Some nights are just magic to photograph. You know the ones I’m talking about. The energy in the room is electrifying, the production is top-notch, and you can’t wait to get home and see all the great photos you’ve captured.
And then there are the nights that are more challenging—you probably know these ones too. The lighting is stuck on a dim shade of purple, the artist is backlit all night, or the production just doesn’t give you anything to work with.
As a music photographer, it’s part of the job to create interesting images in both of these scenarios. In this post, we’ll share a few tricks for creating compelling images at challenging shows.
Tip #1: Create your own light source
Sometimes the venue’s lighting just isn’t doing it for you. Luckily, you can fix that with nothing more than a smart phone! The end result yields some nice lens flares to liven up your images. A quick disclaimer on this one, it’s best for smaller venues or DIY setups since most larger venues will not be cool with what it involves.
For this trick, point your phone toward your camera just outside the edge of where your lens ends. Turn on your phone’s flashlight and adjust the angle as needed to position the lens flare. Add a gradient warming filter in Lightroom and voila!
Tip #2: Use a prism
A few years ago prisms became super popular and tons of photographers were running around with these things in their pockets. The hype has died down a bit now, but prisms are still a really fun way to add character to an image.
Prisms come in all shapes and sizes, but you can find simple options on Amazon for as little as $12. Because the prism refracts light that travels through it, you can use one to bend light in all kinds of cool ways.
This trick works best when you have at least one strong light source and is especially helpful when you need to fill in dead space in an image. Just hold the prism in front of your lens and rotate and shift it until the light falls where you want it.
Tip #3: Slap on a filter
Another great way to modify available light is to use lens filters. Unlike a prism, these filters mount directly onto your lens so you have both hands free to operate your camera. Lens filters are also more versatile than prisms and can do all kinds of things from creating starbursts or light halos to kaleidoscope and haze effects. Companies like Prism Lens FX create huge lines of filters you can experiment with.
Tip #4: Slow down your shutter
When you first start photographing concerts you probably learn that slow shutter speeds are your enemy. And if you want to freeze fast-moving subjects that’s true. But when you intentionally use a controlled slow shutter speed you can create some really interesting results.
To try it out, start with a shutter speed of around 1/30 of a second (you can keep lowering the speed as needed). When you take a photo, experiment with moving your camera left to right, up or down, or zooming in and out. Because your shutter is open for longer, the camera will capture the movement to create interesting light streaks.
For a more advanced slow shutter trick, check out this tutorial that combines a slow shutter with a double exposure.
Tip #5: Turn your lens toward the crowd
Sometimes the most interesting action can be behind you. Don’t forget to scan the crowd and explore other angles of the venue. You may be surprised by the energy and emotion you’ll find like Karel Chladek did with their wildly popular Public Intimacy series, captured in the nightclubs of Montreal.
Tip #6: Double (or triple) things up
Lots of cameras now have a built in feature for multiple exposures. Do a quick Google search to see if yours does. Once you turn this on, your camera will merge 2 or more photos into one single image, allowing you to produce all kinds of creative combinations. Combine multiple exposures with the other tips listed here for even more options.
Tip #7: Go tight or go wide
We’re used to seeing the world at the focal length of the human eye, so any photos that do the opposite immediately stand out. Try zooming way in to search for interesting details that would otherwise go unnoticed, or step back and try to capture the entire venue and the crowd in one shot.
These 7 tips are really just the tip of the iceberg (please excuse our puns). You can combine two or more for all kinds of different results, and there are even more techniques you can experiment with in post-production
In an ideal world, every show would have amazing production. But when you photograph concerts, creating interesting images under sub-par conditions comes with the territory. So the next time you’re faced with a challenging show try out a few of these tricks to liven things up!