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How to photograph live bands

I’ve been doing the Highland Ultimate Bands List now since 2003 and played in a band from 2000-2006. Within all the events of organising gigs for HUBL and playing and watching bands I’ve picked up a few good tips for taking good gig/band photography.

Don't use a flash!

The main mistake people make when taking photos of bands is using a flash. This completely ruins the photo by whiting it out which makes the image lose its colours and vibrancy. It also destroys the “feel” of the gig.

Use a low f-number

The secret is to use a lens with a low f-number… such as f1.8. This allows the lens to take in more of the available light in a shorter amount of time. The only problem with using an f-number as low as this is you need to be spot on with your focusing as the depth of field will be so shallow, especially on a lens capable of less than f1.8 such as f1.4 or f1.2.

Set the shutter speed as fast as you can

This leads me onto the next tip – shutter speed. The faster the shutter speed the sharper the shot should be as it cuts down camera shake and also freezes the action better. If your in a particularly well lit venue with cool lights then 125th of a second should be manageable. This is what you should try to aim for. Try not to go lower than an 80th of a second or your images will start to blur more.

Use spot metering

If your camera has spot metering use it! I use a Canon 30D which has spot metering which makes a difference.

Try not to crank the ISO on your camera up too high, I would say ISO400 tops if you need it but if the aperture and shutter speed allow you to lower the ISO then do it as it will improve the amount of artifacts in your images.

If you’re using a low f-number, a slow shutter speed and a high ISO odds on that the venue is too dark for you to take an image… this is when you should pull out your flash if you absolutely have to document the gig. If forced to use the flash try bouncing it off a wall or the ceiling instead of firing it directly at the band.

Conclusion

  • Shoot on manual mode.
  • Use a low f-number.
  • Set the shutter speed as fast as you can.
  • Use as low an ISO as you can.
  • Use Spot Metering.

Chris Thornton