Lights, Camera, No Action ! How to shoot a Rock Star ! 24/10/15

Recently I have been asked 'How I handle low light situations at live gigs. I understand your pain because gig photography can be one of the most difficult situations to take good images that you can look back on and go WOW !. So lets get started.

I will be speaking from a hired photographer perspective, you know the annoying ones in the pit that get in your way for the first 3 songs (yes thats all you usually get to get a great shot)

Live events, bands, burlesque, iron man contests I have been lucky enough (or not in some cases) to have had the opportunity to work with some great people over the years. From local venues to major touring acts in the Valleys, Cardiff South Wales and around the country. All have their own challenges. Most events hold the same problem, LIGHT ! or lack of it. Light is the fundamental success of photography if you don't have any then its panic stations unless you have a Speedlight (flash gun) but for gigs 99.9% of the bands will not let you use flash. At this point you are praying that the lighting rigs for the show are good enough for you to get your shot.

So lets talk rules. Usually you get the first 3 songs, no more!  Your pulled away kicking and screaming by the security and in some cases taken from the venue so you can't shoot more with a zoom lens on from the back of the crowd ( big acts usually do this). The flash can distract the band and they might fall and break a leg or something, it could happen I guess. If you are   working for a magazine or the press you have to get that shot quick, very quick and upload it to your Mac and email it off at that moment. It a race for the magazine to get that image up before all others. So with all that stress to deal with lets move on to taking the shots..

What I use for that killer shot ?

I AM NIKON .  All brands are just as good these days, its like buying Nike or Adidas they are very much the same, its your preference. The reason I choose Nikon over Cannon or Fuji is a very basic one. Nikon DSLR cameras have a little red triangle ! I told you this would be very informative didn't  I  :) 

I take with me my Nikon D700 a great camera still today and was a great flag ship camera when it first was released around 2008 (here is a little wiki information if your bored) Now I use the Nikon D750, this camera turns night into day basically and has some great dynamic range, perfect for low light meanies !

So what Glass (lens) should you use. Most DSLRs come with a lens, this lens is what we call a kit lens. Its ok for taking pics of your dog, kids in the park or family on hols, its a 'all round' lens for use in day time or good light situations. Once it becomes a little dark towards the evening thats when things go wrong. Most of my lens are a 2.8 or 1.4 aperture  (I have a tutorial coming on aperture, shutter and ISO coming soon)  This opens up a whole new ball game and empties the wallet :( These lens are made for low light situations ideal for that Rock star pose captured to perfection and they are super fast to make sure you don't miss a beat.

The Legend that is Steve Vai hitting some good light

This is what you will get with a standard compact camera

When taking photos of people especially moving people you need fast equipment that is always ready, doesn't go on standby or shuts down ! If your camera does this try to turn it off in the settings. Im guessing that most people that attend gigs as a fan want a hand full of amazing photos so they can print or put on Facebook or hang on their wall ? Im guessing if you have bought a compact point and shoot camera from Argos and Currys for £50-£100 your hoping to get an image like Steve Vail above ? Unfortunately this may not be possible. Compact cameras are generic devices to capture your every day life but in day light or good light. A dark St. Davids Hall in Cardiff is not the place for these cameras :(

I know some cameras have a 'Night mode' preset. What this does is whack up the ISO (the more ISO the more grain) and slows the shutter speed down so you will basically get a blurred image, you remember the blurred images right ? EVIL CAMERA ! it must broke, I'm taking it back to the shop ! I remember also :)

Kings of Leon, Liberty Stadium, Swansea, UK

I love gigs out doors because usually you will get 'good light' like the Caleb and Jarrad shot above. The sun is just turning golden as you can see on his face and there is plenty of light around to get that Killer shot ! The 3rd image is at night and although still a nice shot you can see the difference good and bad light can give you .

Still not enough light, but the right settings

Set your camera up ready for a gig.  If your camera can be put in manual then do it now and never put it back in automatic ! This is the best advice you will get here, automatic is bad for low light !

So you need to understand Aperture, Shutter speeds and ISO. I will go into more detail on the 3 gods within your camera in another learning zone post.

Aperture -  This is basically like the pupil of your eye. When you look at the sun the pupil needs to close to shut the sheer force of the light. In this situation you need a small aperture or high  F-stop like F22. Opposite to this If there is little light about, pupils will open wide to let in more light, this is F2 or the lowest number your lens will go to kit lens usually are F4.5. These settings also affect other things like depth of field but don't worry about that for this post. Basically if you let too much light in your photo will be overexposed, not enough light then it will be underexposed - Simples ! If you like to edit images on Photoshop etc, then its best to edit a underexposed image so be mindful of that.

Shutter speed - Its like a blink of the eye. The faster the blink (high shutter speed) the better to freeze time and less light is hits the sensor. The slower the blink the more blurred the image and more light is let in to the camera sensor. I always try to keep a  shutter speed of 1/100 of a second or higher is ok depending on the movement of your subject. If your take pics of the Grand Prix then you will need a faster shutter speed or the cars will look like blurred lines ! (I'm sure there is a song there somewhere) If you are using a slow shutter speed then make sure you are holding the camera steady because even your movement could be the fail in a blurred images.

ISO- Its basically sun glasses, a filter type operation that determines the sensitivity of the sensor. The higher the ISO the more grain in the image and the lowest mostly 100 ISO means no grain. Most new DSLRs will allow you to go into the thousands before any noticeable grain appears in your photo. For gig photography you need to use that ISO baby, whack it up have a look at the results on your Mac and see how far you can push your camera in the future.Pro level cameras will deal with ISO, your £50 compact from Argos will struggle I'm afraid.

Look at the water its not blurred its frozen, Thats the magic of high shutter speeds (fast blinks)

Dont be afraid of a slow shutter speed (slow blinks) showing movement its works a lot of the time

So to recap.  If you have won the lottery then go buy the best dslr body, best lens that will give you an Fstop of 2.8 or better with a nice long zoom, hey presto nice images (not) you have to know how your camera works also. All the gear no idea, lots of them around., LEARN LEARN LEARN !If you don't have a bottomless pit of cash then try to get what you can afford. Try to look for a camera you can put into manual and you can set the Aperture, Shutter and ISO, this when your in control of your camera and your camera is not in control of you .So my ideal set up-Nikon D750 bodyNikon 70-200 zoom lens 2.8 ( plus others)Aperture 2.8Shutter Speed 1/80 1/100 of a secondISO I aim for 800 but can be up to 1500 if needed in poor light venues.Rules are meant to be broken, so break them, break them all, experiment ! Happy Clicking

Paul Weller, Cardiff Castle, UK. Paul standing in good light, this helps. The Castle shot shows high ISO at work turning dusk into day

And what do you do when the band has blue or red neon lights only ? PANIC ! :(

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