Saturday, 19 March 2011

The Beginners Guide To: Concert Photography (Part 1 of 3)

Decadenze @ The Duke Of Wellington Pub, Lincoln 2009
(c) Imago Mortis Photography

Concert photography isn’t the exclusive realm of professionals with extensive magazine contacts. Anyone, with any level of DSLR can get fantastic shots of a band whether it is at an outdoor festival, your local pub, or an arena. We show you how to get stunning results and how to overcome low-light and movement issues.

Photographing the local pub circuit

Everyone who is shooting for magazines, and websites started in the same place. The local pub. The local live circuit is an invaluable place to gain experience and network with bands. Just because a band is playing small venues doesn’t mean they aren’t showmen, and never underestimate the quality of light at pubs that advertise regular gigs. The big advantage to starting out taking photos down your local is the relaxed atmosphere. Exchanging your photos with bands for a credit and link back on their website will mean more invitations to gigs and even being invited to do promo photos. And by the end of this Beginner’s Guide you’ll know all the tricks to get great quality photos that will standout and open doors for you.

There are no set rules to concert photography, so experimentation is the name of the game. For instance, some people like to get a crisp shot, others like over saturated light and some prefer motion blur and light trails. Atmosphere is king as it is about documentation rather than promotional portraiture. This means that you are free to use whatever tools are at your disposal: entry level cameras such as the Sony Alpha 200 with the standard lens can produce the same level of quality as the top-spec counterpart as long as you know your way around the settings.

A good sized memory card (2gb and over) is sufficient for a four band line up, and with an average set lasting about 30-40 minutes there is plenty of opportunity to take a few test shots, adjust the ISO and aperture settings, and see what works for the band. What is a must though, is to set your camera to continuous shooting. This will allow the camera to work at it’s maximum speed to increase the chance of getting that perfect shot.
Exposure times will add the atmosphere to a shot. A shorter exposure will mean crisper foreground colours and a darker background. This works particularly well in intimate gigs to ‘hide’ the size of the venue. A longer exposure will allow more light into the camera at the expense of sharpness leading to movement blur and light streaks. These can be used to great effect but it reduces your chances of getting a clear shot. A wider aperture setting with a shallower depth of field however can compensate for this as it will blur the background and make batter use of the available light, thus increasing your shutter speed.

The flash, whether it is your camera’s internal flash or a flashgun with a diffuser fitted will not be needed in any concert situations. The flash will only serve to over illuminate the subjects, eliminating the natural ambiance and bleach the skin tones. The internal flash will also decrease the shutter speed and over expose your shots. There are other reasons for not using the flash but we’ll come to those in the next section.

Eibon La Furies @ The Duke Of Wellington Pub, Lincoln 2009
(c) Imago Mortis Photography

Settings for your camera

1) MODE You can set your DSLR camera to ‘Action’ mode - this will automatically set the camera up to capture fast movements. This on it’s own may be sufficient for acoustic gigs or small gigs in pub beer gardens or local playing fields, however some small adjustments may also have to be made to get the correct exposure. But for situations where natural light is plentiful, the beginner can get away with shooting in this mode with no fiddling. Otherwise set you camera to ‘Full Manual’ and adjust the spot metering, this will take the meter reading of a smaller area when shooting complex lighting situations.

2) EXPOSURE Set your exposure as low as you dare - a longer exposure will create vivid colours and streaks. If you like this then go for it. If not, you’ll want to make that shutter speed as fast as possible. This will create sharper images with darker backgrounds that will hide the size of your venue, and when shot from the right angles, capture a more dramatic shot of the subject.

3) ISO The rule of thumb is that the more ‘professional’ the camera, the higher you can crank up the ISO setting. Top of the range DSLRs will give you sharper images with less “noise” on them if you increase the ISO setting. On entry level DSLRs it is best to either stick to around the 400-800 ISO mark depending on the light quality, or leave the setting to automatic if you’re not sure. Again this is an area where trial and error is best - sacrificing a few early shots in the set to find the right setting will lead to more great photos overall.

4) APERTURE A wider aperture with a shallow depth of field will use all of the available light to the camera’s advantage, creating a sharper foreground capture while blurring a distracting background. A setting of around F/4-6 works best if using a standard lens. An expensive telephoto lens will allow you to move outside of this range but it isn’t necessary for this level of concert.

5) FORMAT Consider shooting in RAW format. This has advantages and disadvantages, RAW captures more information than JPG meaning that you have greater control over the editing of the image. However as the camera works harder to process the information your shutter speed decreases. Fine quality JPG is still OK and will let you shoot in faster bursts, but the compression noise on the final image coupled with ISO noise can sometimes ruin otherwise great captures.
Fall Of Industry @ The Duke Of Wellington Pub, Lincoln 2009
(c) Imago Mortis Photography

Part 2 Coming Soon...


concert photography said...

many many thanks for your beginners tips on photography

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