Metering & Preparing For The Photo Pit
Camera Setting for Metering In Concert Photography
There are 4 different types of metering in DSLR cameras, and you’re probably wondering which one is best for concert photos. Spot metering (see symbol) is generally the best metering setting for concert photography, where lighting is unpredictable and it’ll give a more consistent reading for better exposure due to backlighting and high contrast which is typical of concert photography.
Spot metering can help in concert photography when the contrast is drastic due to back lighting among other unpredictable lighting.
In the pit: What to expect when shooting a show
Shooting a show can be about as unpredictable as the lighting when it comes to your environment, but there are a few key patterns that you can expect as well as some of these predicaments that could arise while shooting a show.
3 songs, no flash
This is the standard in modern concert photography. Unless you are shooting in a small club, most venues in coordination with the band management require that you only shoot the first 3 songs without using flash. There are number of reasons for this: the security of the show and the photographers, as you don’t want a crowd surfer knocking you in the head and busting your camera up at the same time. Another reason for this is the performance quality of the show; overall shooting a show the entire time can be a distraction to the artist and especially if you’re using flash. I don’t entirely like or agree with these reasons in the industry seeing as there are a ton of fans that go to shows shooting with flash the entire time from their compact cameras or phones, but those are the rules. Occasionally you may even find yourself shooting a show where the security tells you to shoot only one or two songs, which I personally encountered when shooting Marilyn Manson at Mayhem festival last year. Honestly how can a photographer get a lot of great shots within the first song when the show is just warming up? A lot of the time the first part of the show is obscured in darkness or partial lighting when the performer comes out for dramatic effect. However, those are the rules, and sometimes the rules are ridiculous, but you have to follow them. Thankfully, most artists/bands allow the first 3 songs. The alternative to this is if you’re in a small or mid-sized venue such as The Metro in Chicago and you have a decent spot after leaving the photo pit, you can shoot with no flash from behind the barricade or at a decent distance and not be bothered given you’re not in a mosh pit. Most large venues or arenas will ask you to leave your equipment at their guest service desk after the first 3 songs if you’re staying for the entire show.
Below: Special thanks to John Ortega for helping me get this shot of Peaches despite a rude photographer at the show.
In my experience of shooting shows for the last year and a half, most of the photographers I’ve met in the pit either won’t bother you while shooting as they are courteous enough and know the ropes of working around you and vice versa, you should do the same. Occasionally you will run into photographers though that are either rude by stealing your shots or just basically think they’re the rock star and their ego is the size of Mount Everest. If the situation is the latter of the two, don’t let them bring you down or affect your own performance by intimidation. Nine times out of ten they don’t have the talent to justify the size of their ego, and when they do, it still doesn’t justify a snobby attitude. While this field can be extremely cut throat and competitive, it’s not a competition. You’re there because you have a passion for music and love to photograph the moment of it in action. If a photographer is stealing your shots deliberately and being physically aggressive about it, notify security as soon as possible. You should never be physically shoved while photographing a show just so some asshole can get an epic shot. Let security handle it. I had a similar situation at a Peaches show that I shot in Chicago last year, and looking back on it I should’ve practiced what I’m preaching here. He was shooting in live view mode, holding up the camera in front of others and myself so we couldn’t get our shots and physically pushing and shoving others to get those shots. When I approached him after the opening act and politely told him I would appreciate that he wouldn’t do such things, he responded with “You gotta do what you gotta do to get the shot.” Mind you, this was a man in his 40′s, not some young adult with an attitude. I always say treat others with courtesy and how you’d like to be treated, and if you need to get past someone and they’re in your way, tap them on the shoulder before squeezing past them. You should never have to put up with physically aggressive photographers. It’s never a professional way to behave in a photo pit.
Most of the time fans at the show are really great. In fact, if you’re photographing a band you’re a fan of yourself, it’s a great opportunity to talk to them before the show and get to know them. You can’t really blame them if they accidentally hit you over the head while their arms are flailing (it’s happened to me…twice), they’re having fun and getting into the moment. Just be sure you be aware that they’re there and you have expensive equipment on your hands. While getting hit over the head and having open bottles of water spilled on your equipment bag from a crowd surfer (yes, this happened to me) is really annoying while you’re trying to shoot, try to remain calm and realize they’re there to enjoy the show too and they paid good money to be there. I’m specifically addressing the fans that are behind the barricade here and some of the things that can happen while photographing the show. It’s unpredictable, but be aware it does happen; just don’t let it get to you too badly if it does.
An unfortunate series of events: The occasional rabid fan can cause you to have photographic mishaps such as this.
As for the fans that are photographing the show with a photo pass, they may have a point n’ shoot camera (or they may not). This doesn’t automatically make them target for the butt of your jokes. Be respectful whether they have an SLR or not. When the situation is one of a rabid fanboy or fangirl in the pit dancing to the songs while you’re shooting and holding up their camera in front of yours continuously, this can be extremely irritating. You are there for professional reasons, and if they don’t respond with a polite request from you, notify security. Another thing they shouldn’t be doing is taking photos with their camera phone inside the photo pit. You shouldn’t have to deal with your shots being compromised or your equipment damaged by a dancing fan with flailing arms inside the photo pit trying to get a shot of the band member they’re drooling over. That kind of behavior is not suitable to shoot a show or professional and should be reserved for fans behind the barricade. That may sound harsh, but it’s the truth.
The Dreaded Red
Yes, it happens, and when it happens in full flood lighting on the performer, it can be a real hassle to shoot. Red lighting is the devil when it comes to concert photography, as it washes out the skin tones to a ridiculous degree when it comes to the photos. Sometimes, however, you can manipulate your photos and compensate for the awful red lights. Here are few fast fixes for red lighting:
- Separation of the tone in the photo is key. What does that mean? Trying underexposure in red lighting, as it’ll help separate the mid tones, shadows, and highlights. Your red, green, and blue RGB channels are typically read by your camera’s settings in how you shoot the photo and naturally, since red is dominant here, the green and blue will be compromised and washed out entirely here. Overexposure in red lighting will cause your photos to look “blown out” and extremely unnatural, and being red lighting, it’s already hard to have natural looking photos. As we discussed in an earlier journal, manual settings will give you complete control over this.
- If you’re allowed to use flash at a particular show that has a lot of red lighting, it’ll definitely help in giving your photos a more natural look and equalize the skin tones.
- If you’re aware that an artist has an over abundance of red lighting in their live show, you can purchase a blue filter to put over your lens for a relatively inexpensive price. This will help give it a cooler tone.
- A manual white balance setting in your camera (custom settings) can help give it a cooler tone, a recommendation of 2000K to 2700K should do the trick.
- Shooting in monochrome or using a monochrome filter in post production can sometimes help in giving the photo a more natural look. However, the downside is that depending on how much red lighting is used, what direction its coming from, and how close the artist is to the light at the time the shot is taken will depend on how natural and even the separation will be. I’ve used this trick with red lighting from the sides of the stage and it’s worked out fairly well. Other shots though, it hasn’t. Use your best judgement. An example of this is below of William Beckett of The Academy Is….Unfortunately I don’t have the original red shot as my external hard drive decided to malfunction and I lost a lot of the original and unused photos from last year and early this year. You can see that the shot works well though as a black n’ white photo.
Simple but important tips to keep yourself in check before a show
Charge your batteries several hours before a show. This is a no brainer. You don’t want to be out there and have your camera on a low battery. Bring extra batteries just in case.
Clean your lenses and make sure they’re dust and fingerprint free before shooting.
Buy multiple flash cards and bring them. You can buy a card case for about $4, and you don’t want to be shooting with just one card on you in case anything were to malfunction with the card.
Dress appropriately: again, this is a no brainer. I hate to sound like I’m patronizing, but honestly you want to wear loose, cool, comfortable clothing. Even if its freezing in the middle of winter outside, chances are it’ll be warm or even hot without much air circulation coming from the front of the venue, and sweating on your camera and others in the pit isn’t exactly fun for you or them.
Be respectful of other photographers: In other words, don’t be a douche, even if others are. If someone’s giving you trouble, notify security. There’s no need to resort to aggression or even physical violence because 1.That’s never the answer, 2. It makes you look extremely unprofessional, and 3. chances are if you do let your temper get the best of you and you are the initiator, you will be escorted out of the venue and possibly asked never to shoot at that venue again. Not only does that look bad on your part but to the publication/website/etc. you are shooting for as well, which could lead to termination of photo opportunities.
If you’re a woman, leave your purse in your car. You won’t need it in the pit.
In addition to the last, whether you’re male or female, keep your ID/credit cards/debit cards/wallet in your pocket or your camera bag and keep them well hidden. You don’t want to leave these things even in a locked up car since chances are you’re shooting in the city, and I don’t care what city it is, people are more likely to break in your car before stealing your wallet out of a well hidden bag in the photo pit.
Bring business cards with you and hand them out. Chances are those fans want to see your photos of the show and you never know who you’ll run into. Sometimes the tour manager will speak to the photographers about the “3 songs, no flash”. If you politely introduce yourself and pass on your card with your website address on them and introduce yourself, there’s a good chance the band or their tour manager will see your photos from the show.
Okay, the bases are covered, and most importantly, have fun while shooting! Don’t be so nervous that it compromises your shots, even when it’s your absolute favorite band and you get momentarily awestruck. Just breathe and have a great time shooting! Next time: tips to getting the best and epic shots!