It was 9:30am on a Wednesday when my plane lurched into the air. I had two hours of uninterrupted time to think. The flight from Charlotte to Toronto always surprises me with it's brevity. OK, time to get down to business. How the heck am I going to shoot concert photos. What are my shooting conditions going to be like?
And so that's how my day started, on May the 23rd, as I made my way to see the big CD Release Party for the Year of the Monkey 68 project that my friend Ron had been working on for two years. I just couldn't miss this party. Plus, heck, I really wanted to try my hand at shooting concert photos. Since I was "with the band," I knew this was going to give me a rare opportunity to get right up to the stage and do whatever the heck I wanted.
As the clouds passed by underneath, I put together a list of challenges that I would have to deal with:
- low-light shooting conditions
- extreme backlighting
- ever-changing lighting conditions
- ever-changing light color
- unpredictable subject movement
- inability to see exposure settings well with crowd and lighting issues
- lack of time to think much about exposure issues after the concert starts
Hmm, this is definitely not an environment I had any experience with. I was going to have to learn quickly. It dawned on me that my best chance at getting good photos was to allow myself to be free of exposure concerns and just spend my time finding the best compositions. To do this meant that I had to automate the exposure as much as possible. After careful consideration, here were my decisions:
- Set the ISO to 1600. The 5D has amazing low-light quality and this was one instance where I was going to need it. To capture a moving subject, I needed a higher shutter speed to avoid motion blur. A high ISO was my only option.
- Set the metering mode to "center-weighted". This is a great metering mode for backlit subjects.
- Leave the 24-105mm lens in the bag and shoot the whole concert with the 85mm f1.2 lens -- I decided that I wanted to separate the individuals I was shooting from the background on a small stage, and only the way to do this was with the shallow depth-of-field offered by the 85mm lens. It would also make things simple for me as far as composition, because I would have only one focal length, I would have to move myself around to change the look of the images. Since I had free reign to do so, I decided this was a good option.
- Set the exposure dial to Aperture Priority mode and try to keep the aperture around f2.2-f3.5. This will give me sufficient depth of field and terrific sharpness, while softly blurring the background.
- Set the shooting mode to "continuous" so that I could rapid fire images when I needed to.
- Remove the UV filter. With all of these lights coming from all these angles, the UV filter would definitely cause a flare or ghosting problem.
- Put all the extra CF cards and batteries in my jeans pockets, so that I wouldn't have to lug my bag around with me or miss a critical moment because I had to chase down my camera bag and make these changes.
As my plane touched down in Toronto, I was feeling pretty confident about shooting at the concert that night. I'd pretty much left myself only a couple of issues that would have to be dealt with on the spot. These were:
- white balance
- exposure compensation
Well, luck was shining on me this day. After spending 40 minutes in an alley shooting some portrait photos, I hung out in the club and listened to the band doing their sound check. The lucky part was that the lighting guys were also doing their thing, so I had a full 30 minute practice session with my camera. I shot photos of the singers under the same type of lighting conditions I would see later that evening. This practice was helpful in a number of ways.
First, it confirmed that I would definitely need 1600 ISO to get the shutter speeds I wanted at the f.2.2-f3.5 settings I was after. Second, I realized (yet again) that nothing looks more beautiful than a portrait style photo with the 85mm lens. Third, I was amazed at just how well the center-weighted metering handled the backlight. It wasn't perfect, but was easily corrected with EV adjustments. Fourth, I realized that the many colored lights were going to make accurate white balance an impossibility.
Lucky for me, there was a 4-camera video crew at the show setting up to create a DVD of the event. Knowing how friendly Canadians tend to be, I just wandered right over and asked them in my ignorant southern drawl "do y'all have to set white balance for these cameras?" Minutes later, I had one of them holding up a huge white card blasted with rays from a big tungsten concert light they had brought with them for just this purpose. Problem solved. My white balance was set for the evening. Thank you video crew.
Now I only had two things to think about while shooting. Composition and EV compensation. Heck, it's time for a beer, I can do those things with one hand tied behind my back.
So, after a few beers, here's how it all went down. I wandered from the balcony to right in front of the stage to get multiple angles of each singer as they performed. I would adjust the EV up or down based on skin color/outfit to make sure the center-weighted metering was accurate. Other than that, I wasn't having to think much at all about exposure settings. I spent all of my time thinking about where to take the shots from. I wanted to isolate the singers as much as possible, but not always. I came away with a handful of shots that I am happy with. Here are a couple, with the settings included. (click on images for full-sized version)
1/250 sec, f3.5, -1/3EV
1/400 sec, f3.2, +-0EV
1/320 sec, f4.0, -2EV
1/125sec, f2.8, -1EV
1/320, f3.5, -1EV
1/160, f2.2, -1 2/3EV
Some of the things I learned from this outing that I would do differently:
- I would include more shots with a crowd in the foreground
- I would try to get more shots of the band members individually
- I would make sure to get multiple angles of every singer and band member
To see more from this photo shoot, you can visit my gallery HERE. To hear some of the music from the CD visit the Year of the Monkey My Space Site. To BUY the CD (complete with my photos on the front & back cover!) visit the Official YOTM Site.