Though not being particularly newsworthy, I’ve put together a Facebook page dedicated to my photography. Slow hand clap. As a way to mark the “occasion”, I’ve put together a collection of twenty of my favorite live band photos from the Pittsburgh music scene, taken over the last year.
Its been quite the learning experience for me and I thought it might be interesting to share some insight on how I take images in a local live setting. This is not meant to give the impression that I am some expert on the subject, but more so to show how I go about doing things.
I mainly chose shots that convey, to me at least, the intense emotion, danger, release, joy and dissolution of self that comes with performing live on stage. While up there, time stops, senses expand, and the mind oozes into the pool of the collective unconscious. I wanted to get photos of people going through that process.
Click on any of the images below to be taken to a higher resolution version on my Flikr page. All images are copyright 2017 and may not be used without permission.
Allison Kacmar Richards playing with Emily Rodgers Band at Hambone’s
Old Game reflected in the mirrored ceiling of the BBT
Shy Kennedy and Nick Kopco of Horehound at Howlers
Ron Vanacore of Curse The Son at Howlers
Bradley Jenkins of Ona at The James Street Gastropub
Shooting bands in smaller venues comes with its own set of challenges. At the top of the list, Its generally too dark for a correct exposure without jacking up the ISO settings and thus adding a large amount of sensor noise into the shot. This is preferred to a blurry picture in my opinion, which is exactly what you’ll get if ISO is kept to a more sensible level and instead one uses slower shutter speeds or a wider aperture. Essentially, slightly higher ISO is the lesser of two (or three) evils.
When I go out to shows, I usually take my Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 or my Canon 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM. Both have a decent zoom range for smaller venues, meaning I can usually get “wide enough” to fit the entire stage in the shot, or zoomed in enough to do a nice head and shoulders style shot. The benefit of both lenses is the built in image stability, which allows one to take pictures at one to two stops slower without too much blur- especially at the 17mm end- where things tend to be more in focus, even at f2.8.
Jeff Betten at the Misra stage, Deutschtown Music Festival
Jeremy Caywood, Mike Speranzo and Mark Lyons at Mr. Smalls
Action Camp album release at Club Cafe
When zoomed in for closer shots, the wide-open aperture is really taking a chance due to the extremely shallow depth of field, the low light, and a typically fast moving subject. For 35mm and especially 50mm, I very rarely risk shooting any wider than f3.5, with f4 being preferred in a lot of cases. Unless, of course, I’ve got a lot of light and the luxury of shooting at 1/50th of a second or more.
Shooting in burst mode has really helped me out, as I can take 3-5 shots in succession and have a higher probability of getting one that is both in focus and conveys something cool. Unfortunately, this makes for a time suck on the editing end of things, as it is not uncommon for me to come home with 500 or more photos to sift through, most of which are 5-10 iterations of the same scene, shot seconds apart. The effort and time is worth it to me if I end up with shots I like.
Donny Donovan of Hearken at Club Cafe
Jenn Jannon-Fischer with The Park Plan at The BBT
Joe Tarowsky with The Park Plan at The BBT
Speaking of editing, shooting in RAW format has really been a boon, allowing me more freedom in Lightroom. Very often white balance is a huge issue, especially with less than optimal lighting conditions and mixed light sources. Colored stage lights and unnatural colors can look really cool, so how I handle color temperature really depends on a case by case basis.
In a lot of images, I am usually converting to black and white in the end. For one, white balance is not really an issue in monocrome and secondly, black and white can help mask noisy photos taken on the higher end of the ISO spectrum by making them look gritty and raw. I’ll usually add just a touch of noise reduction and bump up the contrast to help minimize noise as well.
John Huxley and Jake Ferranti of Jake The Hawk at Satalios Bar
Horehound at Howlers
Gran Gila at Satalios Bar
T.R. Morton and Mark Cave of Freedom Hawk at Satalios Bar
Liz Berlin at Mr. Smalls
As far as shooting techniques, getting to the venue early can help ensure that I can get a spot with a good view while not being in the way of other people there for the show. On that note, I am also not the type to be hanging over things or crawling around on the ground like some sort of snake with a head mounted camera just so I can get “cool angles”. I guess my shooting style is more documentarian anyways, rather than someone who is trying to augment reality with weird angles. To each their own. Maybe my style will change at some point.
I also tend to like to watch the band for one or two songs before snapping any shots. This allows me to pick up on any stage habits and get a sense of how active each member is with moving around on the stage. Someone who moves around a lot or otherwise has a strong stage presence is going to make for a challenging, but ultimately better looking shot. I like to be able to predict what someone is going to do so I can make sure my camera is set up and ready to take the picture with appropriate settings.
Maura Jacob of Action Camp at Club Cafe
Brenda Leeds of Old Game at The BBT
Out Of The Blue at Mr. Smalls
Chet Vincent at the Misra Stage, Deutschtown Music Festival
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of my favorite local live band shots from the past year. Consider following this blog through email to stay up to date or like my page on Facebook to keep in touch that way. Thanks for reading.