Michael Agel: Metallica with the Leica M-System

Founded in 1981 in Los Angeles, Metallica is one of the world’s most successful rock bands. Michael Agel has toured with the band Metallica across Europe and the United States for over ten years. Given the opportunity to move freely, Michael is always at the center of the action and taking images just as the fans see them in concert. Below, Michael explains his photographic approach to shooting rock concerts and capturing magic moments.

Q: What camera and lens did you use to shoot these images of the band Metallica?

A: I’ve worked with different M cameras over the past years, starting with the M6, later the M9 and now the new M. Because the band gave me access on stage, I could go close enough to work with wide angle lenses. My favorite is 35 mm.

Q: What lens did you choose for this project? What technical qualities and characteristics did you find useful?

A: I took the Summilux-M 35 mm f/1.4 ASPH. I love the 35 mm for the reportage character and the f/1.4 for the low light moments. On top of that, it is very good in hard light situations like when the artist has strong backlight.

Q: What about this lens makes it ideal for shooting in a concert environment?

A: The handling is very quick, the possibility to work under extreme lowlight situation and that it works also with hard front light.

Q: How do you manage to capture the energy of the band and the audience in still pictures?

A: I like the music; I like the performing and I like the stage design of this band. I am still a fan and try to catch the magic moments of the show.

Q: Do you find any difficulty in shooting in concert lighting – where the venue is dark with bright spotlights? If so, how do you make the lighting work for you?

A: The good thing is that Metallica works with the best lighting people in the world. So, normally the light is amazing. It is harder to find the right angle so that you don’t see ugly parts of the stage in the background (cables, advertising, stage workers). The contrast is not so much of a problem.

Q: Do you believe Leica lenses have a distinctive look in the way they render images? Is that important to you?

A: Of course. They are the most contrast full lenses in the world and I love how they show the unsharpness in a picture, the bokeh.

Q: This image uses the harsh concert lighting to accentuate the silhouette of James Hetfield. It is an image that conveys almost a moment of quietude compared to the other high energy shots in this series. Can you tell us a bit about what you were trying to convey here, how you achieved this shot and the technical information of the image?

A: James was standing beside the stage with his back to the crowd while Kirk was playing a solo, standing in a spotlight somewhere else. I saw this moment, which happens in nearly totally darkness. So, I made the f- stop 1.4, got on the right position, took the image and left before the spot was also on James. That’s it.

Q: Many of these images seem to be taken right in the middle of the action. What kind of freedom are you given on-stage and to photograph the band?

A: They give me a lot of freedom because they like the images and want use them for merchandise, the calendar, homepage and fan magazine. Of course there are some rules: don’t step together with the artist in the spotlight, watch out for the movie guys (MTV, etc.) and most importantly don’t disturb the artist during his show.

Q: As a follow-up, do you first find that you need to establish trust and a relationship with the musician(s) before shooting them?

A: A few key things: work peacefully, accept a NO, be invisible and bring good results.

Q: How does the Leica M-System capture images of the band as they play their songs while not interfering in their work or performance?

A: The silence of the camera is not really necessary on stage with a heavy rock band. You have to handle your equipment blind, without thinking “What should I do next?” This makes you quick so you can follow the action in front you. What’s important is, don’t look after a picture on your screen and check. You will miss something important. So I prefer simple equipment on stage. One camera, one lens. No flash, no tripod and no assistant.

Thank you for your time, Michael!

- Leica Internet Team

Connect with Michael on his website.