Shooting concerts can be as challenging as it gets as far as lighting goes. The stage lighting can create some amazing effects, but it’s so inconsistent and changes constantly, that it can be a nightmare to expose correctly. Big arena shows are one thing- there’s usually plenty of light for that, but what about shows done in a club or a small venue for bands just getting started with live shows? Therein lies the real challenge.
So, Sunday night I had my trial by fire for shooting a concert. Shadow Gallery has been a force in the world of progressive rock and heavy metal for the last 15-plus years, and I’ve been a fan for most of them. Several years ago I began working with them as a graphic designer and more recently, as a photographer and cinematographer on their recent music video.
I arrived at the venue in time to see the opening act go on. I didn’t plan on shooting them, but I did use the time to test various
exposures for the lighting that would be in use. I planned on below average light anyway, but wasn’t sure if I would need a flash or if stage lighting would be enough. I did know that I wanted to pick up some of the color from the stage lights in the photos, no matter what. I also knew that the surest way to kill that color was to use a flash as the main light source.
As I tested the lighting, I found that I would need to be at around ISO 3200- higher than I really wanted, but not terrible with today’s DSLRs. I used the EOS 1D Mark IV with a 70-200 f2.8L IS Mk II lens, and the EOS 7D with EF 24-105 f4L lens. I rated both cameras at ISO 3200, set the 7D to 1/100 at f4, and the 1D to 1/200 at f2.8.
Once I started shooting, I quickly found myself on my toes. The lighting changed so drastically, I found myself alternating between having the flash on, and shutting it off to let the stage lighting take over. In doing this, I got a variety of lighting styles, and I began to be able to predict how the light would show up. I set my flash- a 580 EXII on the 1D, and the pop-up on the 7D, to about minus 2 stops of flash exposure compensation. I just wanted to fill, not create the main light source. I also didn’t want the flash to overwork due to the black background, where the flash would fire almost full blast every time.
Overall, I got a great mix of flash and non-flash shots. It took a lot of work to keep switching the flash, the focus points, and the flash exposure compensation and remember what settings I was at, so I knew when I needed to turn the flash off for the ambient lighting.
All in all, it was a great show and I was thrilled with the shots I came away with, as were band members and their fans. I was also happy to be able to record their first ever live show, which has to be a significant moment in any musician’s career. Another highlight for my career reel. The rest of the images can be viewed at my Facebook page.