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Interview: Tracey Welch on shooting gigs with the Nikon Z6

Tracey Welch
With the crowd. Nikon D5, 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/125 sec, f/2.8, ISO800 (Image credit: Tracey Welch)

Northern Irish band Snow Patrol and I started our careers at a similar time and my early pictures of them go back to 2002 at a music festival in Sheffield, when I was still shooting on film. Since then I’ve shot them three or four times, mostly in arena-sized venues but also, once, an intimate acoustic set in the local Forum Café Bar. Wherever they are, and however big the audience, they have a way of connecting with people that’s really direct and down to earth.

I’d been talking to Nikon about my work, and was interested to see how the Nikon Z6 would perform in a live music and broadcast context, where the virtually silent shutter could be a benefit. They suggested I trial the camera for them, and with the Snow Patrol 'Wildness' tour coming to town I thought it’d be a great opportunity. Not only are they a brilliant band, but the light shows are amazing. 

The band were also keen to get some decent shots from the back of the Arena for the last three songs of the main set. So I was basically given freedom to roam. It’s great to shoot the entire gig and venue – even when you’re on a commission for Q magazine you don’t always get that. 

Rock 'n' roll photographer Tracey Welch (Image credit: Tracey Welch)

The timing was tight – the camera arrived a few hours before the gig was due to kick off. The first thing I noticed was the weight – it’s much lighter than my current favorite Nikon D5, and that proved be a real bonus for shooting over the course of a whole night. Fortunately, everything on the camera layout was pretty simple. 

Gary Lightbody. Nikon Z6, 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/200 sec f/4, ISO800 (Image credit: Tracey Welch)

It’s the pit

The arena was packed and there was an incredible atmosphere. As always, I started in the pit where the aim is to get decent shots of band members, including instrument changes. Sadly, drummer Johnny Quinn was so far back I could only just see the top of his head – he would have to wait. 

I worked flexibly to shoot everything on both cameras, adjusting the settings almost on autopilot as the stage lighting shifted. Frontman Gary Lightbody is fairly chatty between songs, which gives you time for close shots. He always has stories of the day to share. This time he’d forgotten his pass before the gig and security wouldn’t give him stage-side access to watch the support. “When I go home, my mates say: ‘what’s it like being famous?’ And I tell them I don’t know!” 

Nathan Connolly. Nikon Z6, 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/160 sec f/3.2, ISO800 (Image credit: Tracey Welch)

I moved up onto the balcony and in the centre there’s a platform that gives you a perfect place to shoot those whole-of-stage pictures. Snow Patrol have two camera ops shooting continuously to deliver a seamless live feed projection on stage. This, combined with the strobes, delivers a really rich image full of light and colour. The aim is always to have as little to do as possible in post-production, and these shots are pretty much straight from the camera, with just a bit of colour tweaking to even out the skin tones.

The lightshow  (Image credit: Tracey Welch)

As the gig moved towards the end of the main set, I pulled back the zoom, and you get the illusion that I’m really in amongst the audience, now completely immersed in that unique bubble experience, where the outside world has ceased to exist.

Of course, I stayed to the end and the crowd-pleasing classic Just Say Yes rung out before I headed home to download the pictures. Comparing the two outputs, I was really happy with the shots from both the D5 and the Z6. If I had to pick a winner in terms of image quality I’d still have to pick the D5, but the weight of the Z6 makes it an attractive option. On top of that, in certain circumstances that all-important silent shutter will definitely give it the edge.

See more of Tracey Welch’s incredible images

Read more:

Nikon Z6 review
Nikon D5 review
Best Nikon cameras

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