Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Concert Photography

ISO 3200     f/2.8     1/1250     @130mm

Have I ever told you how much I love photographing concerts? I love live music (any kind) and I love the challenge of concert photography.  Here are some things to consider if you want to try your hand at it. This is what works for me. Your mileage may vary.  (All photos in this post were taken by me at a Jack Ingram concert on Memorial Day weekend 2011 in Kerrville, Texas.)

This is one instance where gear actually does matter and a point-and-shoot probably won't cut it.
You'll need:
-DSLR capable of high ISO
-Your longest, fastest lens in a large venue (I use a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS)
-Your fastest prime lens in a small venue (50 or 85mm f/1.8 or better)
-Forget the flash - it's generally a big no-no

ISO 3200     f/2.8     1/1600     @120mm

-High ISO (800+)
-Aperture Priority or Manual Mode
-Widest possible aperture (2.8 or better)
-Fastest possible shutter speed (exception: if you want to intentionally capture motion blur)
-VR or IS lens (if you've got it, use it)
-Continuous shooting mode
-Spot meter (on the performer's face to make sure the face is always properly exposed)
-Center AF point (usually gives the best/sharpest focus because it's the strongest focus point). You may need to switch to MF if your lens has trouble in AF mode due to low light.
-Shoot RAW (vs. JPG) which allows you to fix exposure & WB problems in the digital darkroom

ISO 3200     f/2.8     1/1000     @200mm

-Scout the venue while the warmup act is playing but be sure to stake out your position (as close as possible) before the headliner hits the stage
-Position yourself to one side of the stage or the other. If you're front & center the mic will be between you and the performer.
-Position yourself to avoid/minimize the normal stage clutter (amps, cables, mic stands, scaffolding, speakers, etc. in the foreground and background)

I've never had a problem getting close to the stage when carrying my professional DSLR & long lens. I guess the people in the audience think I'm "official" so they almost always step aside and let me through. The pros don't see me as a threat - just some old lady with a camera. So, either way it works to my advantage!  I suppose it helps that I'm polite & try not to annoy anyone. I never use flash. I turn off the 'review' on the back of the camera after the first couple of shots so it doesn't distract or annoy the people around me. I travel light (no bag or extra gear)… just me & my camera.

ISO 3200     f/2.8     1/400     @70mm

Generally, I concentrate on the first song because there's usually something 'special' about it (smoke, props, light show, jumping, etc.). Next, I pay particular attention during the 'slow' or acoustic numbers… good for closeups. Singers don't tend to contort their face quite as much during those type of songs so it's easier to capture a 'normal' facial expression. The energy level increases during the last few songs so that's a good time to get some interesting shots.

ISO 3200     f/2.8     1/1000     @70mm

Try to capture emotion. Wait for performers to gesticulate or capture them belting out that high note. Watch for performers (particularly singers) to step away from the mic or hold it away from their mouth. (Microphones make ugly shadows on a singer's face - which I try to avoid.) 

Be aware of the light patterns. The stage lights can be your best friend or worst enemy. Work WITH them. Look for interesting backlight, rim light, silhouettes, etc. At least once during the show they'll probably turn up the house lights. That's your cue to get a crowd shot. Don't forget the interesting detail shots.

The basics of good photography still apply so concentrate on exposure & composition. 

ISO 3200     f/2.8     1/1600     @200mm

Most of my concert shots actually require less work in the digital darkroom than my portraits or landscapes. Exposure & white balance tweaks, selective sharpening, noise reduction, creative cropping & sometimes converting to black & white… that's about it. 

ISO 3200      f/2.8     1/640     @165mm

Disclaimer: If you're going to a Lady Gaga (or similar) concert in a huge venue forget about taking photos. Just sit back and enjoy the show. You probably won't be able to smuggle in your DSLR much less get anywhere close to the stage. One thing I love about living in Central Texas is its great music scene. We have the opportunity to see lots of great performers in smaller venues. Musicians love Austin and the beautiful Texas Hill Country surrounding it! 

 ISO 3200     f/2.8     1/250     @70mm