Last night, Ivo sent in an inquiry regarding nightclub and/or concert photography. Ivo has a humble photography kit, as most of us who are not born millionaires do! He was asked to shoot a nightclub event happening in 2 days from now, and he‘s reaching out for help in that area. Since Ivo’s situation is a bit urgent, I had to move up the question queue and give priority to his issue, but this in no way means that I’ve forgotten about all your questions that have been submitted earlier. I will get to them soon and make sure I provide an answer to each and every one of you, but in the spirit of helping one another let’s start by trying to solve Ivo’s problem as he’s kind of on a deadline.
Since nightclub and concert photography more or less provide the same challenges for the shooter, I decided to include both in this post for those of you who are looking for concert photography tips rather than nightclub photography or vice versa. The points and techniques I will be mentioning apply to both areas, unless I state otherwise (or logic suggests one area rather than the other). So let’s begin… shall we?!
Now as I’ve mentioned earlier, Ivo has a basic kit. This means no external flash lights or strobes, no high-end luxurious glass, and a limited acceptable camera performance under tight lighting conditions. For this reason, I’m gonna be targeting these issues in particular, but I will be also touching on solutions related to higher-end camera gear and equipment.
Concert photography can be a lot of fun especially if you’re a laid-back party-lover kind of person, but it sure imposes a lot of challenges on the photographer. Main reasons for that include the overall dimly lit atmosphere, lights constantly changing quality and quantity as well as direction and behavior, white balance changing accordingly, high-contrasting situations that require attention and skill in metering, and a lot of spontaneous motion and movement to name a few. So how to go about getting away with a few decent photos in spite of this whole mess? Here are a few tips to help you out:
Since using flash might be prohibited during shows and concerts as they disturb both the performer and the audience, as well as making them uncomfortable and ruining their experience, and since you probably (like Ivo) don’t have an external flash, you will need to have your aperture open as much as possible and your ISO set to the highest possible value without introducing an unacceptable level of noise to your photos (which depending on your specific camera and sensor will vary. For example my Canon EOS 450D can go as high as only 400 ISO before starting to mess things up. Other cameras might allow you to go to 1600 ISO and even higher before noise becomes an issue). Also, in such environments it is mostly dark with lights flashing in high intensities and different colors, so shadow areas are very prone to noise.
Motion is mostly going to be quick, so try to use a fast enough shutter speed while not under-exposing your photos. Depending on your lens’ focal length, you are bound by a minimum shutter speed setting which going any slower will start to cause camera shake. The general rule is to shoot at 1/(lens focal length) or faster if handholding your camera.
So basically if you have a 50mm lens, your slowest shutter speed possible would be 1/50s. if you have a steady grip, you might be able to get away with 1/40 or so. Just remember that the longer your focal length, the more camera shake is visible in your photos. Which leads us to the lens aperture.
Now that you know your ISO and shutter speed limits, to get in as much light as possible you need to play with your aperture opening. Usually the wider the opening, the better (unless you have too much light which would cause over-exposure and potentially highlight clipping). This also depends on your desired depth of field. If you’re shooting just one person, you can get away with very shallow depth of field. If you’re shooting multiple people, you need to make sure all of them remain within an acceptable range of focus (or maybe not… depending on the outcome you have in mind!).
Ivo’s lens can go as wide as f/2.8 or so, which I think is pretty excellent. So even if he doesn’t have great lighting conditions, he can easily get away with decent shots by opening his aperture all the way to f/2.8 (or wider if possible). Remember, a small aperture value translates to a wider aperture opening, and a greater aperture value translates to a narrower lens opening. So, f/2.8 lets more light in through the lens than does f/5.6 for example.
I don’t normally shoot events and concerts but I’ve been asked to do so a few times in the past. At the time, I had no external flash (and actually during some I wasn’t even allowed to use any!). All I had was my Canon EOS 450D, and I made sure to use my 50mm f/1.8 lens to make up for the poor lighting conditions in the absence of a reliable light source.
You can always take a look at your LCD screen to know where you stand, especially in terms of highlight clipping since your LCD will notify you of those if any. However, shooting shows and concerts can make it a pain for you to stop and check your screen considering the generally dark environment in which case, the histogram would be your best bet.
Every serious photographer, whether professional or hobbyist, needs to be able to read the histogram so be sure you’re capable of reading yours. The histogram also enables you to tell if you’re clipping the shadow details (something an LCD does not notify you about). Plus, the histogram is much easier and faster to assess, which would be perfect when you’re shooting continuously.
I don’t know about other photographers, but as far as I’m concerned my metering mode is always set to spot metering no matter what situation I’m shooting in!
With spot metering, the camera will only measure a very small area of the scene (between 1-5% of the viewfinder area). This will typically be the very center of the scene, but some cameras allow the user to select a different off-center spot, or to recompose by moving the camera after metering. (source Wikipedia)
If you’ve ever been to some sort of party or concert before, which I’m pretty sure you have, then you already know how lights are always going on and off with striking intensities, various color, and from different directions. This can become a nightmare both for you and your light meter. By switching to spot metering mode, you make sure you only take your reading off your main subject no matter what craziness is going on. In this case, your main subject would be either the performer’s face or the crowd (depending on what you’re looking to photograph).
When using spot metering, just be sure to pay attention to your highlights as they can easily blow out especially if the light source is present in the frame.
I also encourage you to keep an open mind regarding having your photos a bit under-exposed especially if you have light sources present in the frame, cause if done right, under-exposure can actually add to the mood and more accurately portray the atmosphere of the venue. This way you preserve your highlights as much as possible, and you have your focal point within acceptable exposure limits.
As lights are gonna be all over the place with different colors, I suggest you just leave your white balance set to auto mode. No matter how you custom-set your white balance, in a minute the lighting will change so you might as well leave it on auto and let the camera make the best guess for you (unless you’re in a consistently lit environment, in which case you can set your white balance as you please).
Since you’re likely going to need to fix the white balance of your photos alter in post, make sure you shoot in RAW. RAW files occupy greater space which would mean more storage capacity, but the post-editing flexibility you get is so worth it. If your camera only shoots JPEG, I believe there are some post-processing software out there that still allow you to fix the white balance.
It’s a good thing to be shooting in continuous mode so as to be able to capture sequences of movement and possible reactions the artist or crowd might make. With continuous mode the camera will keep capturing photos as long as you have your finger on the shutter release button. True, you might end up with extra, unwanted photos but your odds at capturing the right shot are greater this way.
Also make sure to try and anticipate reactions of the person or persons you’re shooting. Since music is rhythmic, you might be able to guess that a specific performer, singer, dancer or guest might act in a specific way during a specific verse or solo playing for example.
A cool thing to watch out for is interaction and engagement between the performers with one another as well as with the crowd attending the show or party. Such moments, attitudes and facial expressions can yield interesting intriguing shots.
If you’re shooting with a zoom lens or have a few prime lenses on you, try and experiment with different focal lengths. Use a long lens to isolate your subject, and a short one to capture the surroundings and document the environment. Just watch out for clutter. Too much elements within a frame can actually detract from the quality and effect of your frame rather than add to it. Look out for equipment that might get in the way of you and your subject and ruin your image. You can take a look at the LCD display every once in a while to make sure everything is going fine.
Don’t forget to experiment with different angles and perspectives as well. You don’t have to shoot straight forward all the time. Try shooting from the side, from the back (especially if you can get on the stage), try climbing the stairs and find a place from the top looking down, or get down low and shoot upwards. Try framing the performers with the crowd or the crowd with the performers. Try shooting by standing in between the rest of the audience. Basically just exhaust all your chances, you never know what might come your way!
Put yourself out there. Get close to people but within limits, without disrupting their peace or invading their space. Find a good angle to shoot from, just make sure you’re not standing in someone else’ way. Show respect, smile to people, don’t impose. You know… the usual stuff =) Just make sure everyone knows you’re the photographer, and your gonna be photographing the event.
The place is most probably going to be crowded as is, so make sure you don’t carry around a whole lot of gear with you. This is mainly because: first you probably won’t have the luxury of swapping lenses and changing accessories as you normally would in a slower paced situation, second you’ll be bumping up against people with all that gear carried on your back or shoulder, and third you are probably going to be on your feet for hours which might get very exhausting with all that extra weight.
If possible, try to visit the place beforehand paying attention to any spots, corners or vantage points that might aid you when you’re shooting during the actual event. If possible, try to check out the lighting and ask how the scene would be lit during the actual thing.
That’s good advice when shooting any type of photography, but it is especially useful in concert photography. Since the scene is going to be highly contrasting as is with all those lights going on and off, you generally won’t need to worry about contrast.
Try to fix sharpness issues, over and under-exposure, and cropping. If noise is there you can either incorporate it as a trait in your photos or try to fix it using various dedicated or non-dedicated software.
In my experience, I’ve found converting the photos to black and white helps tone down some imperfections and/or extra noise in the photos. I also found that de-saturating the images to be helpful at times in controlling extra contrast or boldly clipped-out highlights.
This is my last piece of advice. Study former concert, party, or similar event photos taken by other fellow photographers and try to figure out where they went wrong and where they did well. If you find an interesting effect, try to visualize how you can achieve that in your situation. Try to study the techniques, angles, and tricks used and how you would go about implementing them as well (if they yield good results of course!). Don’t go mimicking styles if they don’t look good. And try your best to let your own touch and style dominate. In the end you’re the photographer, and the show is all yours…
Well, that’s all I have for you Ivon. I really do hope this article helps you with your mission, and I hope you have fun! Good luck to you my friend, I’m sure you’ll do great. And be sure to come back and share some of your results with all of us here in the comments below. I’d love to take a look =)
So guys, remember if anyone has a photography question they’d like to ask, please head over to the Submit your Q! page and post your question right now!
|Tell your friends about this post!|