How to Take Live Photos of Bands

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One of the hardest types of photography has to be live band performances. You often find yourself in a low light situation with a bunch of ridiculously fast moving subjects. Add the spontaneous nature of stage shows with fast schizophrenic lighting and you start to see why it can be such a headache. However, once you have the right technique down, you might find that these are your favorite kind of pictures to take.

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There’s a few technical factors in getting your camera to operate in these harsh conditions. For the easiest operation, set your camera on Tv (shutter priority) and pick a speed. If you want to have a little more control, use the manual settings and a small f-stop. Keeping the f-stop low will leave your aperture wide open to absorb as much light as possible. It’ll also give you a nice shallow depth of field effect.

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Snap a few shots to see if they’re bright enough. If they’re too dark, adjust your speed to be a little slower. You can boost your fstop if you want a wider depth of field (area that stays in focus). A higher ISO will also help increase the light, although it may make your pictures more grainy.

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Once you’ve got the technical stuff taken care of, the live challenge begins. Try to position yourself in the best place to get pictures. Find the right angles and the most satisfying directions for lighting. Don’t be afraid to snap pictures in a rapid succession. Tweak your settings as you shoot. If the lighting is changing frequently, a large selection of pictures may be useful in choosing a good take.

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Unlike a controlled session, you don’t have any say in where the subjects or lighting move. Knowing a band’s songs can help you find spots whey they might naturally pose, or where they’re movement will be lower. When there’s going to be a guitar solo, get over to the guitarist. If there’s a slow part, you can get away with a slower shutter speed. If you want to get unique pictures, watch for odd things the band members do. Look for interesting vantage points to shoot from. See if you can backlight members by placing the lights behind them (see the picture in step 3). Above all, try new things.

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Additional Tips

  • Don’t use flash. It’s going to take away all your interesting lighting and make your pictures look like they came from a frat party.
  • If your camera has RAW, consider using it. It may take slower pictures (and store less of them), but it will also give you more options in post production.
  • Long exposures will create light trails in your photos. While this can sometimes be amusing, a simple Google image search will show that it’s more often the distracting mark of an amateur. You’re taking photos of the band because they’re interesting! Capture that, not a silly photo gimmick – keep your shutter speed fast.
  • Majority of these photos were taken with a Canon Digital Rebel XS. The settings were f/3.5 ISO 800 1/40 +2.0ev.
  • Photo editing software like Aperture can be helpful in color correcting, altering white balance, cropping, etc.
  • The band’s set will eventually end, so don’t forget your time is limited.
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