Concert Photography – Learning From Past Lessons
With the music festival circuit coming up in the next month and running through 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 did not. 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 looks to be consistent wherever 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.
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 can easily 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 probably 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 was 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!