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Photography Question 
kathie jones
 

Flash Photography of Live Bands


 
 
How can I photograph live bands with ambient lighting that needs flash. I don't want to use flash because that kills the atmosphere. Unfortunately, all my photos are coming out blurred as the musicians move around a lot. Can anyone help?


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7/21/2005 12:34:26 PM

 
Andy 
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/28/2002
  Although I am not an expert in photographing live bands, I can share with you some of my experience from taking stage performances from the cruise ships. Besides cityscapes, taking stage performances is my second favorite in low light photography. The lighting is just so dramatic.
First, preparation: While I was on a cruise ship, I have no idea what the performance will be. But you have an advantage because you can scout out the area first and you may even familiar with what the musician is going to perform. It is much better if you know the music or the songs.
Second, equipment: You did not mention what equipment (camera and lens) you own. I use a film SLR camera, a 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 with Image Stabilizer, and ISO 400 speed film. The IS on the lens helped a lot because most of the time the shutter speed got down to 1/8 or even 1/4 second. Another point is I was using a zoom lens and at maximum zoom, the largest aperture will be f5.6. I fight to get as close as possible so I do not have to use the lens at maximum zoom (usually between 50 and 65mm). If you have a fast lens, use it.
Third, set-up: The key point here is use manual. Forget about auto-exposure and auto-focusing. Most of the time the musicians, not like the dancers, stay at the same place. So you can set the focus and turn it to manual. About exposure, I always use the first couple of performances to get the feel of the best exposure value I can use. Then I just lock the value and shoot. Of course, some of my shots will be underexposed but seldom overexposed (due to the use of print film, which has more tolerence towards overexposing). For performers who moved around a lot, I just preset my focus and wait for them to move into the "kill zone" ;)
Fourth, participation: There is always a moment the performer will stop moving. I don't know the terminology in music. But there are times like the moment between two sentences (in a song), the music changes from fast to slow beat, the last word of the sentence, the last note of the entire song, a long note, etc. That's the time I will press the shutter. Personally, I think the best is to capture the dramatic lighting together with the performer's face being sharp, while another part of the body has a little motion, instead of everything sharp and motionless.

I usually can get a few good ones with a roll of 36-exposure film. In my gallery, the last two, which I took from a cruise ship, are my favorites. I got a few more which I did not scan yet.
If nothing comes out, then it is just too dark to get any good picture. Hope this helps.


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7/22/2005 10:01:23 AM

 
Steve  Hopkins   Kathie - Andy had some good tips for capturing live bands. I would buy some ISO 800 speed film. That should give you the shutter speeds you want, so as to stop some or all of the motion of the performers. How about trying some black and white for that 'look'? Again, use ISO 800 or even 1600 speed film.
Have fun!


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7/26/2005 4:54:35 AM

 
Derick A. Wiaderski  
 
 
I shoot about 95-percent concert photography. I use a Digital Rebel and shoot at iso 3200 at 1/8-1/50 shutter speed (depending on available light on my subject), which usually forces me to go f3.4-f5.6. And I carry a 28-300 Tamron lens ... I find it perfect because you can't always be in the front row. Remember to be conscientious about the people around you. Don't stay in one spot too long, because you'll end up ticking off the people around you. I make it a point to never use flash because it distracts the performers and the fans, and the majority of the time you end up capturing things you don't really want in you picture. Remember: Practice makes perfect, and try to always get the band's permission.


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7/26/2005 5:17:39 AM

 
Willie Jennings   Kathie,
You sound like you are a paying concert customer being close to the stage. There are limits on SLRs, lens must be attached. Under ideal situations: 800 Fuji press film. Lock in shutter speed of 250 for moving artist. Pan as you track movement. If you see glare in viewfinder, find another angle to shoot from. Practice, practice!


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7/26/2005 7:22:13 AM

 
Willie Jennings  


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7/26/2005 7:22:14 AM

 
Willie Jennings  


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7/26/2005 7:22:15 AM

 
Craig    Kathie,
If you are taking photos of bands in local clubs, you may be able to use a bounce flash unit. This will more evenly light the performer and stage. With such units, you often can dial down the level of flash so it is more of a fill-flash to aid in stopping the action rather than the single light source that you are trying to avoid.


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7/28/2005 5:46:47 AM

 
Scott     I photograph concerts, with one band full time, and with photos on CD's, Web sites, magazines, advertisements, and one photo on a T-shirt. A lot of what everyone has said is true. One thing to remember are the gels. Gels are the colors from the stage lights that give the ambiance (sp). The production teams change from venue to venue, depends on price and who is available. Some of them don't care about what color gels, until you talk to them directly. But, if you are just a paying customer, then you don't really have a voice in the matter. Since I am hired by the band/venue, I have a voice in what can go up, and if I can't be there, I have others that can check the gels for me. I hate the red gels in the faces of the band. I have photograhed a big band, with no gels. The lights were hot on the band. But, I was also able to really crank up my shutter speed as well as my aperture setting. Settings ... well, like I said, they change. Sometimes I like glare in my lens which depends on the lights, sometimes I allow movement, and sometimes I use a flash to use for Web sites. I don't own a IS lens, so that is on my list for my new camera. I want to experience the IS. Right now, I work with what I got. I have no theory or method, I use a Canon 10D, all in manual settings. Seldom use my speedlite. I don't take notes as I go for my settings, I go back later and get the info stored on the frame using my software. I probably didn't help much, but hopefully gave you another view of concert photography. Email me if you have any specific questions.


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7/30/2005 9:02:31 AM

 
Emily Sopha
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/23/2005
  Hi Scott ... I would be interested in seeing some of your band photos. Thanks! Emily@Sophatography.com

I use to take photographs of a small swing band and other local bands in the area ... hardly ever used a flash (maybe the fill in, but it wasn't doing anything for me). Great tips from everyone above ... increase your ISO and speed up the shutter ... use your body / wall/ fence / stage for some support. I got lucky with a lot of my shots ... if you're using a digital you can easily take a few test shots -- review -- and keep shooting and making corrections (trying different settings)as you go.


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8/2/2005 8:00:37 PM

 
Denise Elfenbein  
 
 
I photograph lots of concerts too -- I agree with Emily about shooting a few test shots. I shoot lots of metal and punk bands that move A LOT! And frequently it is dangerous to get up in front if I cannot obtain a photo pass to shoot in the photo pit, or if there's no pit. I shoot for a local venue and some bigger bands dont allow flash so I use 1/50 at aperture priority and hope for good luck. I usually do not walk away with nothing at all..I'll shoot as many pics as humanly possible in the (1st 3 songs only) which is industry standard at lots of shows.
Also, using flash does take away from the ambiance of the stage lighting.
If it is a really important shoot, (favorite band, etc.) I'll shoot film as well; 1600 speed. My Olympus E10 digital only goes to 320 ISO so that is a challenge and reason why I am upgrading my camera soon. I also have auto focus issues due to low light and no interchangable lens capability. sometimes it is even too dark to use manual focus.
here's my website of photos: www.stellarphotography.net


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8/2/2005 8:44:04 PM

 
Denise Elfenbein  
 
 
I photograph lots of concerts too -- I agree with Emily about shooting a few test shots. I shoot lots of metal and punk bands that move A LOT! And frequently it is dangerous to get up in front if I cannot obtain a photo pass to shoot in the photo pit, or if there's no pit. I shoot for a local venue and some bigger bands dont allow flash so I use 1/50 at aperture priority and hope for good luck. I usually do not walk away with nothing at all..I'll shoot as many pics as humanly possible in the (1st 3 songs only) which is industry standard at lots of shows.
Also, using flash does take away from the ambiance of the stage lighting.
If it is a really important shoot, (favorite band, etc.) I'll shoot film as well; 1600 speed. My Olympus E10 digital only goes to 320 ISO so that is a challenge and reason why I am upgrading my camera soon. I also have auto focus issues due to low light and no interchangable lens capability. sometimes it is even too dark to use manual focus.
here's my website of photos: www.stellarphotography.net


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8/2/2005 8:44:28 PM

 
Denise Elfenbein   I photograph lots of concerts too -- I agree with Emily about shooting a few test shots. I shoot lots of metal and punk bands that move A LOT! And frequently it is dangerous to get up in front if I cannot obtain a photo pass to shoot in the photo pit, or if there's no pit. I shoot for a local venue and some bigger bands dont allow flash so I use 1/50 at aperture priority and hope for good luck. I usually do not walk away with nothing at all..I'll shoot as many pics as humanly possible in the (1st 3 songs only) which is industry standard at lots of shows.
Also, using flash does take away from the ambiance of the stage lighting.
If it is a really important shoot, (favorite band, etc.) I'll shoot film as well; 1600 speed. My Olympus E10 digital only goes to 320 ISO so that is a challenge and reason why I am upgrading my camera soon. I also have auto focus issues due to low light and no interchangable lens capability. sometimes it is even too dark to use manual focus.
here's my website of photos: www.stellarphotography.net


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8/2/2005 8:46:15 PM

 
Joe Moree   Some good friends of mine play in a band and I took some shots of them.I used fuji npz800 and pushed it to 1600.You dont want to use a large aperture b/c of DOF.I would reccommend you reading this post on photo.net.Thats where I got my knowledge oin the subject.Also when shooting guitarist always make sure you have the whole guitar in the fram and dont cut off any hands.Good luck!
http://www.photo.net/learn/concerts/mirarchi/concer_i


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8/5/2005 6:49:57 PM

 
Joe Moree   Oh I forgot to mention that I didnt use flash,the stage was light by only two lights so therefore why I had to push my exposure to 1600.


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8/5/2005 6:52:44 PM

 
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