Lessons learned: Concert photography
So, I shot my first concert/show/gig last week. Shooting bands for promo stuff and gigs is something I've been wanting to get into for a while. Local band Audience For A King asked me to cover their album launch show at Corporation, Sheffield and I jumped at the chance.
I had some ideas in my head of the kind of shots I wanted. I arrived early to assess the venue (it had been years since I'd been in Corporation - playing guitar in a previous life) armed with my nifty fifty and Tokina 11-16mm to cover all bases. I figured I wouldn't have too much trouble changing lenses so didn't take my old back-up body, the D70, as it really really struggles in low light situations.
I made the decision not to use flash for this shoot, for a few reasons. Firstly, I didn't want to be firing a flash off every couple of minutes (or seconds!) at the front of the stage; I felt this would have not only been an annoyance to people watching, but very off-putting to the bands themselves. Secondly, the D7100, as most modern DSLRs, has great low-light capability. And thirdly, I wanted to use the stage lights to create some atmosphere and set the scene. I guess without thinking about it I was setting myself the challenge of being able to do this using only the house lights.
Within the first few songs from the opening band I realised that the lighting was going to be a real problem - a constant red glow from half a dozen fixed lights in front and slightly above the stage. The occasional blue/green light lazily flashed on and off, but other than that everything was red. Red. Or dark. The red was a struggle enough on it's own but the fact that it was also very dim was a real hindrance. The bar's backlight seemed the brightest thing in the room at many a point.
But, as we must do, I persevered. I cranked the iso right up to 5000 in order to be able to use a higher shutter speed and freeze the action. I think the fastest shutter speed I ended up using was 1/400 of a second. My 50mm stops up to f1.8 and my Tokina to f2.8, but I felt in this situation, with the subjects moving around a lot, I wanted to give my self more margin for error when it came to hitting focus and used f3.2 and upwards, whilst still trying to keep it as low as possible to let in maximum light.
On my first pass through in Lightroom there were a large amount of images I just wasn't at all happy with; the red light seemed to have saturated everything and there was no detail at all in anybody's skin. However,when I converted to black and white I was able to pull a lot of detail back which thankfully left me with quite a few usable images.
They were still very dark though which, when compensating by using exposure/shadow reduction, presented another issue. Apparently the D7100 suffers from banding at high iso - that is to say, when pushed in Lightroom, as I was doing, we get definite bands or stripes across the image instead of nice solid black areas. Some are evident on the shots above. This meant I wasn't able to pull as much detail out of the under-exposed image as I would have liked.
With some further contrast and highlight adjustments did end up with some decent shots - not the best, but it was a learning experience.
Next time, I'll probably go straight in at f1.8 and also try some slower shutter speeds depending on the particular situation and how much people are moving.
One things for sure; if I hadn't have been shooting RAW then I would have been lucky to come out of it with any usable shots whatsoever. That's a lesson anyone not shooting RAW should take away with them.