Shooting a concert and what I learned

December 27, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Gear: Canon 70D, 18-135mm IS STM.

We received a text from a friend literally 3 hours before the Kings Kaleidoscope & Citizens and Saints concert started in downtown Seattle, asking if we'd like to go. In case you were wondering, inherently I'm a bit of a homebody; a hermit of sorts. I'd be perfectly content making our suburban patch of real estate a permanent, self-contained biosphere, enabling me to never leave. Oh, and the prospect of Amazon drone deliveries brings me great joy. But let's face it, history records the fate of the zealots and it not working out so well for them (their civilization away from others crumbled). That said, it's good for me to get out and experience life a bit. Oh, and did I mention that I love shooting pictures?

I'm recording this blog post as much for myself as anyone else. I want to remember the quirks of shooting a concert in case I ever do it again. I want it to be more successful.

I threw on my go-to lens (Canon 18-135 STM) because I had no idea what to expect. What type of venue was this going to be? Intimate and quaint? Or a warehouse and rave-type environment? I had no idea. Turns out it was quaint and the crowd was relatively small. In retrospect a faster fixed lens may have helped with the lack of lighting at times (I'm thinking a Canon 24mm 2.8 pancake), but read on for how things turned out with my 18-135.

In true Seattle fashion, everything was dark sans the stage area. At times they activated movable stage lighting, which wreaked havoc on my light sensor as the beams of light thrashed to and fro. Manual was a must in this environment. Because the background was black, I didn't want the ISO too high because I wanted the noise to be minimal; herein lies the dilemma of any photographer: available light vs aperture vs shutter speed. My primary "targets" were moving most of the time, so I really had to find the balance between ISO noise and shutter speed. Thankfully I could usually shoot at lower F-stop #'s because I was shooting a single subject. All that being said, the name of the game was timing. Yes, timing. What I found to work best was two things: 1) waiting for the subject to stand still 2) wait for the moving stage lights to hit just right. That meant firing off a few rapid shots to try and grab a correctly lighted shot that suited my liking.

Additionally, I saw tons of opportunity in the crowd. Yes, they're people too. And when the light hit them right, there were some great photos to be had and it usually told a story. 

In summary, here's what I learned, in no particular order:

1) Even with low light, leave your bayonet - I mean tulip - on your lens. This helps with pushy, oblivious concert-goers.

2) Find the "magic triangle" by firing off a lot of test shots during certain lighting conditions. Remember the setting, then pounce when the timing is right.

3) Shoot in Manual to maintain complete control.

4) Don't forget the crowd! Great shots to be had there as well.

5) Ear plugs! Remember them.

6) Make the lighting work for you.

7) Go high-angle, especially if you have Live View and a movable screen (like my 70D).

8) Try to get behind the stage or in places people aren't typically allowed. Hey, it never hurts to ask.

9) Wait for the band member(s) to stop moving. Don't worry, unless they're on crack or meth, they will stop at some point.

10) Don't use a flash if you can help it - it looks bad and just pisses people off.

11) Mess with the WB until you get it right. I personally liked a brilliant white, but I noticed it made the lead singer's head too white (fixed in post photo processing).

12) Shoot in Monochrome a bit! It looks really cool and my camera had a much easier time with it.

13) If you take a cool shot in the crowd, share it with them.

Here's my favorite shot of the crowd. I literally took this "from the hip" in Manual, Monochrome. (19mm, ISO 5000, 1/80, f/5.6, flash OFF)


And here's a favorite of Zach, Lead Singer for Citizens and Saints. (85mm, ISO 2500, 1/125, f/6.3, no flash)

See how Monochrome let's me get away with higher ISO #'? Let me know what you think.



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