Learning from Past Lessons – Concert Photography

Susie Keynes

Susie Keynes

With the music festival circuit coming up in the next month and running throughout the summer I decided it would be prudent to spend some time looking at older images, catching up on a few years of post processing and most importantly, learning from my previous mistakes. I expect calling them mistakes is being a bit hard but we can learn a huge amount from looking at our previous work and analyzing what worked and what didn’t. This is what I’m finding:

One of the items that has been very consistent with the evening photos that I’ve been shooting is that my reds are getting blown out, no detail, over exposed, whatever you want to call it. This is a common issue with digital cameras and seems to be consistent whether you shoot Nikon, Canon or whatever. If you are shooting RAW you have the opportunity to bring a little of the detail back into the highlights but if you are shooting JPEG what you have is what you got. If anyone needs incentive to shoot RAW this might be it! The best option is to get the exposure right but from my experience this is easier said than done. The tactic I’m going to try this year is to compensate by giving the exposure about 2/3 stop less exposure when the red lights are on. Of course with digital I’ll be able to check this after the first shoot when I get home to my main computer.

Lubo Alexandrov & Kaba Horo

Lubo Alexandrov & Kaba Horo

I’m also taking a close look at my images and seeing how far I can push the ISO without putting distracting noise into the images. This is where the newer cameras really shine and in some ways the new processing programs like Photoshop and Nikon NX2 have made great strides. On my older camera, a Nikon D2X, my limit was in the range of ISO 800. My newer Nikon D300 is fine at ISO 1,600. Other factors to consider when determining this is the intended use of the image, for small prints you likely can get away with higher ISO’s than if you are producing posters. If you really need higher ISO numbers (3,200 and above) than this you are looking at big bucks for one of the new professional cameras, it’s likely less expensive to buy faster lenses.

Lens selection – high speed primes or slower zooms? High speed prime lenses are a real delight when shooting at low light levels. I have a few that get used often, a 30mm f1.4 and an 85mm f 1.8. How much difference does this really make? As an example, if I were to shoot with a slower 18-85 zoom lens at f4 I might be shooting at 1/30th second at ISO 800. With the 30mm f1.4 I could shoot at 1/125th or even 1/250 at the same ISO. This can make a huge difference. For zoom lenses, the ultimate are the high end f2.8 professional lenses made by the camera manufacturer or companies like Sigma. One other note, stopping Mick Jagger in flight takes a higher shutter speed than stopping a guitar player singing ballads, something to keep in mind!

How sharp is sharp enough? Look at what shutter speeds are working if you want to “stop” the action. How much blur can you get away with? To catch the action at its peak, blast off 4 or 6 photos, generally one of the images will be substantially sharper than the others.

Any questions, I would be thrilled to answer them. Happy concert shooting!

Children of Celebrities

Children of Celebrities

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7 Responses to “Learning from Past Lessons – Concert Photography”

  1. D. Travis North says:

    Some great shots (both here and in your previous post) and some great advice, Kevin. Some of those shots of the performers are up-close and personal. I can only assume you used the 85mm for those? Any flash used?

    You may want to check out Eric Hamilton’s portfolios. He regularly shoots at night clubs in low-light situations – he uses a flash on a really tall monopod with a diffuser…and he gets some really impressive shots.

  2. kevin says:

    Hi Travis,

    Looking at the images that I put up here only one was shot with the 85mm, the image of Lubo Alexandrov 1/100 at f2.8 ISO 640. The other close up images are with my trusty Sigma 50-150mm zoom, the photo of Ivonne Hernandez and Band at 102mm 1/100 at f2.8 ISO 1,600 and the image of Ed Peekeekot 150mm 1/250 at f3.2 ISO 200. I know this lens gets a little bad press but I’ve been very impressed with it. The image of Susie Keynes was shot with my Nikon 17-55mm at 44mm, 1/200 at f2.8 ISO 1,600.

    I tend not to use flash very often but have had good results using slow sync flash on occasion. I took a look at Eric Hamilton’s portfolio; he has some impressive images and certainly likes to experiment. Good for him, I need to maybe get a little bit more creative this season!

  3. Lisa's Chaos says:

    You are So right! I’m always amazed when I look back, sometimes even what I considered good, I think wow I’ve grown. Or sometimes I think, why did I stop doing that?

  4. kevin says:

    That’s another good point Lisa. I often look back and think that what I did worked so why haven’t I expanded on the theme or technique.

    It’s also a good ego boost to see that we improve the more we shoot. I still figure that experience is one of the most important learning tools regardless of our skill levels. There’s always something to learn from others as well, I feel sorry for people that believe they are the best and can’t accept the fact they aren’t.

  5. Kim says:

    Hi, Just discovered your blog through Skywatch Friday and am enjoying it very much.
    I sure wish I had read this article a week ago before an evening gig I tried to shoot. The lighting fellow insisted on red lights all evening (I even heard another photographer complain that they had asked him to use another color, but the lighting guy said no). Next time out I will pack the primes for indoor concerts. I also learned my lesson to not take a new camera body out before I become really familiar with its layout. Fumbling with settings in the dark does not make for smart shooting. I had just purchased a full frame camera from a friend and wanted to see how it would do. Well, it would have done well if I’d waited to get familiar with it. Should have taken the body I’m intimately familiar with.

    I will be followinyg your blog and thank you for sharing your super shots and your photography information. It’s really helpful to folks like me who would like to get better.
    -Kim

  6. kevin says:

    Thanks Kim,

    That’s great that you learned something from my ramblings! I’m shooting a gig next week and when I sit down and discuss the shoot I’ll be chatting about red lights. I know the band uses them but I’m hoping we can use a good variety of colours. I find red to be “too much” most of the time anyway.

    I know what you mean about fumbling with controls on new cameras. When I purchased my D300 I managed to fumble for about a month as the location of a few critical buttons were different from my D2X. I still fumble a little when using both cameras because of this and have inadvertently changed from RAW to TIFF a few times. Not good. It has got me thinking of dumping the D2X and buying another D300 for compatibility.

    Off to photograph professional rodeo today. It should be an experience as I have never done anything like it before. Always exciting!

  7. […] extreme conditions; this is where practice comes in. A few years ago I wrote a post about this, Learning from Past Lessons – Concert Photography. It’s worth looking at again. Afro […]

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