Tweaking The Camera Settings For Shooting Shows
Now that I have the camera, how do I set it up for concert photography?
There are a number of different ways to shoot a concert based on your camera and its available settings. However, some settings are standard in concert photography in order to make the most out of a shot. Here are some following tips that will help you evaluate what you find will work best for you. [cut=Read more...] In the end, it’s up to you to decide what works best for you. If these terms are perplexing you, don’t worry, the more you shoot and come to understand them (yes, you SHOULD read your camera’s manual), the more they’ll be intuitive and become second nature.
Exposure Modes: Shutter priority, aperture priority, Auto, or Manual?
First off, auto mode is not recommended in my opinion for concert photography at all seeing as the constantly changing lights can make it difficult for the camera to constantly gauge what the settings should be. Don’t use it for your concert photography, it’s as simple as that.
AP (Aperture Priority)
In aperture priority, or AP on your camera setting, you as a the photographer can control what the aperture should be set at and the camera controls the shutter. With most indoor concerts, you’ll find that you’ll be dealing with apertures anywhere from f/1.8 to f/4 depending on the lighting. The constant battle of the camera slowing down for shutter speed to compensate the aperture setting you’re in control of can get frustrating, as you’ll have some success with AP and then other shots the band members or artist may be out of focus. When I began shooting in clubs I used AP before I started to fully understand how to properly operate my camera. It wasn’t bad to use AP in the beginning since I was shooting in tiny venues with some successful artists, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend continually using AP for large venues with major label artists in order to get a portfolio of clearly shot photos.
Artist Vs. Poet (first show I ever shot, and in Aperture Priority…and you can definitely tell the difference in AP setting….
…and manual settings) Chris Cornell live @ Pop’s 4.21.09 (first show in manual mode)
SP (Shutter Priority)
In shutter priority, or SP, the camera is operating the opposite of AP: You control the shutter speed while the camera controls the aperture. The shutter in concert photography is integral to knowing how to operate properly because its outcome will be whether or not your artist/band is in focus and the motion of the show is “stopped”. It is arguable to some photographers as to whether or not you want to minimize the amount of “camera shake” in photos. Most print and online publications (as well as fans) prefer to see clearly shot photos with no camera shake or motion involved when in comes to concert photos. The exception of this would be maybe a small, sweaty venue with a hardcore punk band playing and you want to capture the visceral performance with slowing down the shutter speed. Basically, if you’re shooting in SP for concert photography, you generally want to set your shutter speed to fall no less than 1/125. Shutter priority tends to be more successful than AP due to the clear shots you’ll get, but again, your camera is controlling the aperture and with constantly changing lights and the band’s movement onstage, this can lead to underexposed photos. This setting can be either a blessing or a curse, or both.
I highly recommend that once you are comfortable with your camera to shoot concerts in manual mode, do it. Manual allows you the creativity and control that you’ll need to get the most out of concert photography and create successful shots. It merges both the creative side of your brain to the technical in thinking about what your exposure and aperture settings need to be. The more you shoot in manual, the more creative you can get and faster you’ll be able to gauge whether or not your settings need to be adjusted (with experience you’ll find it only takes a second to open up your aperture if needed or drop your shutter speed so you won’t compromise your time in the photo pit). Personally, I always shoot in manual now. This allows full creative control of the success of a photo vs. the camera deciding what the iso/exposure/aperture should be.
Other Camera Settings For Concert Photography
The AF mode
Always shoot your shows in Auto Focus, so set your lens to the AF setting, and then go to your camera’s internal AF mode setting and set it to the following mode: In Canon models, the preferred concert photography AF mode would be AF Servo and in Nikon models, it’s called “continuous focus”. This setting is used to track your subject when its moving and depending on your camera model, you’ll be able to track the energetic band members movement and keep it in focus up to a certain number of frames per second. In some circumstances where a band member is close to the edge of the stage and staying stable, you may be able to get away with the one shot mode, but AF Servo/Continuous Focus is what you’ll need to capture successful images.
Iso settings can be tricky, but I wouldn’t recommend going below ISO 800 for concert photography since you’re dealing with low lighting a lot. Depending on your camera model, you can set your ISO anywhere from 1600 to 25,000+. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive to light your camera will be in the venue as well as it’ll be sensitive to noise. The highest end models we discussed in the last journal, such as the Nikon D3 or Canon 1Ds Mark III, are some of the best at managing noise in concert photography. Bottom line: you’ll need high ISO and a wide aperture in most concerts, which brings us to our next setting.
Assuming you already have a lens with an aperture of f/1.8 or f/2.8 and planning to shoot in manual, you can set the aperture wide open as it will go or down a few f stops, but it shouldn’t go any lower than f/3.5. Some may argue that you can get away with f/5 or lower but I wouldn’t personally push it. You need as much light as your lens will gather when it comes to concerts and the unpredictable lighting.
Shutter Speed Settings
When it comes to shutter speed, aperture, and concert lighting, there’s a mathematical relationship between all 3. The challenge in the lighting in most concerts is the varied and rapidly changing color. Basically, the faster the shutter speed, the more light is gathered from the aperture and the more you can “stop” and “freeze” the action of the photo you’re taking. Typically I’ll start somewhere with 1/125 or 1/180 depending on the venue and band. If you have knowledge the band has poor lighting on a current tour then obviously you’ll go for a faster shutter speed and wide open aperture. Sometimes you can get really lucky when a band’s production is top notch and their lighting is impeccable for concert photos, such as Mark’s photos of Nine Inch Nails last summer on their NINJA tour, which he shot at 1/500 to 1/1000 because of the great lighting (see below). It can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. There are also light meters you can purchase as well to assist you.
Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails in Irvine, CA (photo by Mark Oshiro; his photos were shot at 1/500 to 1/1000)
30 Seconds To Mars @ Not So Silent Night (shot by MiseryXChord)
Making the most of your camera with stage lights and white balance is pertinent to getting an awesome concert shot)
White Balance Settings
For concert photography, I’ve personally had much success with auto white balance setting while shooting in manual and RAW. Shooting in RAW and auto white balance will also help aide in correcting some of the horrors of the dreaded red lighting that occasionally pops up in concerts. Making the most of your histogram will also help aide in white balance and unpredictable red lights. I usually like to take a few test shots before the show and locate where the lights are and what colors they’ll be using if possible. Arrive early and you’ll have plenty of time to get these settings in order before shooting.
In closing, I felt the first installment in this series of concert photography tips was a bit lengthy and a lot of information overload, so I felt it was best to stop here this time. Next time we’ll get into the ins and outs of the photo pit and what to expect while shooting (the good and the bad). I hope you continue to find it useful to furthering your talents as a concert photographer whether you’re an expert or a novice.