On Assignment: The Weeknd

These photos don’t happen in a vacuum, here’s the story from The Chicago Tribune.

Why Concerts Are Awesome & Horrible To Photograph At The Same Time

If you like living in a make believe world, big stadium concerts can be the end-all and be-all for some, but despite the amazing visuals I can’t say concert photography is what it’s made out to be in most cases.

This the entrance to the sky boxes at Soldier Field. This is where all the photographers wait, and wait.

First let’s look at the real side of the evening for most photographers. This photo above sums up how I spent 90% of my night (80% if you include the opening act) while on assignment to photograph The Weeknd’s After Hours Til Dawn tour. So from when I showed up at the press gate at 7pm, til the time I walked out of the press gate at 9:50pm, all but 15 minutes of the 170 minutes I was in the building was spent not photographing the show.

Can you make out that mysterious figure? Hint; it’s not the Riddler.

Second, I’d like to add this isn’t the venting of a bitter old-newspaper photographer who wants to be treated like I work for LIFE Magazine in the 1950s. I know my role in the business that is the entertainment world, which in case you are looking to get into that business is; you don’t have a role unless you’re working for the artist. Your job is getting an assorted number of usable images for the publication you’re photographing for and making sure you are compensated for those images.

This isn’t a bunch of fans stage side, this is nothing but security, sound & lighting people, as well as event & stadium coordination staff. Oh, and wires. So many wires. The fans are on the other side of a barricade and of course they’re all asking you to move.

Now there are of course what I call “tourist photographers” there, professional sports photography has them too. The people who clearly want the experience of being this close to the action. Yea, more power to you if you managed to talk your way into a photo pass. Don’t step in front of the professionals’ lenses and don’t do anything that gets the media group in trouble. After that, have fun because you’re about to be told to pick a spot and not move, but everyone of those heads you see in this photo, they move and how. Running by you, bumping into you and then there’s the fun part. You get three songs to get all your photos and you’re shoo’d away from the show.

On my way out I snapped a few picks of the people up front along the stage. At first they thought I was lucky, but my 15 minutes was up. Literally.

Time is not on your side

Yeah, I don’t care what Mick Jagger said, the days of concert & rock photographers like Jim Marshall is over. Unless you’re shooting some indie label artist at the Empty Bottle, you pretty much get three songs and the boot. From the first image I made of The Weeknd’s show when the lights went up, to the last frame when I was ushered away, my camera’s EXIF data has it at 14 minutes and 30 seconds start-to-finish. That’s 870 seconds, in which time I took 497 photos.

The Lights are up and The Weeknd has started. You got 14 minutes to make some good photos. GO!

As I said before, if you’re not shooting for the artist, for the most part the people putting on the show aren’t overly concerned with how good your vantage point is. As a matter of fact some long-time concert photographers speculate that stage choreography is set up to limit the distance to the photo pit. Now I can’t tell you if that is true, but I can say The Weeknd, also known by his given name Abel Tesfaye, spent his first two songs from the perch on his dystopian ruined city scape of a stage and then only made it briefly onto a runway style stage that stretched almost 70 yards long. Add to that an extreme amount of smoke machines that made Soldier Field look like a bowl Cheech & Chong were puffing on, and even with a 400mm lens photos of his face were difficult to come by.

Yeah, that’s a lotta smoke.
The Lady in Red be walking around like “Excuse me. Have you seen the Weeknd?”
Don’t worry about all the smoke. Everything is OK.

What an amazing set design!

Hopefully parents you shared this with your kids to persuade them from becoming rock photographers, but they still want to because, you know, my photos are cool. So, at this point I’ll stop talking about how the life isn’t glamorous as it’s made out to be and just show you all some cool images I made.

Also, I have to mention again, here’s the story and some photos I didn’t post here that ran in The Chicago Tribune, the publication I was on assignment for. Also, a great breakdown of the show by Bob Gendron.

What the future looks like last Weeknd. The stage design from The Weeknd’s show at Soldier Field in Chicago in July 24, 2022.
Use the guys head, bottom left, to understand the size of this set.

Concert photography is kind of cheating in my mind

There are very few times while you are on a shoot, that somebody has set up a million dollar light show, big budget set design, and choreography that rivals Bollywood. If you get your settings correct and stay in focus, it’s really hard to get a bad photo. I mean, really hard.

I have to thank God for the lighting assist on this shot of Kaytranada, as he preformed before The Weeknd.
Worshiping a moon full of hot air.
The Weeknd, live at Soldier Field in Chicago, July 24, 2022.
I mean, this man built an abandoned city for me to photograph. That’s so Lost Americana.
There’s a certain point during the show, where I’m not convinced I’m going to get a single photo of The Weeknd’s face, so I just start making art.
I can’t see your face when I’m with you, but I love it!


Since this was one of, if not the first major concert at Soldier Field since the pandemic, I definitely needed to photograph some fans. And in general when at concerts, you need to photograph fans. It can actually end up being some of the better photos you take.

Fans attending The Weeknd’s After Hours Til Dawn Tour at Soldier Field, make their way past the statute of George Hallas, in Chicago on Sunday, July 24, 2022. (Vincent D. Johnson/for the Chicago Tribune).
Fans at The Weeknd: After Hours Til Dawn Tour at Soldier Field, in Chicago on Sunday, July 24, 2022. (Vincent D. Johnson/for the Chicago Tribune).
DJ Kaytranada, left, was one of the opening acts to start The Weeknd’s After Hours Til Dawn Tour at Soldier Field, in Chicago on Sunday, July 24, 2022. (Vincent D. Johnson/for the Chicago Tribune).