Welcome to Festival Pictorial, a small pictorial account of what makes live music and the arts such an important part of our lives. The galleries are a selection of festivals and live gigs and will be updated when time allows. For those interested, the older shots were mostly taken on a Canon 40D, although the oldest were probably on an EOS 1N film body. The more recent shots were taken on a 5Diii with a 70-200 mk ii 2.8 or a 17-40 f4 (soon to be upgraded to a faster 24-70 mk ii 2.8). As the site grows I hope to be able to share a few tips on concert photography – at least enough to get you started.
Ok – so here’s a shot from a Gigspanner gig in 2015. For those not into their folk, Gigspanner is Peter Knight’s group, Peter being the ex (long-standing) fiddler with Steeleye Span.
I have to declare that I’m pretty happy with this shot. It’s one that I enjoy looking at, and that, after all, is what this photography business is mostly about. However, let’s take the bias out of it and try and breakdown what works, and what doesn’t.
- Sharpness if key. For this pic that mean’s Peter’s eyes. As he is pretty much face on to the camera that means both eyes should be in focus. Thankfully they are – even blown up 100% from a 5D III TIFF (about three times the length of an average computer monitor).
- His band mate, Roger Flack needed to be out of focus so the viewer’s attention is drawn to Peter. Although this would probably be the case anyway as Peter is face on, as humans we would instinctively be drawn to other areas of the photo in focus. Sorry, Roger!
- This is an active shot. These are musicians caught in the moment, so whilst we wish to preserve the image as sharply as possible, it’s also nice to see some movement. That is exactly what we find with the percussion sticks as they rebound from the violin strings.
- Live music is enjoyable. That’s why musicians play it and we pay to watch it – even if it’s folk music which is 95% about death and dismay. That wry little smile from Peter displays this perfectly and may have been lost if the shutter hadn’t opened for that fleeting moment.
Well, I’ve already said I like this shot, and I’m pretty critical of my own work. So what can I say? Well, white balance levels could benefit from a bit of tweaking. However, more importantly, this shot was luck. Not pure luck in the sense that I hadn’t been waiting for this particular tune (Fiddlesticks), because I had. I had also positioned myself to ensure my overall composition was focused on Peter’s profile and not the back of his head. I had also worked a little with the ISO/shutter speed/aperture triangle to find a best fit. But nothing was guaranteed, and the wry smile could not have been anticipated. So, what am I saying? Well – at the end of the day, you have to prepare as best you can, but shoot loads. Ignore those that claim every shot has to be borne of hours of preparation. Yes, you need to be prepared, yes you need to use your knowledge of your equipment. But beyond that, some things are simply serendipitous, and if you want to maintain that sense of excitement and discovery for what you do, whether it is paid or simply for pleasure, then don’t be afraid to keep pressing that shutter button.
For anyone interested (and I am the type of photographer who always wants to know settings), the camera specs for this shot were as follows:
- Canon 5D III
- 1/100 (would have preferred a little faster, but I may have compromised the motion of the sticks)
- ISO 2500
- 145mm using a Canon 70-200 2.8 ii IS
- Spot lighting from theatre lights only. No flash.