Live Music Shoot

I enjoy shooting live music events.  It’s a technical challenge coupled with constantly changing opportunities for great photographs.  As I  noted in an earlier post, the low-light capabilities of the Canon 5D Mark II (and cameras like the Nikon D3) open whole new avenues for great candid shots in typically less than wonderful lighting conditions.

Last night I went to hear a local band, True West, perform at a pool hall in Waltham.  (The band is based in Maynard and we’re friends with the lead singer and her family).  I had asked if I could do some test shoots and received permission.  My goal was to see how the camera performed for both stills and video and it was a dry run for a Stone Mountain Live shoot coming up in February.

It’s probably not a great idea to discuss screwing up in public, but what the heck – perhaps I can help someone avoid making the same bonehead errors.  The day before the shoot I was using the camera to take some “home movies” of our grandson – so I set the camera to record video in Standard Definition (640×480).  I neglected to reset it to HD, and because using the camera isn’t exactly second nature yet, and because I was pretty much in the dark most of the time, I didn’t notice the framing window when I shot the video with the band.     This has two drawbacks: the footage is in SD which limits my testing (a minor problem), and the shots looks a bit odd because I was composing for a 16:9 aspect ratio while shooting 4:3.   D’oh!

Here’s a short compilation of some of the clips.  All were shot either handheld or with a monopod.  I brought two lenses: 24-70 f/2.8 L, and the 70-200 f/2.8 L.  The latter has image stabilization which works great for handheld video.   The camera records SD at 22Mbps and this clip was compressed to 1.5Mbps and transcoded to Flash — so there is some loss of quality, but you can get a pretty good idea of the shoot.  The stage lighting was, well, pretty much what you expect in a typical pool hall – pretty rotten.  So this was a pretty difficult challenge for video (and photography).

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As you can see the lighting was brash and the colors changed every 2 seconds, literally.  This is footage more or less out of the camera (no attempts at tweaking the video itself).  These conditions didn’t make taking photographs easy either  — but that’s kind of the fun part of the exercise: turning a sow’s ear…

When faced with garish stage lighting, one option is to switch to B&W.  When you change from color to grayscale in  Lightroom a whole new set of controls becomes available that allow you to filter the light based on colors.  This, in effect, gives tonal control over where certain lights were falling while leaving others more or less alone.  The result is very powerful:


same image with the blues/aquas toned down a bit to try to even out the exposure a bit:


By taking color saturation out of the mix, you can create a nice image that has far better tonal balance.

Shooting into the lights is always fraught with danger, but can yield some dramatic images.  JD and the lights only created this composition for a split second twice during the entire evening.  Thank the gods for auto-focus.


Here I intentionally was playing with composition including the bright blue spot causing flare, a loss of contrast, or as a rim light.  I have a number of OK images, but this one felt the best:


When I am editing a shoot, and I’ve heard this from other photographers, some images just “jump out” at you — even though they may not be exactly what you were hoping for.  In this case I was very happy with the image of Laura Pratt belting out a song here, but something said “get rid of the color” and it worked even better.  The lighting and angle created what felt like a bit of a vignette effect so I used Lightroom’s vignette tool to enhance that feeling just a bit more.   I edited this at 1am and I’ll probably go back to in a week and decide I could tweak it a bit more, but overall I’m happy with the results of this first quick edit:


Click here for a larger gallery of images from the True West shoot, including exposure and ISO information, in my Community pictures.

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