Sunday, 10 February 2013

A Guide to Concert Photography

A live concert is quite a tricky situation to photograph, as there are many different factors to consider when you are trying to get that perfect shot. In this blog post, I am going to discuss what camera equipment and settings you will need to help you capture that magic moment. I will also include some of my own concert photography work, which will hopefully inspire you when you begin your own concert photography adventures!

I've been lucky enough to photograph some very well-known bands as a photographer, such as the alternative rock band, `Keane`, when they performed at the `Hastings Beer & Music Festival` (HBMF) in 2012. More recently I worked as a photographer photographing the post-hardcore band, `The Blackout`, when they played at `The Old Fire Station` in Bournemouth. I've also been able to photograph some great local bands too, such as `Ska’d 4 Life`, who also performed at the `Hastings Beer & Music Festival` in 2012.

`Keane` - `HBMF` 2012 - Douglas Benge

Photographing a Concert: The Basics

If I've learnt anything from my previous work photographing concerts, it’s that you have to work with what you have, in terms of the stage setup, and more importantly, the lighting rig that is being used to light the stage. Here are a few basic points that will help you to take better concert photographs:

  • Backlight your subjects - This is such a simple but effective technique. Photograph your subjects when they appear in front of a light, or if you should be in the `photographer pit` area, move yourself, so that your subject is positioned with a predominant light behind them; this creates a perfect halo around them and adds a great level of contrast to any image. You can see some examples of this `backlighting` technique within my photographs below.
  • Try to avoid using flash, or use it wisely - When using flash to photograph live performances, it will quite often remove any shadow and depth that can be found within your image. I always try and work with the lighting rig that is being used, to capture the natural atmosphere surrounding the subject.
  • Use a fast lens - By this I mean use a lens that has a very large aperture, anywhere between f/1.4 and f/2.8 would be perfect. The benefit of this is that you can use a faster shutter speed compared to a lens with a smaller aperture; as more light is allowed in through the lens, the shutter speed can therefore become faster, allowing you to take sharper images. If I’m working as a photographer at quite a large venue, I would tend to use my Canon 50mm f/1.8 Mk II prime lens, as this works unbelievably well in low light conditions, due to its large aperture size.
  • Go full manual! - I know it may seem a bit daunting at first if you haven’t used the `M` mode, (manual mode), on you Digital SLR before, but trust me, to get great shots that have a fantastic level of contrast, depth, and have a sharp focus, manual mode is the ideal setting. If you use a pre-set mode on your camera, your photographs will tend to be over exposed and blurred, as your camera is trying to get as much light in through the lens as possible, and therefore uses a longer shutter speed to help it achieve this, which results in blurred images. Manual focus is so important as well, as your camera may find it very difficult to keep the focus on moving subjects, especially in the low light conditions of a concert. Before the band I'm photographing come on, I’ll take quite a few test shots to find the right shutter speed and aperture size to get the perfect exposure level.
  • Choose the right ISO - Setting the ISO of your camera to the correct level will make all the difference when taking your photographs. If you’re not familiar with ISO, it measures the sensitivity of your camera's sensor. This basically means that the lower the ISO is, e.g. 100 ISO, the less sensitive your camera's sensor is to light. The higher the ISO is, e.g. 3200 ISO, the more sensitive your sensor is to light. But this increase in sensitivity does increase the amount of grain and noise that can be found within an image, so it is important to get the ISO just right, and not set it too high. At concerts I often photograph my subjects at around 800 ISO, as I have found that this is generally the right level to produce images that are sharp and not grainy.
  • Choose different angles - A photographer should never be stationary, unless you’re using a tripod of course! Move around as much as you can to get coverage from many different angles; this will allow you to produce varied photographs which are much more interesting. Don’t be afraid to tilt and angle your camera as well. I hardly ever have my camera solely in the landscape or portrait position, I'm always trying to find an angle that enhances the composition of my shot, which therefore creates a more dramatic photograph.

Here are some photographs that I took at `Hastings Beer & Music Festival` (HBMF) in 2012 featuring `Keane`, `Cushty`, and `Ska’d 4 Life`. These photographs were taken on my Canon EOS 500D with the Canon 50mm f/1.8 Mk II lens. I have also included some photographs that I took of `The Blackout` performing at `The Old Fire Station` in Bournemouth. These
photographs were taken on my Canon EOS 550D with the Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens:

Click on the images to enlarge them.

`Gavin Butler` - `The Blackout` - Douglas Benge

`SPIN` - `HBMF` 2012 - Douglas Benge

`Tom Chaplin` - `Keane` - `HBMF` 2012 - Douglas Benge

`Cushty` - `HBMF` 2012 - Douglas Benge

`Sean Smith` - `The Blackout` - Douglas Benge

`Ska'd 4 Life` - `HBMF` 2012 - Douglas Benge

`Tom Chaplin` - `Keane` - `HBMF` 2012 - Douglas Benge (2)

 `Sean Smith` - `The Blackout` - Douglas Benge (2)

Top Tip:

`Use your time wisely. If you’re working as a photographer at a venue where a band are playing, the band will state beforehand how many songs the photographers are allowed to take photos for. From past experience, most bands tend to allow photos to be taken for the first three songs. That may seem like a lot of time, but trust me, it will fly by! You need to keep taking photos and try all the different camera angles you can; this will ensure that you have a good variety of images to choose from when you select your photographs to edit.`

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Animal Photography

Photographing animals has always been an area of photography that I have wanted to explore, so recently I set out with my camera with the intention of capturing portraits of animals. Not only did I develop my knowledge within this area of photography whilst conducting this project, I managed to produce some impressive portraits of animals which you can see in this post. I have also included a section within this post titled, `Top Tips for Photographing Animals`.

To take my photographs, I went to my local zoo called `Drusillas Park`. This zoo has a diverse range of animals with lots of different enclosure settings, allowing me to produce a good variety of photographs. Although the zoo was extremely busy, because the weather was sunny, which doesn’t happen often in England, I was still able to take some good photographs.

For all of the photographs included within this post, I used my Canon EOS 500D DSLR camera, with my Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens. This lens was my most important piece of kit when I went out on my shoot, as it allowed me to zoom right into the subject, so that they would fill the frame, resulting in a really focused shot. The USM (Ultra Sonic Motor) featured in this lens, helped me a lot when I was taking my photographs, as it enabled me to keep my subjects in focus, as it would adjust the focus accordingly, whenever the subjects moved.

Here are three of the images that I produced for my animal photography project:

Click on the images to enlarge them.

`Wondering...` - Douglas Benge
I have titled this photograph, `Wondering…`, as this is what the lemur appears to be doing in the image, thinking and wondering. I took quite a few photographs of the lemurs when I went on my shoot, but this photograph was the one that had the most natural character within it. I really like the composition of this shot, as the lemur looks into the empty space at the top right hand corner of the image, which in turn is thinking space for the viewer. I added two textures to this photograph, to try and create a texturally rich image; I think I have succeeded, as this photograph of a lemur is full of colour tone and rich textures.

`Unknown` - Douglas Benge
I have titled this photograph, `Unknown`, as it depicts a bird perching on a branch, but you can’t tell what type of bird it is, as I have photographed it from behind whilst its head was tucked down into its chest. I really like this element of mystery that this photograph has, as it draws you into the image, as you try and work out what this `creature` is. I have used a dark texture on this image, to create the illusion that it is night time. After I placed this texture onto the image, I erased the area of the texture that could be seen over the bird, resulting in the image that you see before you, where the bird appears as if it is glowing. The abstractness of this photograph helps to create a more powerful image, that isn’t just another standard animal portrait.

`Rainbow Lorikeet` - Douglas Benge
I have titled this photograph, `Rainbow Lorikeet`, as this is what the image depicts. The natural colours within this photograph are beautiful and vibrant, which is why I chose to use a multi-coloured texture over the original photograph, to add to these rich colours, and to create a photograph with more tone. I really like how the lorikeet is looking directly into the camera lens in this image; it adds an element of interaction to the photograph, as we are able to look at him directly in the eye. When I was photographing this lorikeet, because of its small size and the fact that it kept moving, it was difficult to keep focus on this birds face, but with some patience, I managed to produce this shot where the lorikeets face is in focus.

I was inspired by the photographer, Pauline Fowler, to produce my animal portraits in the way that I have. Pauline has produced a photographic series titled, `Exotic Animals`, which features photographs of animals such as zebras, tigers, and monkeys, that have all been manipulated in Photoshop, to create really rich textured images. To create this effect for her photographs, Pauline uses layered textures; these textures include her own photographs taken of light on water, greenery, skies, and some free textures that she downloads from the internet. I highly recommend that you visit her website and take a look at her `Exotic Animals` series. Here is the link:

Top Tips for Photographing Animals:
  • Be patient! – Patience is probably the most important thing you can have when photographing animals. You need to remember that animals are their own beings, so they aren’t going to do exactly what you want them to do. In order to produce natural animal photographs, you need to be patient, and need to wait for that natural spontaneous moment, it will be worth it.
  • Experiment with different angles – The size of an animal will affect the angle that you photograph it from, so be prepared to get on the ground in order to get that perfect shot, especially when photographing small animals like pets. Photographing your subject from the best angle, can turn an ordinary photograph into a really impressive image.
  • Photograph your subject early or late in the day – Photographing animals in strong midday sun isn’t ideal, and animals are generally less active at midday if the weather is warm. So, you should get up early or wait until later in the evening, in order to photograph your subject in the `golden hour`, the first and last hour of sunlight in the day. This will allow you to produce images that have a beautiful warmth to them, and will also allow you to take some stunning back-lit photographs.
  • Focus on your subject’s eyes – Having a sharp focus on the eyes of a subject is important in any kind of portrait photography; this same principle applies when photographing animals. Different animals will have different shaped and coloured eyes, so a sharp focus on these eyes will allow you to see them in great detail. Remember, “Eyes are the window to the soul”.
  • Try to avoid using flash – If you were to use flash when photographing an animal close to you, their eyes in the photograph would be an undesirable bright green colour; use natural light to photograph your subject, as this will create a softer photograph that has better tonal qualities than an image where your subject has glaring highlights from the use of flash. If you are at a zoo, and are photographing animals though a glass screen, you should definitely not use flash, as the flash will reflect off the glass, resulting in a bright, glaring image.

    I hope that these tips will help you when you go out to take your own animal photographs.