Friday, November 20, 2015

A Quick Concert Photography Tip

I saw Styx here in Winnipeg this past Tuesday night, and they rocked. I've been a Styx fan since Paradise Theatre but I had never seen them in concert until now. Even though it's not quite the original line-up (since Dennis deYoung has been gone for over 15 years), the addition of Gowan as lead singer was a great choice. They were awesome.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about concert photography. Like many people at the concert, I took some photos with my phone (SLRs not permitted) and I wanted to give a quick tip.

The #1 Problem

If you look at concert photos taken with phones, the #1 problem with them is that they are over-exposed. Concerts are full of a lot of darkness and bright, bright lights. Your phone / camera tries to judge the correct exposure, and in my experience it usually over-exposes the scene.

The opening act at this concert was Streetheart, a good old Winnipeg band. I snapped a few photos with my camera and it was pretty clear they were over-exposed. Have a look at poor Kenny Shields' face - or lack thereof.

These shots were so over-exposed that their faces have become pure white with no detail. There's no recovering from this in post!

The Fix

When your camera is getting the exposure wrong, what can you do?

You really have two choices:

  1. Tell your camera exactly what exposure to use; or
  2. Use exposure compensation

Specifying Exposure

To control the exposure on an SLR, you put it in manual (M) mode and specify all three parts of the exposure triangle: aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

On a camera, you may be able to do it with the built-in camera app (not on an iPhone!), or you can use a different camera app. I downloaded the excellent Manual iPhone app, which gives you pretty complete control over the iPhone's camera. The interface is a little busy, as you might expect, but it is a great app for controlling your camera.

Exposure Compensation

The other option is to use exposure compensation. Here you are basically telling your camera to determine the exposure, then bias it up or down by a given f-stop amount. This is what I recommend for concert photography, given the wildly varying light conditions.

On an SLR it is pretty easy to use exposure compensation. I won't get into that here.

The built-in iPhone camera app does do exposure compensation, at least on iOS 8 and above. Here's a great tutorial.

The Manual app I mentioned above also does exposure compensation.

How Much?

As a rule of thumb for concert photography, I recommend -1 to -1.5 stops. You'll have to experiment to find out what works for you but I think you should err on the side of too much compensation to avoid the blow-out seen at top.

Other Issues

The other major issue with concert photography using your phone is being too far away, but there's not much you can do about that. You can crop tighter but you need a lot of megapixels in your phone's sensor to make that work. I find that I can't crop too far with my iPhone before it looks bad. Check out how pixelated Gowan is here.
Pixelated Gowan
This is how much the above photo was cropped. I was in row 7, so I was relatively close to the stage, but it's a lot to ask of a tiny phone lens.

Oh - and don't zoom with your phone unless it actually has an optical zoom. When you zoom, you're losing pixels because for most phones, it's a digital zoom. You're basically cropping in-phone so you are losing resolution. I really don't recommend it.

I'll leave you with a few of my favourite photos from the concert.

During "Light Up" they asked everyone to turn on their phones

James Young and Tommy Shaw rock out - note how Tommy's face is a bit over exposed

Styx rocking out

Near the end they fired off a ton of confetti

This is my favourite photo from the concert!

Styx taking a bow

Styx drummer Todd Sucherman
I hope you've enjoyed reading this and seeing the Styx concert photos. Learn how to use exposure compensation, and better yet, manual mode!

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Michael said...

Domo arigato, Steve. I grew up with Styx, thanks to my older siblings.

Robyn Petrik said...

Awesome tips here. I've got a couple of iPhone apps that will allow me manual control, but I haven't really ever used them. I need to take the time to try them and get used to them!

Canadian Train Geek said...

Thank you very much, Mr. Michael!

Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks, Robyn! Have fun playing with your apps!

Nice blog you have, by the way! I added it to my RSS reader.