21 January 2007

Taking gig photos

by Anton Piatek

I promised I would write up a bit about my experiences taking photos at gigs, so here it is.
Before I get too far in, I have not taken photos at many gigs, so this is a beginners perspective to gig photography

The importance of lighting

Probably the earliest gig I took photos of was at a Imperial Colelge Rocksock night. The lighting was very basic, so capturing the light was very important. There is no point taking a photo of a band member if they are standing out of the light – it won’t work. As the lighting was simple I used high ISO’s and large apertures.

The photos below had very directional lighting, so standing in the right place can be quite important. These photos were really me just getting lucky, as the lighting was not very bright and the band had to be still enough to prevent blur. A tripod could be a good idea, though I just went with a stabilising lens, getting as close as posisble and trying to hold the camera steady.


Unfortunately I cannot remember the bands, and didn’t write down their names (note to self: take a pen and paper next time!). Playing with the lens These photos of “the phly“, again playing at a Rocksoc night at Imperial Colelge, were a chance for me to play with the camera a bit more and learn better how to use it. I used an external flash for extra power, though your built in flash will probably work too.


The odd effects were created by zooming the lens in or out on a long exposure (Tv 1 sec exposure, let the camera work out the aperture). As I was using a flash I could use a better ISO (400) so the quality is a bit nicer. The lighting and manual lens zooming during exposure created some nice effects, but the flash is really too bright – especially as the background is not black! Play with zooming your lens both in and out, and see which you like best. If you have a really nice flash, you can set it to fire at the beginning (front-curtain) or end (rear curtain) of the exposure, so you can zoom your preferred way. Of course, you cannot see through the camera while taking a photo, so get a feel for where you want to zoom to, and how fast to do it to fit your exposure Playing with the flash Again another uni gig night, except this time the lights were moving around randomly, and the light tech didn’t know how to control the new lighting board well enough to change that, so I tried to use it to my advantage. I set the camera to manual exposure, checking the camera’s exposure indicator to get the right exposure with the flash off. I then turned on the flash, and dialed down it’s power a few stops so that it wouldn’t completely dominate the photos.


The moving lights created some really interesting effects on my 1sec exposure as they moved around, and any band movement caought the light. The flash (on a rear curtain I think) then brought out the subject crisply so that the movement became a coloured blur, but not whole scene.


These were all taken handheld on a 1sec exposure, so keeping steady is very important (and a stabilising lens helps too). Because of the long exposure and flash I could use ISO 400 to keep the image-noise ratio good.


Thanks to Gin Panic for being the subject of my photos, though it is a shame they didn’t give credit on their website for the photos I gave them… (not sure it is worth chasing them for it)

Ditch the flash If the lighting at the gig is good enough you can go without the flash at all. These photos (as posted recently) of The Rivers of Sound show that this can work. The lighting here was only good enough for shooting at ISO 800 and 1600, but the shutterspeeds were good enough to make that work.

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I currently shoot in JPG, and would have had a hard time with my current camera at this gig shooting RAW as even with JPG photos I still was waiting on the camera to empty its cache quite a lot.

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300 photos for a 30 minute set isn’t too bad going, however one photo every six seconds with an image stabilised lens is going to kill your battery – I changed batteries halfway through, so don’t forget to take your spare! (and a big memory card).

That is about all I can think of for the moment. If you are taking photos of a gig soon, please let me know how you got on (same if you have done it already), and when you get there be sure to ask where you are allowed to go. I had a full backstage photo pass for this gig, and even got up in the light desk at the back of the room to get the wide shots of the whole stage.

One final tip, bring earplugs – I didn’t and wished I had. Leaning agains a huge speaker stack with a camera in hand really takes it’s toll on your ears!