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Gig photography; advice needed!

Discussion in 'Street, Documentary, and Portrait' started by Farcanalman, May 20, 2012.

  1. Farcanalman


    Feb 12, 2012
    I suppose this is the place to ask, we will see!

    I have been asked by a couple of bands, 1 blues and 1 heavy metal, to do some live gig photo sessions by way of a test shoot, for both the bands and myself.

    I have never photographed stage events before and have heard that due to such influences as movement, lighting(or the lack of) and line of sight problems, that this sort of shooting can be very difficult.

    Can any of you shed light(sic!)on this subject and if possible give hints, tips or clear advice; preferably based on direct experience?

    The events will in the main be indoors, typically in bars or clubs, but maybe with some medium-sized locations later on!


    I have a selection of both MF adapted lenses and at the moment just the 14-42 kit lens available for use, a tripod where appropriate as well as a hot-shoe flash unit!

    Heres looking forward to some detailed input from the wide spectrum of shooters I know exist on this forum!

  2. CarlB

    CarlB Mu-43 Veteran

    I'm not an expert, but I find large aperture lenses really help. If you don't have the VF-2, I really recommend getting one, especially if you're going to shoot the manual lenses.

    I notice you have the E-PL1, still a great camera and will be able to get you great results.

    Depending how close of access you'll have to the stage, you'll want to choose your lenses accordingly. Close access, 14-42mm and the 50mm for portraiture. Only longer access, then the longer zooms, accordingly.

    You'll want to experiment - what speed shutter is needed to freeze movement? Play with that to see the minimum you need to get mostly un-blurred action. Faster than that and you're throwing away light, which you'll need to keep the ISO in the acceptable range.

    It's best to have two cameras setup with two lenses for separate purposes: One for portraiture (choose the one based upon your distance to the stage) and one for wider-angle group shots. Especially if you're farther away, and are using the primes.

    If you're closer-in and can't get the second body or VF-2, the 14-42mm is going to be your best bet.

    I know it's silly, but try to find them smiling, scowling, digging-in, whatever. It's the emotional content that really draws us in with band shots.
    • Like Like x 1
  3. landshark

    landshark Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 27, 2010
    SO CAL
    Focus, exposure and distance from the subject are your most difficult challenges. It also depends on agreeing that what you want and what they want from these images is pretty close.
    What you need is simple fast lenses and the ability to shoot fairly noise free at high ISOs. I am not sure your lens selection is the best for this. MF lenses on a M4/3 body is not going to easy to focus and catch the action, the kit zoom is slow. The closer you can get the easier it will be to shoot. I would just try and shoot any band performance, first and see how it goes before you shoot this test gigs
    • Like Like x 1
  4. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    I've shot a lot of performing arts stuff. As in all photography lighting will make you or break you. Typically you gotta go with an elevated ISO, 800-1600 and with fast lenses, around 2.8.

    Work with the light, shooting into stage lighting is most dramatic. Shoot very tight with long lenes and shoot close-up with a wide lens, let you imagination go ballistic.

    Often I shoot a dress rehearsal which allows me to get on stage.

    Some Samples:

    Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II    ---    140mm    f/3.2    1/125s    ISO 1600

    Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II    ---    70mm    f/2.8    1/200s    ISO 1600

    Canon EOS 5D    ---    24mm    f/2.8    1/45s    ISO 1600

    Canon EOS 5D    ---    20mm    f/2.8    1/60s    ISO 1600


    Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II    ---    200mm    f/2.8    1/125s    ISO 3200


    Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II    ---    200mm    f/2.8    1/200s    ISO 1600



    • Like Like x 8
  5. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Amazing work, Gary.

    Andreas, I'm no pro but have tried this sort of thing. First of all, make sure you'll be close to the band at the gigs. Shoot at the lowest possible f-number which gives acceptable sharpness for your lenses. For wide angle shots use your 14-42 wide open at 14mm. For tele shots, probably your Pentax 50 close to wide open.

    I'd shoot in shutter speed priority mode (try varying the shutter speed to see what works), auto ISO, and use exposure compensation as needed for the given lighting situation. Eg, if the subject is under a bright spotlight, you may need a couple of stops of negative exposure comp not to blow them out.
    • Like Like x 1
  6. konstantanol

    konstantanol Mu-43 Rookie

    May 3, 2011
    great shots Gary .. are all those taken with m4/3 camera ?

    and for farcanalman,
    i think it would be better if you get fast lenses, 14-42 lens kit is not going to make your life easier. a fast MF lens might help, but if the bands moves all the time it would be difficult to focus.
    and for metering, i usually go for spot metering. lock the metering at the subject and then compose the shot. get as close as you get to the stage, espescially when the show is crowded.

    one more thing, with epl-1 don't go over iso 800. and i usually set gradation to low

    here's two of my shots at some gigs :

    Ernest "Cokelat" by ariessurya, on Flickr

    bembi & onny by ariessurya, on Flickr

    epl-1 + nikkor mf 50mm f/1.4
    • Like Like x 3
  7. CarlB

    CarlB Mu-43 Veteran

    Gary's shots are so much out of my league as to be disheartening, heh! Of course snapping the "Four Shmoes" at a local tavern leaves most us with a bit less to work with. ;^)

    Adding to what Amin says, on the Olys I'll typically shoot at -1.3 exposure, it seems to be a good for color, not blowing out highs, and still being able to pull up the darks if needed.

    We should be asking, what budget do you have for new gear? What you have right now presents some challenges, perhaps with a few tweaks you'll increase your success rate ...
    • Like Like x 1
  8. speedandstyle

    speedandstyle Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Long, fast lens!!!
    I work at a church and sometime have to shoot live events with low light and a long fast lens is critical. Unfortunately they are also very expensive. You can boost the ISO but you will get noise. Image Stabilizing is very handy if you are not on sticks or a mono. You have to keep your shutter speed as high as possible or the motions will be blurred. If you are going to use auto focus set it to center or you will miss some shots. The other thing that will make a set of shots from an event interesting is shooting from multiple spots , not sitting in one place and only getting one angle. One thing I do is shoot as much as I can at dress rehearsal{if there is one}.
    • Like Like x 1
  9. Farcanalman


    Feb 12, 2012
    I have more lenses...

    I do have a couple more lenses than those listed below!

    Once the G3+14-42 comes next week I will have 2 bodies to have set up, the E-PL1 for semi-auto and the G3 for the manual shots.

    Well that is how I will approach it to begin with!


    Thanks for the input so far and please keep it coming...

  10. Ned

    Ned Mu-43 Legend

    Jul 18, 2010
    Alberta, Canada
    Don't bother with the 14-42mm. Use a faster manual lens. An 85mm f/1.4 or 50mm f/1.4 would probably work perfect, giving you a fast enough aperture with enough distance to achieve a reasonably flattering perspective. If you go much longer (ie, like 135mm, 150mm, 200mm) then you'll have trouble finding faster lenses plus you'll still need something no longer than a 50mm to get shots of the whole band even from a distance. I would consider bringing a longer telephoto like a 135mm f/2.8 for the headshots, but if you have an 85mm f/1.4 you'll probably be able to get some nice individual shots with that. I like to use the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD or the 135mm f/2.8 for some tighter shots but the f/2.8 aperture is pretty slow for night club venues so you will want a faster lens to go along with it. Of course, if you can get on the stage itself then you'll want a wider lens for those shots. The 50mm should do you find for the individual musicians. If you're not on the stage though and you have nothing to stand you up to stage high, you'll want a longer lens to compress the perspective so all your shots aren't looking up at them from the ground.

    Then there's flash... if you can use a good sized flash (ie, like the FL-50R) with a soft diffuser, you'd be surprised how much light you can flood into a dark room in an instant, even if you're shooting with a long lens. Make sure your diffuser is strong though, so that you create a good soft light and don't disturb the band and everybody around you. Even with flash though, you will still need a pretty high ISO. If you do choose to use flash, remember that it will change the ambiance of the stage lighting for better or worse. Always pick your tools wisely. ;) 

    *EDIT: Just saw your list in your signature... The Pentax and the Tamron will probably be your two best lenses for this job.
    • Like Like x 1
  11. Ned

    Ned Mu-43 Legend

    Jul 18, 2010
    Alberta, Canada
    Yes, this is an important consideration! Being a dark venue, you want to retain a low key image. The camera will see how dark it is and try to boost the exposure, which will not only give you too slow a shutter speed but will also ruin the low-key ambiance. So you will need to dial down the Exposure Compensation to get the camera to meter right.
    • Like Like x 1
  12. Farcanalman


    Feb 12, 2012
    Scott Ian?

    The guy in shot #6 looks incredibly like Scott Ian of Anthrax!


    But I have never seen him play keyboards as he is a guitarist/singer, so this dude must be his double!


    I have the idea that my Tamron 90mm f2.5 for ranged/headshots at high-ish ISO and the Pentax 50mm f1.7 for wide-ish/whole stage at med-high ISO...

    Careful with the shutter speed and push or pull as I see fit?

    I have a 30mm but it is a bit slow, in fact as slow as the Oly kit lens at 14mm!

    I have the E-PL1 up for trade with preference to obtaining a small-med native lens, if that happens I would still be happy to go for it with just the G3 as it gives me more pro's and no con's over the E-PL1, IMO!

  13. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    Thanks for the compliments ... but shooting with stage/theater lighting is fish in a barrel ... you just have to work with it ... if you can move around, no problem ... if you can't move ... it is easy to be screwed.

    I wouldn't use a flash. (For me because I lack the expertise to make flash look natural ... if you have that expertise then go for it ... otherwise I suggest bumping up the ISO and work with the light ... see the light ... light is your best friend.)


    Canon EOS 5D    ---    70mm    f/2.8    1/125s    ISO 1600

    Canon EOS 5D    ---    24mm    f/2.8    1/125s    ISO 1600

    Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II    ---    200mm    f/2.8    1/60s    ISO 1600

    Canon EOS 5D    ---    35mm    f/2.8    1/10s    ISO 1600

    Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II    ---    70mm    f/2.8    1/800s    ISO 1600

    • Like Like x 2
  14. Farcanalman


    Feb 12, 2012
    Just what I wanted to hear/read!

    I am going to a live event next week and am taking a 30 year old Pentax ME Super(Black) with the 50mm f1.7 and 2 rolls of 1600 asa colour negative film!

    My reasoning is; if I am there to enjoy the concert and not get tangled up with shooting, I might as well just take the bare minimum that has at least better than 50/50 chance of giving me a few decent results!


    I will see what others are using/doing as and when I get to any kind of venue, no matter what the art or craft on display... I might spot a good setup or even find a friendly photo-journo willing to talk after the gig!


  15. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    This dude?

    Canon EOS 5D    ---    85mm    f/2.0    1/60s    ISO 3200

    This was Downtown Disney. Lighting was dismal ... ISO 3200 ... the low light made the shot very challenging.

    • Like Like x 2
  16. chasm

    chasm Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 2, 2010
    I agree with all the advice so far given, and admire the sample shots posted!
    I find pure spot metering to be indispensable for this kind of work - AE lock on the face of whoever you're photographing. That way any balance for extreme lighting is much easier to do PP.
    I use my Minolta MD 50mm f1.2 - if I were able to get to the press area for gigs I'd use my 25mm Nokton, but my blagging skills aren't up to it!
    • Like Like x 1
  17. GaryAyala

    GaryAyala Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    With stage lighting, because spotlights are used, careful metering is a must. I'd use a spot meter off the face.

    Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II    ---    200mm    f/2.8    1/160s    ISO 1600


    PS- I'd take the camera(s) and lenses you expect to use for the test gig ... just for familiarizing and seeing what what lens/camera does under similar situations. I think it's a big mistake not to practice with the equipment you will use.
    • Like Like x 1
  18. mzd

    mzd Mu-43 Veteran

    Nov 30, 2010
    it sounds like these are more local bands? so the venues shouldn't be so large that you can't get to a reasonable distance to the stage. i think the Oly 45mm f1.8 would be your friend in this situation. you will need the fast aperture because the lighting is going to be dark at a bar. no matter what.
    there will be a lot of movement and light changes (if there is any sort of lighting rig or, even if not, the musicians will move in and out of the available lights). so this will make metering difficult. if you are going to use any of the auto modes (P, A, S) then you need to use spot metering and make sure it right on your subject (face or instrument).
    personally, i have found that the lighting is so low that i do away with auto modes and put it on manual at the widest aperture (in the f1.7 - 2 range depending on lens) and i set the shutter to 1/30 or so. i can handhold at that speed and still get sharp images. i also recommend setting to burst mode. play with ISO to get the cleanest image at those settings. your hit rate won't be fantastic (due to moving subjects, constantly changing facial expressions, and of course light), but you should get some decent shots. you can try increasing the shutter speed to freeze more movement if it isn't working for you, but you will need to increase your ISO to compensate. it is nice that these shots really only need a sliver of light on your subject to produce a nice, dramatic shot and catch the moment.
    if it is really dark, and you can get close enough so you are within the flash range, you can try some slow sync flash to produce some great effects with motion trails and such, but the flash may be overly distracting to everyone (audience, band) so i wouldn't use it all the time, plus of course you need to be within range.
    or, if you are lucky and the place happens to have sufficient light (never my experience) then you can have more options with your exposure settings.

    here are the only examples i have online (from facebook) at the moment - all with the 20 f1.7 (before i had the 45 f1.8).



    • Like Like x 1
  19. kevinparis

    kevinparis Cantankerous Scotsman Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2010
    Gent, Belgium
    great shots gary.

    one other suggestion I didn't see mentioned is to switch to spot metering... I find this works for me

    P1030252 by kevinparis, on Flickr

    P1030373 by kevinparis, on Flickr

    P1030409 by kevinparis, on Flickr

    these were all shot in a dim bar at ISO5000 on a GH2, spot focus and aperture priority with either the 25 or the 45 wide open.

    There are more from the same venue here

    Blues at the Hotsy Totsy - a set on Flickr

    I do have the advantage at this venue of getting real close to the performers... which helps a lot.

    One last thing.....take lots of shots... over a three hour evening I took nearly 600 shots....and I wasn't even on continuous shutter... In the end I posted about 50 shots I wasn't unhappy with...

  20. Chuck Pike

    Chuck Pike Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 3, 2010
    Charlotte, NC.
    using a G3?

    I just shot an event yesterday, but not as low light as many of these. If you look at the focus settings, there is a spot focus point. Just remember that you have it on. The cross hairs comes up in the center of the screen, but can be moved, not sure how. I place the spot on the subjects eye, and it zooms in to fill the frame with the face for many be 5 seconds, letting you pick the focus point. Then as the screen goes back to normal you can set you composition. This really worked well, because everything I shot this way is tack sharp. I was shooting with the G3, 20mm lens and ISO was set to 1600. I do whish I had one of the longer primes but I will crop.
    Images for books, magazines and calendars | photosbypike
    • Like Like x 1
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