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Concert Photography: How to do it – Part 2

January 2, 2015 12:43 pm

If you haven’t already, read Part 1, here.

In order to take great shots at a concert event, you need ample lighting. However, you don’t want to create so much light that you’re blinding the band, the audience, or yourself. Achieving this balance of just enough light and shadow takes planning, trial and error, and patience, but it’s worth the effort.

Flood, don’t blind

Jason Nakleh from PopPhoto.com has a goal when setting up lighting at a concert to “basically flood the stage with light.” When he places his lights, he covers every area of the stage so that wherever he takes a photo from has enough illumination to show the chosen subject matter. In order to achieve an effect similar to Jason’s, place your lights in a few strategic locations. The four main locations are at the back two corners of the stage, by or on the kick drum, and in front of the stage.

  • Back corner lights – For these lights, use strobes such as Alien Bees that mount on stands at head height, around six feet. These lights work the best when aimed toward center stage at approximately 45 degrees. The idea is to aim them directly at the lead singer. You can check this during setup by standing where the singer would be and looking back toward the lights. If the bulbs point directly at you, then you’re set, but if they’re not, adjust them until they are. For a more focused beam of light, you can place grids on the lights and increase the power to compensate for loss of light width.
  • Kick drum light – Mounting a speed light on the kick drum or near it brings more light to the stage and creates a unique effect where it appears that light originates from the drum. Jason Nakleh suggests asking the drummer if you can “strap it to the leg of the kick drum, or to one of the stands in the drum kit with a bungee cord or some tape.” This speed light aims directly into the crowd, which provides backlighting for the lead singer, highlights fans in the front, and creates unique shadows on the stage.
  • Front light – The front light is a speed light mounted on your camera. Obviously, the origin of this light will change as you move to take photographs from different angles, but when it’s coordinated with the three other lights, you always have some form of light on the subjects including band members, instruments, and people in the crowd.

This light setup floods the stage with light without blinding the band members. The lights themselves can even become focal points in your photographs, depending on the position you take for a shot. Having the other lights in your pictures, adds depth, a unique layer of light, and visual interest.

Secure equipment

When you’re setting up you lights, it’s vital that you secure them so they won’t fall over. Use tape or bungee cords to secure your light stands to the stage and test your arrangement to insure everything stays upright. This is important because if your equipment falls it could be damaged, damage the band members’ gear, hurt someone, or all of the above. Depending on the venue, you might be liable for any damage or injury sustained during the event so always check and re-check the secure placement of your equipment.

Exposure settings

Despite the unique considerations required for concert photography, there are still two main exposures to consider and they’re the flash and ambient exposures. Ambient exposure is from the light at the venue that hits the subject matter. Flash light comes for your flashes and the aperture selected determines the amount of exposure. As Jason Nakleh says “Larger aperture = more flash light. Smaller aperture = less flash light. You’ll be using these settings to control the look of your image.” Ambient and flash exposures are essential to the overall lighting in the photograph.

Start out with settings in the middle range and lights at half power so you can adjust settings as you need to throughout setup. Jason sets his camera at ISO 400 because he doesn’t mind the grain and he says it works better with flash power than ISO 100 does. Adjust your shutter speed for the amount of ambient light you want to allow in your shots. Jason Nakleh starts “with my aperture at f/8, and take a test shot. If my settings are off, say there is way too much light from the flashes, I’ll adjust the power down to 1/4 and take another test shot.”

Ultimately, it’s your call on camera settings, as only you know the mix of flash and ambient exposure you want. Continue to take test shots until you’ve achieved the desired effect in your photography and treat every event as a valuable learning experience.