particularly as you can’t use flash for live music. The artists don’t like it and it can take away all the atmosphere, too. It’s all about making sure the shutter is fast enough to stop the subject’s motion.”

rammstein playing live on stage with a fire display © Morten Rygaard | Sony α1 + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II | 1/3200s @ f/2.8, ISO 200

“In these situations,” he continues, “very high ISOs are required, so it’s no surprise I chose to arm myself with my trusty Sony cameras – the Alpha 1 and Alpha 9 II. When the light is brighter, I’ll use the Alpha 1 and take advantage of the high-resolution files, but when it’s very low I use the Alpha 9 II where you can shoot at crazy settings like ISO 6400 with no noise at all. Even above that, where you start to get grain, the images still look is fantastic. It reminds me of when I used to push-process film. That would always add texture, but it still looked great.”

Something else he relies on is his Sony cameras’ legendary AF performance. “The Eye Tracking AF is like nothing else I’ve experienced,” Morten says, “and I personally believe it’s the best focus system on the planet. With the focus sticking to the eye, I can easily frame the subject and I know that the final image will be 100% sharp. The Eye AF even works in the kind of high-contrast situations you’d expect at gigs, like strong backlighting or when there’s smoke and haze.”

singer on stage bathed in orange light © Morten Rygaard | Sony α9 II + FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM | 1/200s @ f/2.8, ISO 2000

Relying on his cameras’ high ISO performance and AF accuracy means Morten can get the shots he needs in the bag and move onto more creative compositions.

As every music photographer knows, you rarely have more than a few songs in which to shoot. I know I need sharp, beautiful portraits of band members, as well as shots of the stage, and any interaction with the audience. But, once those are safe, I can get more experimental. That’s where the magic really is.”
singer and guitarist waving at the audience © Morten Rygaard | Sony α9 II + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/200s @ f/2.8, ISO 1250

But to have that opportunity, you have to be fully prepared, Morten says. So, even if he knows the band well, he finds out what to expect by watching videos of recent shows, so he can anticipate them and imagine the shots he wants. To give himself the greatest chance of success, Morten also goes armed with a superb range of lenses. “There’s no time to change lenses at gigs, so I use four bodies fitted with the 12-24mm f/2.8 GM, 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II and 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS. Those cover all the angles from just in front of the stage, and I also have the FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS for shots from the back of a stadium.”

brian may playing a guitar solo on stage © Morten Rygaard | Sony α9 II + FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM | 1/320s @ f/3.2, ISO 500

At the end of it all, being prepared, relying on his hard-earned exposure skills and trusting his Sony gear means Morten can do what he likes to the most – play. “For me, photography is like playing and having fun. That's my mantra. I love the creative challenge and working with the light that’s in front of me. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, but I’m still looking at every shot and wondering how I can better it. That’s the fun part and my Sony Alpha gear is definitely helping me do just that.”

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