Professional Photographer to the Rescue: live music photography made simple

Professional Photographer to the Rescue: music photography made simple

During the shoot


Music photography tips from a professional photographer: coping with the lighting

Image by Heather Fitsell

Coping with the lighting
Beware of blown-out highlights in your shots, says Laurence. Lower ISO settings help avoid this, as do good-quality pro lenses. If there are a lot of lights on different levels of the stage, you’ll get flare at some point. If you can put your subject between you and the backlighting it can help. But you can also deliberately get some nice blown-out effects if the backlighting is really harsh!”

Coping with the ‘no flash’ rule

In common with most big gigs, our duo couldn’t use flash at Wembley Arena. But rather than push the light sensitivity (ISO) right up and risk digital noise, Laurence keeps his ISO as low as possible and rarely goes above ISO400.

“I’m pretty sure that lower ISOs are going to yield better results 
in any given lighting situation,” the professional photographer says. “Obviously, when a show starts you can see what’s going to work. I try and keep things realistic.

“I see a lot of shots from shows I’ve been at, and they look like they were shot somewhere else because the photographer used high ISO settings and overexposed! Some people feel they have to have super-bright images all the time or no one will buy them.”

Music photography tips from a professional photographer: managing with just three songs

Three songs is all you get!
Even a top professional photographer like Laurence can usually only stay in the photo pit for the first three songs. So it’s vital you can make your DSLR adjustments quickly.

“I’ll usually start with 
a base exposure of, say, 1/100 sec at f/5.6 and adjust this based on how the first few shots come out,” he says. “Spotlights at a show will usually give you an even, predictable exposure wherever the subject happens to be. Once you’ve got that dialled in you just have to let the rest of the stage lighting take care of itself.

“The support act tonight, Black Stone Cherry, didn’t have spotlights, so they were harder to shoot as the lighting was less predictable. When you’ve made a change, get back to work – don’t waste time reviewing your shots!”

Pick a single feature to focus on
“It was very hectic in the photo pit, but I found it helpful to set my DSLR to One Shot autofocus mode and focus on a particular feature around chest height, such as the pattern of a shirt,” Heather says. “Laurence also advised I check the sharpness of a shot by zooming into a textured area, such as a guitar strap. In the shot on the right I focused on the guitarist’s pendant. ”

Checking your blacks
“It struck me how self-critical you have to be when reviewing shots in between bands,” Heather said. “One good piece of advice was 
to check sharpness by zooming into detailed areas. You can also check whether your DSLR is blowing-out detail by zooming into black parts of a shot – you want deep blacks, not dark greys!”

Music photography tips from a professional photographer: show the subject's face

Image by Heather Fitsell

Show the subject’s face
“I was concerned about low light when the support band came on, but with an event of this size there’s more light than you realise. An ISO of 400 was sufficient for most of the night,” Heather says.

“Laurence said that I should try to avoid shots where the band member’s face is covered by the mic, instruments or stray limbs, and I managed to do that in this image. This shot was taken early on in the evening, and captures the soft stage lighting as it highlights the face of the singer with the support act, Black Stone Cherry.”

PAGE 1: Meet our professional photographer & apprentice
PAGE 2: During the shoot
PAGE 3: Final tips from our professional photographer


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