Concert Photography - focus & clipped channels

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by nico_., Aug 10, 2004.

  1. I did my first gig last weekend for a young band. While processing the pictures from my D70 two questions arose: 1. Light was very uneven & worst was the singer in his white clothes standing directly under a spotlight. This has resulted of course in a lot of pictures with burnt highlights. But even the ones that were ok exhibit clipped channels that look not so bad on screen until you print them. In print, the clipping shows up as strange colors shifts. I recently saw an article on luminous landscape about restoring clipped channels but it involved quite a few steps & sounded complicated (I'm still a beginner when it comes to digital). How do handle this? PS trickery? Don't care? 2. I noticed that in most closeup shots of the singers with my 85mm @2.2-2.8, the microphone was in focus instead of the face. This is only visible if you look closely but I suppose I'm a bit fussy about these things. Will anyone apart from myself care? Do you care in your pictures?
  2. A search for "concerts", "concert shooting", or
    "digital concert photography" will yield a wealth of info.

    As for focus...focus on the performer, unless you're selling the
  3. Well thanks for the effort BW. I didn't find any specific info on this that's why I asked. The usual advice is to spot meter on the face and maybe open up one stop. That doesn't help much if the performer is wearing bright clothes. Metering on the clothes of course leaves me with the rest grossly underexposed. So it seems something has to go, highlights or shadows. I ask for practical advice from people who have done this before.

    And thanks for the joke too. The problem is that the mic is often much brighter than the face and if it's right in front of the face the AF decides to rather latch on the mic instead of the face. With a upper body shot with a 85mm from a couple of meters distance the AF sensor indicator in the viewfinder covers at least half of the face and it's difficult to distinguish whether the focus is on face or mic.
  4. Got to say, this is where I love film. This is where I am in control and not the damned camera and all this digital stuff. Its not that I'm anti but, there's time and a place for everything. Concert hall photography is one of those places where film still excels.

    With digital, I would assume the same rules apply especially in shooting colour - shoot for the highlights and let the shadows look after themselves.

    As for focusing, aim for the nostrils. That way the eyes and mouth should be in focus. You may also be better off using a longer lense - a 200 or 300 mil. This coming from someone who use's a 300 2.8 handheld and manual focus. Like I said, I like being in control. HTH
  5. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I do a lot of band photography and use a 10D, which has reasonably similar characteristics to the D70. I don't usually have the problems you are experiencing and will attempt to offer some advice.
    First of all, use the histogram. I try to get exposures down within the first five minutes. I shoot and check the histogram on each shot until I can figure out what's going on with the lighting and adjust to avoid problems with the highlights.
    It's important to understand that the lighting in most concerts, except daytime outdoors shows, is well beyond the range of the camera (including a film camera) fir you are trying to capture everything. The lights are usually extremely bright, as you have found out, and the shadows are usually pitch black. Don't exposure for the shadows, expose for highlights. You're going to lose some of the shadows no matter what you do in most concert situatons.
    Second, focus is always difficult in the dark. I usually focus on the face, but use manual focus to keep tracking the face until I shoot. It's a pain in the dark, but it usually works. I've had the same problem with manual focus cameras - it's often so dark, you have to be extremely careful. Alternatively, use flash and go for large depth of field. I work in some clubs where the lighting doesn't allow for available light shooting.
    Also, shooting with a large aperture with an 85mm doesn't give you a good situation for getting much in focus. I use eiter a 20mm or 35mm and shoot at or on the stage. This makes it much easier to get what you want.
    Sorrow Town Choir, Copyright 2004 Jeff Spirer
  6. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Concert hall photography is one of those places where film still excels.
    Wow, do I disagree. I've done tons of shooting of shows, and digital is essential. The ability to check the histogram completely changes things - even with latitude, you can still easily blow the highlights. I switched this year and average about three times the number of printable shots.
  7. Thanks Rogan and Jeff. The shot above was in fact an extreme example and the blown highlights didn't bother me as much as the clipped channels which turn slightly green in print. I didn't use the 85mm exclusively. I too found it too long in most cases except for drummer etc in the backgound. In fact, the shot above was taken with a 35mm. Fortunately, I brought my flash so the problem was much less dominant than without.
  8. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I find digital helps a lot with flash also. I've never really gotten what I want from TTL, and I usually shoot in manual with my finger on the power adjustment, moving as my distance changes, regularly checking the histogram. This one is shot with a bare bulb flash and the 10D.
    Ravana at The Cat Club SF, Copyright 2004 Jeff Spirer
  9. I was actually quite surprised how well the flash did. An orange filter helped to not make it not look so "flashy". I used it as fill flash only with -1.3 to -1.7 flash exposure compensation.
  10. Jeff, its a "horses for courses" thing. Yes, there are things I love about a digital. "Instant feedback" being one of them. But heck, there's one thing I really despise in all this digital stuff and that's not having that piece of film in my hand. That film is real. I value my photography too highly to entrust it to something that's virtual. As much as I have enjoyed digital, the technology can also get in the way of a good thing. I want to focus on the guy in front of me - not what my gear is doing or not doing. Attached is an image which hopefully illustrates some of the points I've tried to make above.
  11. Welcome to the world of concert photography... It's not easy as you see! Personally, I like the challenge of it, plus I'm a musician myself. I use a Fuji S2 which is based on a Nikon N80 body, so the metering may (or may not) be the same system. I've had better luck with metering in center weighted mode and a -0.5 stop compensation. Shoot for a couple of minutes and check the histogram to see if it's working or if more correction is needed. Once the highlights are blown, they're gone. No PS work will bring them back! A small amount is some times unavoidable though.

    Small stages are much harder to shoot than big ones. The closer that the lights are to the musicians, the higher the contrast range will be so it'll be easy to blow the person's face out. Bigger stages have more lights that are mounted up higher, so the light is much more even. As an added bonus, bigger stages are brighter too. This comparison is a generalization of course, comparing a typical small club with a festival type stage.

    As far as focusing goes, with a wide aperture and a close subject distance you'll have very little depth of field with an 85 so accuracy is very important. You're working with moving subjects in very low light levels and no room for error - that's asking a lot from a camera system! You're not going to nail every shot, so shoot a lot to compensate for that.
  12. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I really despise in all this digital stuff and that's not having that piece of film in my hand...
    Well up above you said it was specific to this type of shooting.
    I'll still say that for difficult lighting situations like performances, it's a whole lot better with digital. I've done it for years, and film was always a crap shoot, especially with flash.
    One other advantage with digital is that I can from one shot at ISO 100 with flash to another at ISO 1600 without flash.
    But based on your comments, you just don't like digital.
  13. Nico, your other photos posted look pretty good (fill flash). But I do feel your pain in the blown out white areas (first post). I've shot live events like this, and always end up with shots that become more part of an "artistic" statement, rather than documenting the event and the performers. Most often I focus manually and keep in position for several shots in a row, generally getting a handful of sharp pics. I shoot with a D70 now as well, and am still learning the nuances.... Good luck.
  14. Jeff, sorry to harp on here but please take care on how you quote me. I initially wrote, "What I despise about digital ..." etc. Not, "... I despise [about] digital...". A slight difference on emphasis there.

    Before that I said, "there's a time and a place for everything". Went on to add that the concert hall (stage, rehersal rooms, boogey barns and whatever) IS NOT a place where digital and auto everything excells.

    In reality and with most headline concerts I've photographed either flash was banned or "actively discouraged" this together with being allowed to photograph the only first 3 numbers and then out. This was typical to the situation in the UK.

    With situations like that, the KISS principle comes into effect. Two camera bodies - one for colour (typically shooting at 1200 ASA on EPJ), one for B&W (shooting 1200 ASA on HP5). Prefocus, get into the groove and shoot. Shoot long, shoot wide and get what you can before being asked to move on. As an aside and for colour - have started "playing around" with Fuji's and Kodak's colour press film. The verdict is still out on that.

    As for "disliking" digital. Put it this way, I hold a "real world view" on this stuff. Most of my commercial work is shot on digital. Its a "here today and gone tomorrow" thing. With most of this work there's usually no residual value attached to it. Once delivered and the client has paid, I have no further interest in this stuff - be this a head shot, PR presentation and such like.

    Take a very different view when it comes to my architectural, music, social documentary and stock image photography. This work has residual value where a decent image can be "sold" many times over. This is where the digital kit gets dumped on the back seat and I use film. Well, this one point of view amongst many expressed here. HTH.
  15. The focusing with a D70 or D100 is very difficult in these conditions. The sensors are usually too large for pinpointing the face. Manual focusing is almost impossible due to the optics and size of the image on the viewfinder. 85 mm is a good choice, it should give you a fairly good chance of manual focus.

    I recommend you to shoot matrix but watch the histogram and blinking highlights. Avoid blown-out highlights ... by for example applying negative exposure compensation. Spot metering is difficult because you need to track a moving subject, and with the instant feedback, it's rarely necessary with digital. Remember that you can make a white shirt white by spot metering it and adding two stops to the meter reading.
  16. Nico, I do quite a bit of shooting under stage lighting conditions. I've noticed that several of the shots posted above have not been color balanced for the tungsten stage lights (all cans and floods and all but high-tech spots are tungsten). This contributes to blown channels and burned out areas. The pic I'm posting was shot last night during an "icebreaker" activity on stage and the unprocessed image looked similar to yours. The lighting is typical small-stage: tungsten cans and spots controlled from a digital console. When processing the raw files using Capture One, I shifted the color temp even lower than the standard tungsten setting (if I recall, these lights turned out to be about 2100K). This resolved a BUNCH of burn-out and brought on more natural colors. In images of the band playing later, the colored cans on the backdrop, etc., still retained their reds, blues, etc. You can also reduce the contrast to pull highlights and shadow closer together. (Details: Canon EOS 300D/Digital Rebel, ISO 800, Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS at 195mm (312mm 35mm equiv.), manual exposure at f/2.8 and 1/80th sec.)
  17. Rob, thanks for the pointer. It just so happened the spot lights on singer and trumpeter were yellow at times. In fact, my D70's white balance was set to tungsten light. Not only that, I also used an orange gel filter on my flash, matching the stage lighing quite nicely. I have other shots with a guy in a red t-shirt standing directly under a red spot light :(

    Also, the question with pictures like this is whether to go for a realistic, color corrected look or something a little bit more wicked.
  18. Concert photography is portraiture so focus on the eyes. I usually did b&w so I can't say much about all these color shifts.

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