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Semi OT: Photographing musicians


RumpleCragstan

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Hey guys.

 

I was wondering if anyone here had any good tips for taking shots of live bands. I've taken a few shots at their last 2 gigs, and they're decent (I'll link below, if that works) and I was wondering what I could do better.

 

My main issue is the flash... when I have it on, I don't get any of the atmospheric colors. When I have it off, its way too dark to see anything.

 

Shots:

 

The last 2 pages of this album.

 

And all of this album.

 

Since the albums are on my facebook profile, I'm not sure if they'll be publicly accessible... if not, then I'll find another way to post them.

 

Cheers,

 

~RC

 

PS: Although they don't have any new music posted, check out their myspace: The Science Fiction Addiction

Yep, I play the gee-tar
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The usual way of softening a flash is to bounce it off the ceiling or a wall. If the flash unit itself is not directionally adjustable, you can try trimming a piece of white card stock to fit, attach it to the camera so the flash bounces upward off of it, and give it a go. Some folks use a rubber band to hold the card in place, and that is the best way to go. If you trim the card right, you should be able to use the rubber band without obscuring the lens.

Or, you can put some sort of translucent paper or material over the flash unit to diffuse the flash a bit. You'll need to experiment with the thickness to cut it down enough without taking too much of it away.

 

Good luck.

Always remember that you�re unique. Just like everyone else.

 

 

 

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also you have to consider the purpose of the photos. Is it to show the cool lighting, or promote the band? Or a document of a performance?

 

If it is to promote the band:

If you go to a concert, you'll see that when the video screen is showing a particular player, he is in white light. If you want to show good band photos so that people know who the band is, it is often better to pose them (even on stage with lighting effects) and use a longer exposure time so that you can get the effects and still capture the image.

 

But I find most band photos to be terrible for what I consider to be the primary reason to have band photos... which would be to make the members of the band recognizable. If you go back to the early Beatles and Stones, their photos were mostly head shots, and the photographers strove to be interesting in the lighting and composition, but the faces were what was being promoted.

"I believe that entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you're an idiot."

 

Steve Martin

 

Show business: we're all here because we're not all there.

 

 

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I'm going to defer to my wife (the 20-year pro) here.

 

"If you're shooting with a digital camera that has no aperture control (i.e. cheap digitals), you're wasting your time."

 

"If you're shooting Digital SLR and the color is being washed out, you need to fix your aperture settings - and the best way to do this is to take your camera out on a test run and take pictures with every possible aperture and flash setting and write them down as you go, so you can go back and parse out what settings work."

 

Ultimately, though, her point was...

 

"No matter how many megapixels those digitals have, I can go out with my old Canon AES-1 and get a better shot than another pro with a $20K digital rig every single time."

 

(edit)

 

For the uninitiated, aperture is the amount of light the lens allows into the exposure. Smaller aperture = more light exposure, larger one = less. This setting in the OP's description is much too low, hence the subject appears washed-out by the flash.

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"No matter how many megapixels those digitals have, I can go out with my old Canon AES-1 and get a better shot than another pro with a $20K digital rig every single time."

 

I disagree with this, to a point.

 

Megapixels don't mean much, after a certain point. Unless you plan on blowing up your image to poster size, the average user is good with 4-6. For very large size pics, I'd say between 6 and 8. Anything more is just a waste of time as the pixels are getting compressed to fit on your print out anyways.

 

For regular sized images, the quality of the image is in the lens. Simple as that. Most digital SLRs use "normal" lens so the image quality is just as good.

 

I own a "Canon Powershot S3 IS":

http://imshopping.rediff.com/pixs/productsearch/product_images/digital_camera/Canon_PowerShot_S3_IS.gif

and while it's not a true Digital SLR, it is so close that most folks can't tell.

 

For professionals. If you are sitting down and looking at the resolution for...let's say blowing up an image for the side of a bus, then you are going to need more megapixels to fill in the gaps.

 

When you come right down to it 24 megapixels seems to be the magic number. Comparisons of the 24-megapixel Nikon D3X showed that it resolved details about as well as Velvia 50 film scanned commercially. This is probably the answer that fits the real world of professional photography, better than any others.

 

Oh, and there are several digital, non-SLRs that have great aperture settings, but with the prices of the dSLRs coming down, it's better to save up a little and grab one of them so you have access to the regular lenses.

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also you have to consider the purpose of the photos. Is it to show the cool lighting, or promote the band? Or a document of a performance?

 

Good points there on the last one. Documentary shooting is supposed to be more immediate than pretty. Crime scene photography, for example is about getting the all details clearly captured, not making them look good.

 

If it is to promote the band:

If you go to a concert, you'll see that when the video screen is showing a particular player, he's in white light. If you want to show good band photos so that people know who the band is, it is often better to pose them (even on stage with lighting effects) and use a longer exposure time so that you can get the effects and still capture the image.

 

Yep, posing is the only way to be sure you're gonna get what you want in a minimum of time. However, the work of Jim Marshall, which could be said to fit in the documentary category on some levels, captured a lot of stuff as it happened that turned was wonderfully composed and beautifully lit. He had to shoot a scad of pictures he threw away to get the few good ones he kept, but the stuff he kept was great. Sometimes the line between documentary and artistic or "literary" work gets blurred. Marshall's best work captured a piece of the artist's personality. I wouldn't mind having shots like he did on promo materials for me.

 

But I find most band photos to be terrible for what I consider to be the primary reason to have band photos... which would be to make the members of the band recognizable. If you go back to the early Beatles and Stones, their photos were mostly head shots, and the photographers strove to be interesting in the lighting and composition, but the faces were what was being promoted.

 

I've got to disagree here. Band photography's function, like that of any commercial photography, is not only to get their faces out in the public, but to create an image people associate the band with. Those early Beatles and Stones photos were composed and lit the way they were to make the boys, some of whom really weren't drop-dead gorgeous, look better than they did. A snapshot photo wouldn't have done what the people who were trying push them into stardom wanted it to do, ie make them look like the sort of guys teenybopper chicks wanted to fantasize about. plain snapshot of Mick Jagger would have had the fans staying away in droves.

Always remember that you�re unique. Just like everyone else.

 

 

 

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"... Band photography's function, like that of any commercial photography, is not only to get their faces out in the public, but to create an image people associate the band with...."

 

But how many 8x10 promo shots do you see where the band is posed somewhere, and you can't see their faces? So we're promoing the site? The concept? I love the ones of country bands, with the tough country studs all posed up around some country-ish scene, hats pulled low, half with sunglasses... who ARE these guys? Nobody knows.

 

Anyway, my point is that you have to be able to SEE the faces. Yes, indeed, please make me look better than I look in real life! But my face is more important than a silo, truck, pasture, club, street scene, amp stack, smoke machine, or whatever other concept some arty type had in mind.

"I believe that entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you're an idiot."

 

Steve Martin

 

Show business: we're all here because we're not all there.

 

 

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Like Craig says, its the optics. It is all in the optics. Back when we used to spec slide show equipment and video projector gear, I had to at one point prove why a Navatar Gold lens was better than a Buhl (and why the Buhl lenses speced in the bid book were incapable of meeting the resolution requirements set in the bid specs.). It was easy. Put up a high res alignment slide in two matching projectors side by side on the same screen with the different lenses in each one. One look, case closed.

 

I wanted to buy a digital camera that would take standard SLR lenses, but they were new at the time and quite expensive... the $1k that I dropped for the 6 meg was enough for a non-pro like myself. But if I were buying today, I'd buy a camera that allowed me to change lenses with standard mounts, so that I could go for the better Cannon or Nikon lenses.

"I believe that entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you're an idiot."

 

Steve Martin

 

Show business: we're all here because we're not all there.

 

 

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But how many 8x10 promo shots do you see where the band is posed somewhere, and you can't see their faces? So we're promoing the site? The concept? I love the ones of country bands, with the tough country studs all posed up around some country-ish scene, hats pulled low, half with sunglasses... who ARE these guys? Nobody knows.

 

The ones that kill me are the goth/slasher/death metal types with the shaved heads, the ones who glare at the camera like it just killed their pet bat or soemthing. But, each to his own idea of horribly stupid. Now, if you had a bunch of goth/slasher/cowboy types with hats sunglasses, and shaved heads, all glaring at the camera like it had just wrecked their combination hearse/pickup truck and run up a big bar tab on em, that would truly be the worst of all possible worldsbut really, how many people would know them if they looked at the picture anyway? The folks who did know them wouldn't need to see their faces, and the ones who don't probably don't much care anyway. They see the hats, the sunglasses, the a**less chaps, the black leather masks, chains and know if thats the kind of band they want to see, or hire, or have investigated for human sacrifice, or whatever. If the latter, yeah, they probably want to see the faces pretty well

 

Anyway, my point is that you have to be able to SEE the faces.

 

Im not sure if thats as necessary as you think, given the fact that they are being hired to play music, not model cosmetics. But even if Im wrong, most what youre talking about is just lousy photography. Its done on the cheap by somebodys buddy or girlfriend or Uncle Bob, whoever has a camera or can be euchred into using somebody elses camera while the members of the band in question stand shoulder to shoulder, dressed in their finest stage clothes, looking mostly like a group of idiots who dont know whether to smile, frown, or look away. Its photography of people who dont know how to pose, done by people who dont know how to compose a decent picture. Neither side realizes that the face is the most important part of picture of a human being, and even if they did, they wouldnt know what to do with the knowledge.

 

Yes, indeed, please make me look better than I look in real life! But my face is more important than a silo, truck, pasture, club, street scene, amp stack, smoke machine, or whatever other concept some arty type had in mind.

 

Kinda depends on the face; some faces I have seen made me wish I was looking at a silo, truck, pasture, club, street scene, amp stack, smoke machine, or even the southern end of a northbound mules instead

 

Always remember that you�re unique. Just like everyone else.

 

 

 

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also you have to consider the purpose of the photos. Is it to show the cool lighting, or promote the band? Or a document of a performance?

 

I'd say that its a combination of B and C, and thus A is somewhat needed. To promote the band effectively, you need to express in the photograph the atmosphere of the band. If its an aggressive death metal band, getting shots of them laughing at a joke probably isn't the image they want to portray. Like pose and angle, lighting is a big part of that communication of atmosphere.

 

"If you're shooting Digital SLR and the color is being washed out, you need to fix your aperture settings - and the best way to do this is to take your camera out on a test run and take pictures with every possible aperture and flash setting and write them down as you go, so you can go back and parse out what settings work."

 

Thanks, with this advice I went and re-analyzed my camera and found out how to work the aperture. There's not too much I can adjust, but its enough to make a difference I'm thinking.

 

He had to shoot a scad of pictures he threw away to get the few good ones he kept, but the stuff he kept was great.

 

Yeah, I do the same. Each gig of theirs I've shot, I've taken 350+ photos, and kept maybe 50 of each. I only post maybe a dozen of the shots online, and give them all (IE all 50, not just the ones I posted online) to the band to do what they will.

 

A friend of mine does this for a living:

http://www.onstagephotography.com/

Contact him through his site, tell him Paul K. sent you, and I'm sure he'd be happy to offer you some advice.

 

Thanks a bunch man, I shot him a message and we'll see where it goes from there. I really appreciate the referral!

Yep, I play the gee-tar
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The second album is better than the first. Take the date stamp off for starters!!

 

The flash that comes standard on a point and shoot is bound to suck! I have a Canon 20D and the flash sucks. A good flash will cost a lot of money. Remember that pros use all kinds of exensive strobe and other flashes when doing studio shots.

 

For live, available light is great, stage lighting.....compose your shots around the light and the action. Look at this shot in Justus's link

 

Band shot

...nice drummer action behind the main subject, just out of focus due to the depth of field..... a nice shot..plus two for the price of one. Good composition.

 

Most of the time shooting band guys without a flash will result in less than perfect focus, the slightest movement will blur it....so shooting when they are still or catching something at the right time will help. I shot this image of John Mayer with no flash with a point and shoot Canon G6.... it is a tad bit blurred but I feel the action and expression I caught, by accident, are pretty cool.

 

http://i32.photobucket.com/albums/d42/Gypsyfingers/IMG_6286.jpg

 

This one of Jeff Beck was a bit luckier....he was moving but I got fairly decent focus considering.

 

http://i32.photobucket.com/albums/d42/Gypsyfingers/IMG_6233.jpg

 

You should just keep shooting. That is what is great.....and bad.....about digital...you can get a zillion images. So keep shooting. Good luck with it.

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The second album is better than the first. Take the date stamp off for starters!!

 

Gah, yeah I know... I didn't realize it was on until I loaded the images onto the computer, and I immediately cringed. I've since made sure to completely disable it!

Yep, I play the gee-tar
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Couple things, first, staged band pics & live pics are completely different situations, I think the OP was think more about live stuff.

 

The photographer definitely needs to be able to adjust aperature & shud have a fast lens(at least F2), another is ISO setting which I havent seen mentioned, if a film camera you need to shoot at least 400, then maybe 800 or 1600 & even 3200 if its dim. With digital you can change on the fly, digicams are usually only usable up to 400 but with SLRs you can get good results up to 1600 usually. These higher ISOs will greatly increse yr shutter speeds giving you a better shot at getting good shots.

 

Keep practising as bands are moving targets in situations where lighting changes quickly & often so only expect a small % of keepers.

 

have fun!

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Agreed about the flash for live shots--you really have to watch how you use the flash, as improper use will definitely kill any "vibe" the stage lighting provides, and most stages are realllllllllly ugly when seen in full light.

 

Having a nice, fast lens will definitely help.

 

My wife got these shots of our bassist and I in action with a cheapo digital camera, but the settings were right...

 

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3326/3501864038_95f70ff0d4.jpg

 

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3621/3501525468_7f2e5e8deb.jpg

 

And, FWIW, I used to see band photos (pro and otherwise) every single day when I worked for a music mag. Honestly, the posed ones all pretty much sucked--we only used them as a last resort, and never for a cover story. We always did our own shoots in order to be sure we had interesting, non-typical images. For some reason, when bands (even the big ones) do photo-shoots for promo pics, the end results are just frickin' BORING. On the plus side, very few bands have to worry about having actual 8x10 b&w photos anymore... the digital age makes things so much easier.

\m/

Erik

"To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."

--Sun Tzu

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I've had several different photographers of varying levels of experience and talent photgraph us live recently, as well as fans with the cheapo digital cameras.

 

The professionals seem to take one of two approaches:

 

1) Set up pre-positioned flashes that they can control remotely to handle the flash

2) Use the stage lighting with appropriate aperture, but usually try to work with the lighting guy to keep more of a wash from the front than typical.

 

That being said, even shots with a cheapo digital can look OK with a little photoshop. For instance, if you keep the flash off so that you don't get too much of the foreground, you can usually adjust the brightness/contrast/midtones to get an OK picture.

 

I've seen some REALLY good live shots with no flash - and some of the more expensive photographers around town prefer to do do them that way.... one of whom also does work for the Discovery Channel and other big-name companies.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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Yeah and if you have a lens with IS it will buy you a stop or two. The trouble is, these kinds of lenses you guys are talking about are usually around $2000.

 

I would love the Canon IS 70-200 or whatever it is called...the white one everyone uses LOL......yeah, that one!!LOL!

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