Saturday, March 19, 2022

Tips for photographing a concert - Shinedown in action

Let me start this blog by saying that I am not a concert photographer. I know people who photograph concerts and bands for a living, but I am not one of those guys. With that said, I do love the challenge of photographing bands in action! 

For the last two years, the pandemic has made it almost impossible to see a concert let alone photograph one. But one of my favorite bands kicked off a tour recently and made a visit to San Francisco. I really wanted to see Shinedown live but their concert was scheduled just days before the Beijing Olympics. I knew that there was no way I could risk being in a group situation, indoors, before being subjected to the intense Covid protocols in China. But since I pulled the plug on the Winter Olympics just days before going, I decided that the concert needed to happen for me! I called and asked for a photo credential, but it was one day before the concert and that was not going to happen. 

I decided to bring a camera just in case. Since I was entering the venue without credentials, I kept things inconspicuous, bringing just a Canon R6 and a Canon RF24-105mm lens. Luckily, nobody stopped me at the door, and so me and my trusty camera got in with no problem. I have a friend who works at the venue and he was nice enough to escort me into the pit to shoot the first three songs.

That is how I got access. Now let me share the images and some of my tips for shooting concerts. 


Photographing concerts is really challenging, mainly due to these reasons:

1. There is low light which means that your camera ISO has to be set pretty high.
2. The light is constantly changing, going from super dark to extremely bright in a second.
3. The action is fast and you need a shutter speed fast enough to capture the action.


When shooting from up close in the pit (especially in a smaller venue), I find that a 24-70mm lens or a 24-105mm lens works great. Chances are that you will be only feet from the performers.


If there is room to move in the pit, you can move to capture the different musicians. But most of the time you will be stuck in the same location and will use the zoom lens to isolate your subjects. 


As I mentioned, the constantly changing lights make it tough to get your exposure correct in the camera. I shoot concerts in aperture priority mode, using spot metering, and typically under expose by at least one stop to keep from blowing out the highlights.


Every concert has different lighting situations. In this particular venue, they used a lot of red lights on the artists.


I try to capture the artists individually, but also try and get them interacting.


For most of these photos, I was shooting with these settings:

* ISO 3200
* I/O Servo focus (since the artists were moving all over)
* f/4 since it was the best aperture I could get with this lens
* Minus 1 1/2 stops of exposure compensation


I like to capture different poses for each performer.


As you can see in these two photos, there are times when it is good to use the bright lights to your advantage, putting your subject in silhouette.



These three photos were taken within a split second of each other, and you can see the change in background color and the amount of spot lighting on the lead singer. 




After the first three songs, we were escorted out of the pit area (which is the common practice today) and I I shot from farther back in the crowd.


Shooting from farther back is easier than shooting from up close, since the evaluative metering takes in more of the scene and the movement is easier to track.


I was carefully watching the lighting to determine the best backgrounds for photos. 


I saw this moment with a spotlight shining through the legs of Brent and Eric, and fired off some shots hoping to get that starburst through their bodies.


Here are more examples of using the house lighting to create dynamic photos. 



Pyrotechnics make things even more challenging, with a lot of ambient light flooding your cameras sensor. This is why I generally photograph with exposure compensation turned down at least one stop. It is easier to brighten a dark image than to try and darken an overexposed shot.



I like including the audience in some of the photos, since they add to the excitement in the scene.


More pyro!


Just like when shooting sports, I look for the peak of action and emotion. For this reason, I like to keep my shutter speed faster than 1/800 sec.



Just like shooting sports, where the reaction of the crowd can be just as interesting as the action of the athletes, the concert audience is worth capturing as well. 


Barry (the drummer) was often hidden behind the other band members and pyrotechnics, so it made it challenging to capture good shots of him at the drumset.


I love pyro at concerts!


Towards the end of the concert, Barry and Zach performed an acoustic set with minimal lighting effects. You can see the difference with the simplicity of the background. Not nearly as dynamic as with the stage lighting.


This last shot was taken at the very end of the concert. I zoomed out to 24mm and caught Brent with his fist in the air, framed by the excitement of the crowd. This is one of my favorite photos from the night.


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4 comments:

jazzphotodds said...

Why not shoot manual and float your iso? This way you assure adequate shutter speed and optimal aperture.

Ralph Hightower said...

My wife and I went to a Trans Siberian Orchestra concert; it wasn't their Christmas tour, but Beethoven's Last Night. I brought my Canon A-1 with an 80-205mm f4.5 and a few rolls of Kodak TM3200. As the lights dimmed, I kept checking the exposure and advancing the ISO. I maxed my camera at 12,800. Pushing the film two stops increased the grain, but I was still getting slow shutter speeds.
https://www.flickr.com/gp/ralphhightower/Q2kB94

Gary said...

Why not shoot manual, setting shutter speed, aperture and floating ISO to account for the differences in lighting?

Ralph Hightower said...

One thing to check is if the venue has any restrictions on lenses. At all University of South Carolina venues, the length of the lens is limited to six inches. I photographed the 2013 NCAA Baseball Regional hosted by the University; the "gate keepers" have a wooden dowel with six inches marked. He grabbed my 80-205mm lens and twisted it to the longest extension, which measured out at 80mm. I said "Dude! I'm not photographing the dugout." He said to move it where I would be using it. At 205mm, it measured in. I didn't have a press pass that would have exempted the super telephoto lenses. I checked the lens restrictions of TD Ameritrade Stadium in Omaha, NE; their restriction is under one inch. Even a pancake lens would measure out; but it would be useless for the games. Only those disposable film cameras would measure in.

I photographed a practice round at The Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta GA. They do not have any restrictions on the length of the lens; but they do have restriction on the size of bags. I rented a Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L lens. I checked the restrictions of the RBC Heritage Golf Tournament in Hilton Head, SC, and they limit the length of the lens to six inches.