Up The ISO
Lighting at gigs can be difficult. It’s always changing, it can be pretty dim and with the band members moving around a lot getting a sharp, correctly-exposed image can be tough.
While ideally you want to be using as large an aperture as possible to let the most light in sometimes you’re limited if you’re using a low-end compact camera or a zoom lens without a fixed aperture. In these cases, the best thing to do is increase the ISO.
Using a shutter speed that is too slow will result in blurred images which can’t be recovered later, however increasing the ISO will, at worst, leave you with a noisy image which can often be improved using photo editing software or kept as-is to add atmosphere to your photos.
Take A Lot of Photos
I’ve always said, the best way to learn about photography is to practice a lot and gig photography is no exception, especially when you often have less than a second to get the perfect shot.
When you start out take a lot of photos, learn about the kit you’re using and learn about how different lighting effects show up in camera. No one can tell you this stuff because every type of camera and lens is going to behave a little differently. Every venue and band is going to have different lighting and every performance bands are going to behave differently. The best thing you can do is keep taking photos until you begin to pick up on some of the patterns.
You’ll start to learn what lighting looks best in photographs, which poses and positions certain band members look best in and you’ll learn how your camera deals with it all. Once you get to this point things’ll become easier but you only get there by taking the photos and learning from them in the first place.
Only Pick the Best and Learn From Them
In the past 6 years I must have taken tens of thousands of gig photos, on a typical night at Battle of the Bands when I was at Warwick I’d take anywhere between 1,000 and 3,000 photos.
When it came to picking out my favourites and editing the best ones the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given came from Stewart Randall, who I worked with at Folio Albums about 3 years ago. He told me very simply: Edit in, don’t edit out.
Basically he means only pick out your very best ones, your absolute favourites, rather than just getting rid of the ones that aren’t quite good enough. I always follow the rule where if I wouldn’t want to take the time and spend the money to print it out and show it to people, it’s not worth my time editing. This is how I end up with only the best photos at the end of it.
Use The Lighting To Your Advantage
You’re not always going to be able to get a simple, straight forward portrait of someone at a gig. That’s why you need to be able to adapt and work with the lighting you’ve got and make it work for you.
No lighting from the front but a lot from the back? Try for silhouettes.
Look for the details
Not everything is about getting that close-up shot of the lead singers face. It’s also about capturing the atmosphere, the music, the passion of the artists and all those little details that make a gig so special.
So try for the close ups of instruments being played, the set up of the stage, the excited people in the crowd and look for the details you might ordinarily miss.