Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Rock On!

Since the advent of affordable DSLRs, concert and live music photography has become a burgeoning industry for a lot of photographers.
Text & Photography By J. Dennis Thomas Published in Shooting
Rock On!


Every photographer has his or her own personal choice of settings—ask 10 photographers, and you're likely to get 10 different answers. One thing is for sure, though: When you step in front of the stage, have your camera ready to shoot. You don't want to be scrambling to get your settings right when the band or performer walks out on stage.

I recommend shooting RAW with auto white balance for most events. This allows you to compensate for the changing light sources in postprocessing. When I'm setting up for a shoot, this is where I start:

Manual Exposure. Most concert photographers set their exposure manually. My starting point is 1?125 sec. at ƒ/2.8. I find that this is a good all-around setting for most acts. For faster-moving performers like metal or punk bands, or when shooting with a longer lens, you may need to up the shutter speed to 1?250 to 1?500 sec. (rarely do I need to go faster than 1?500 sec.). When you have more than one person in the composition, you may need to stop down to ƒ/4-5.6 for greater depth of field.

Metering. Spot metering is the setting I use about 90% of the time. Concert venues are usually dark, but with flashing and moving lights, which causes other metering patterns to get false exposure readings. Spot metering allows you to target and expose for the subject, which is the most important part of the composition. At daytime concerts, I switch to a multi-segment metering mode or center-weighted metering since the light is more consistent.

ISO. In dark venues, typically, you'll be shooting anywhere from ISO 1600 to 6400. Personally, I've been using Auto ISO on my Nikon cameras with great success for the past three years. Some photographers may balk at using an auto setting, but I find that my percentage of lower-noise images has skyrocketed since I started using Auto ISO. When the lights are turned up bright for a brief period, I'm able to get shots in at ISO 200. Without Auto ISO, I would never be able to change the sensitivity that quickly. You can simply set your ISO and adjust your exposure setting—which is a very easy and common way to do it—but all of your images will have the same level of noise.

Autofocus. This is simple. Use a single AF point and set the system to Continuous AF. You, as the photographer, need to decide where the focus point should be, and the camera needs to be continuously adjusting focus as the performer moves. Like metering, using any sort of mode where the camera tries to predict movement will be foiled by concert lighting.


Each different type of venue (and to some extent, every different venue) has its own specific characteristics. You need to tailor your shooting style and gear choice to the type of venue you're photographing at. For instance, you wouldn't necessarily need the same gear at a bar as you would at an arena.
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