People often ask me how do you photograph bands on stage? What are the top tips for getting great images?
From a technical point-of-view, after some trial and error, I settled on manual exposure for live music photography. This is because a lot of stage lighting involves back light (below are two examples of this featuring Iggy Pop and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters). With back light on stage, if you use any of the semi-automatic exposure modes on a DSLR, the result would be massive under-exposure of your subject. This is because the camera’s meter is tricked into registering the scene on stage as much brighter than it actually is, due to the intense backlight going into the lens.
With this Iggy Pop image, I was right in front of the stage, shooting at a wide angle into the light. The action in front of me was changing every second, so the key was to react quickly, taking a number of frames on continuous burst. Using the manual setting, I maintained the exposure on his skin (as a general rule with any portrait photography, the correct way to expose is for the subject’s skin).
Using manual mode, you need to ride the shutter speed, aperture and ISO to get the right exposure. There is one setting, however, which I have found is a great starting point for stage photography.
F 2.8, 1/160 sec, ISO 2000 – this is a fairly average theatre stage lighting setting. I always start with this and then tweak the settings. The challenge with this type of photography is dealing with a lot of action in low light. So here, the aperture is wide open, letting in as much light as possible. The shutter speed is fast enough to freeze most subjects (if they are very fast moving, you will need to increase the shutter speed to minimize motion blur). The ISO is at this level to give a fast enough shutter speed.
And with the Dave Grohl photograph, it was very fast moving, shooting into the light again. I used continuous burst mode on manual exposure, using the highest shutter speed possible to freeze the action. In this case the settings were f3.2, 1/320 sec, ISO 1250 - there was plenty of stage light here thankfully....
The essence of live music photography is to capture the decisive moments of expression during the performance. This is what legendary music photographer Jim Marshall meant when he described being able to ‘see the music’ in a great concert photograph.
You can see more of my live music photography here