[Updated 12/19/17 to reflect that I’m now using a Sony mirrorless camera and Lightroom for photo processing ]
I take photographs at various music concerts/festivals/etc. and at Open Mikes in the Boston area. This site provides links to sets of these photos.
Ever since digital cameras achieved the right combination of features I’ve been enjoying photographing musicians in action. My wife and I both enjoy going to music concerts, mostly those which fall into the broad category of “Folk Music”. That includes Folk/Traditional/Celtic/Singer-Songwriter/Americana and some amount of Rock. We currently attend somewhere between 100 and 200 concerts in a given year. I also photograph musicians at open mikes, mostly at ones in the Boston Metro-West area.
Generally I set my photo permissions to:
In all cases I grant permission for the artists or venues in the photographs to use the images in any way they want – though I’d appreciate it if you let me know what you do with them, and attribute the photos to me. I tend to get a little grumpy if someone carefully trims the watermark off one of my photos and uses it in a concert poster without acknowledging me.
I generally do not photograph concerts for hire. If a friend requests that I photograph one of their shows I’ll usually try to do so, if I can schedule it. If a musician of whom I am a fan requested it I’d probably also try. Otherwise I don’t want the hassle of someone feeling that I owe them something in particular because they’ve paid for it.
Photo sets are categorized either as Open Mikes or as Concerts. You can see an index, sorted by date, of each by using the Indexes menu in the righthand sidebar. Alternatively you can search for particular sets by clicking on the magnifying glass at the right end of the menu bar.
These photo sets are also stored on Flickr, including a lot of sets which predate this web site. If you want to find an older photo set:
- Click here to see the Flickr collection of all of my Concert photo sets
- Click here to see the Flickr collection of all of my Open Mike photo sets
My Concert Photography Philosophy
My general philosophy of concert photography is that I am a member of the audience with no special rights over any other member. That means that even though I enjoy taking photographs it is a requirement that I do not do it in a way that diminishes the enjoyment of any other audience member. That means
- no flash
- my camera should not make any unnecessary noise. In particular, part of my technique for getting good shots is to frame a shot and then take multiple images until I get the expression, or the position relative to the microphone, that I want. This means that a DSLR with an audible shutter or mirror clack on every shot would be unacceptable.
- I should move around as little as possible. I should not walk around the room or climb on stage to get shots. Generally at a seated venue I consider it to be part of the challenge to get as good shots as possible from wherever I am seated. If I have been explicitly asked to photograph a show, or if I am working an open mike, then I will relax this rule but it is still important to not get in the way of the audience.
Given the constraints on how I take photos I have a fairly stringent set of requirements for a camera to be useful for concert photography
- It must be one I can take into the venue. Many venues forbid “professional equipment” which tends to mean no DLSRs
- Since I do not use flash it must have a good low light capability and a fairly fast lens. My current camera supports ISO 12800.
- Since I am taking photos from some distance from the stage, a zoom which covers a wide range and has a good telephoto. My current camera has the equivalent of a 25mm-400mm for a 35mm camera. That’s ample.
- Good image stabilization
- No extraneous sounds. No mirror clack or shutter noise. The ability to disable all artificial shutter sounds.
- A viewfinder. I do not want to annoy my neighbors with a glaring LCD display. A photo review in the viewfinder is also necessary.
As of July 2017 I am using a Sony alpha-6500 mirrorless APS-C camera, with an 18mm-104mm (equivalent to about 25mm-140mm for full frame) f4 zoom.
Prior to that (from September 2014) used a a Panasonic Lumix FZ-1000. For several years the Panasonic family of cameras best met the requirements above for me, and they are still a pretty good choice for a moderate priced concert camera.
Generally I use very few fancy features when taking photos.
- I set the ISO to whatever is needed for the venue, usually 3200-12800 though occasionally one will have enough light to use something slower.
- If I get the opportunity I may use a neutral-gray card to set the camera white balance. Otherwise I’ll either use the camera’s automatic white balance, or if I know the venue I may set the color temperature – for example, Club Passim 2700K usually produces good results. If a venue is using colored LED spots for lighting then it’s hopeless to get good color matching.
- Ever since I started using Lightroom I shoot exclusively in RAW.
- My general technique is to frame shots and then take multiple images until I get the expression or position that I’m looking for. This results in lots of wasted shots but that’s where digital cameras shine over film.
Since concert lighting is generally so poor – very low light and often oddly colored – I have made a deliberate choice to embrace the defects and to prefer interesting, or artistic over realistic in the photos I publish. I do try to set the white balance but if I can’t get the color exactly right I don’t obsess on producing perfect skin tones – in fact, I may enhance unnatural colors during processing if I like the effect. My basic philosophy is: if the musicians did not look “natural” under the concert lighting then I shouldn’t go to heroic efforts to make the photos look natural. On a similar note, if there is blur in a photo but I like the shot otherwise I may use a extreme processing effect on it (for example, black and white with tweaks to parts of the luminosity curve) to produce an “artistic” image rather than discarding the photo because it wasn’t perfect.
I used to use open source photo processing tools, but starting in 2015 I switched over to Adobe Lightroom.
In processing a set of photos from a concert or open mike my general workflow is:
- Go though the photos and immediately discard any that are too blurry to use, or have obvious reasons they will not be acceptable (unfortunate expression, head behind mike, etc., etc.). This results in throwing away 1/2 or more of the shots immediately.
- Make a second pass and select the photos I want to post. Occasionally I’ll choose a few extra to decide which will look best after processing, but by this point I can predict that pretty well. How many photos I end up with depends on the type of show: for an open mike I try to choose 2 of each performer and more of the features; for a concert I’ll generally choose between 4 and 12 depending on how many performers there are and how much variety their is in the act (e.g. a singer-songwriter who sits through the whole show will be at the lower end)
- for each remaining photo I go one or more photo processing steps. Almost all the photos I post have been processed in some way, the more extreme the lighting conditions the more likely I am to try to do something “artistic” in the processing to save the photos
Generally the processing steps I go through are
- Crop the photo to rebalance it. Essentially all photos.
- Adjust the white balance if necessary
- The Lightroom Auto exposure setting is generally a good place to start, then I manually tweak the sliders until I like the look.
- depending on the photo I may adjust the contrast/brightness, or the color balance
- if a photo needs extra work I may use the “curves” tool to adjust luminosity or colors.
- in some cases, for example when I’m not happy with the skin tone results or if I think the colors detract from the shapes, I will switch the photo to black-and-white.
After processing all photos to be uploaded I add a watermark to each. I resisted using a watermark for a long time because I didn’t want to put anything on the photos which would detract from the image. However eventually I got tired of seeing things like concert posters where some of the images were blatantly credited to other photographers (though the watermark) and my photos on the same poster were uncredited. So, I settled for choosing as unobtrusive a watermark as I could come up with.