Shooting Live Music

Hi everybody and welcome to this blog post!

Last Saturday was the X-th school festival of the ASS secondary school. At Eaze, a young modern hard-rock band that I met in 2008, hired me to cover their gig.
I shot them the first time in early 2008 at a music contest for the local newspaper. After my photos were published, I received an e-mail of their manager – he told me that the band saw my images in the newspaper and that they would love them. Finally, he asked me if I want to cover the band’s upcoming shows. I accepted. That was the beginning with At Eaze.
I covered many of their shows since 2008. Now, after three and a half years I’m recognizing that these musical kids I shot in 2008 became young adults who are applying for A-level and run a great band that published its first album. To me this is a fascinating process. The whole coverage of their gigs over the years does show an evolution – a change from kids to young adults. Although they had several drummers and members over the years the band never broke up. Its core was always formed by Laura and Kevin (right).

At Eaze 2008

After I shot them the last time in October 2010 they hired me again on Saturday.

Well, back to the topic. Shooting live music is a hard business. You have to fight against very low-light conditions, different light quality, colored light, blinking light, varying lights/light intensity/light colors, fast motion, loud music etc. You also have to cover the best moments during the first three songs (professional bands) or the whole show (amateur bands).
When I started  doing concert photography I thought technical correctness would be the point but it isn’t. It’s just a part of a greater whole. As always: The most important thing is to capture the moment. It doesn’t matter if there’s a bit of motion blur as long as if you have captured the special moment.

There are many types of shooting styles for concert photography and I prefer a clean one. That means that I want a clean image that’s technically perfect in terms of light, noise, motion blur and color. When I’m using effects like motion blur I’m using them purposely. Motion blur only makes sense if you’re using a flash. Because only the flash allows you to stop the action and to create a sharp image followed by motion blur. Without a flash the whole scene is blurred and hard to identify.

But using flash isn’t always allowed. At professional concerts for example flash usually isn’t allowed. There is an advice – or even rule – that every security guard gives you before you enter the photographer’s pit: „Three songs, no flash!“
At an amateur gig you would have to ask the band before you’re going to use flash. The problem is that there are so many photographers who don’t understand the correct use of a flash. They’re disturbing bands by shooting the flash directly at full power and blinding the artists on stage. Therefore it’s intelligible that many bands don’t like flash.

Is there a less noticeable way to use flash at concerts? Yes, I think so.

Step one:
Prepare the camera for available light conditions

In terms of a clean image I need a high ISO that causes an acceptable noise. It depends on the camera you’re using how extreme the noise will be at high ISO. I’m using a Nikon D3 and my limit is ISO 3200. After I set the ISO I proceed with the f-stop and shutter speed settings. The f-stop should always be at its lowest, e. g. f2.8. Finally, I have one variable left that I can change – the shutter speed. Here I’m using the following approximate rule:

Max. shutter speed that doesn’t cause blur = reciprocal of (1/focal length in mm)

That means that if I’m using a 50mm lens, I need a minimum shutter speed of 1/50s (on an FX sensor camera) to prevent blur that’s caused by shaking while holding the camera. If I cannot realize this shutter speed because it’s too dark, I have to use a monopod or a higher ISO. Otherwise I just raise the shutter speed.
For concerts I set the camera always to manual mode and matrix metering. I also make some test shots to find the correct exposure. It’s very easy if there’s just one parameter to adjust especially when the light intensity is varying. Mostly I’m working in a range around 1/60s and 1/250s.

Step two:
Adding flash

The goal is to combine the ambient light and the flash light in a way that finally no one will recognize that you used a flash.
To get started I would recommend to set the flash on the lowest power level available. Use a dome diffuser and let the light bounce off the ceiling (or a similar white surface like a bouncer card – whatever). Use the available light camera setting and make some test shots to adjust the flash.
If the flash power is too low don’t raise it too much! It’s better to blend in more available light than pushing the flash power. Remember: You don’t want to blind or disturb the band. If the flash is too bright, use a higher f-stop.
Always remember:

The shutter speed adjusts the intensity of the available light; the f-stop adjusts the intensity of the flash.

The goal is to find the correct mix of available light and flash light. Finally, no one should recognize that you are using a flash or that you have used a flash.

When you’re using a flash some color shifting may appear. That’s because the flash produces a color temperature of 5000K which is very similar to daylight, but the spotlights maybe produce a warmer light of 5000K plus. The solution for this is a warming gel that warms the flash light so that it will fit more to the color temperature of the spotlights.


#1 Reveal the Drummer
Here is an example where I used a flash to reveal the drummer from darkness. It’s a well known problem that drummers mostly sink in darkness, especially at amateur concerts. That’s also the reason why many photographers don’t shoot the drummer of a band.
In this image I mounted a flash on a mike stand in front of the drummer. It looks like a white spotlight illuminates him but actually it’s a flash that reveals him from darkness.

#2 Reveal the Audience
Another problem is that the audience often sinks in darkness, too. But the audience is an important factor because it shows emotion and gives the viewer a feedback of how good the band played and how it influenced the audience. Finally, a happy audience is a quality indicator for a band. So reveal it from darkness to show how good the band is on stage.

It’s possible to shoot concerts with flash. The advantages are that it can reveal important people from darkness like the drummer and the audience. It also helps to clean the noise of high ISO and to influence the light quality and light color. Disturbing the band with flash is an absolutely no go! Get familiar with the correct use of your flash and your camera. Blend the flash and available light in a way that no one recognizes the flash – neither during the gig nor after the gig when viewing the images.
If a band forbids the use of a flash accept it and draw on your skills and equipment to shoot in available light situations. Good luck!



Mushroom Season

Hi everybody,

when I made a walk through the woods last week I recognized some mushrooms and thought: “Well, seems like it’s mushroom season again.” And I remembered my mushroom series from last fall.

I don’t know, but sometimes you forget nice things that you did some time ago. Anyway, fall stands for mushrooms, colored leaves, wind, rain, last warm sun rays etc. So, I will shoot some fall scenes during the upcoming months. Especially another mushroom series for editorial use.
Finally it’s a small project for fall.

I think it’s important to have some kind of projects that help you to expand your skills in a motivating manner. Of course, you can shoot this and that circadian and have adapted lots of techniques to a lot of scenes that results in a mixed portfolio at the end of the day. On the other hand working on a project helps to concentrate skills and techniques on a specific topic. Just try to create a common theme.



Car Shoot

Hi there,

My cousin Anna will get her drivers license soon and she will also get a car – the Mini Cooper of her mother. Well, I want to shoot her with her first car. Something like an Need For Speed Underground thing or so. However, the problem is: I don’t know anything about lighting cars or car scenes. So, this is a good example for my slogan: “Striving for the better picture everyday.”
I drove into the field this evening and tried to shoot my own car. Because I don’t know anything about shooting cars, I surfed on websites of professional car commercial photographers to get an imagination about angle, setup, lighting etc. Everyone knows that typical car ads in magazines or on billboards etc. Pretty cool stuff, isn’t it? Dramatic sky, motion, clean car, great lighting etc. Awesome shots.

So, I used my whole knowledge about lighting from sports and portraiture and just gave it a try.

All I know was, that I need very soft light and that it must come from an angle that doesn’t cause reflections on the car. Therefor I would have to spread and soften the light as much as possible but not too much so that I would still have a high quality of light. Phew! Hard conditions. Anyway, I tried it with a diffuser. It was much too small but I’ll use a larger one the next time.
Because one light source is almost not enough to light the car effectively I would need a bunch of them. Another option would be to wait for less available light so a few flashes would spend enough light (quality). Well, there a many other ways. Here I used three flashes only. Another thing is that it’s better not to light the whole car but generate some shadows to create an interesting image with drama etc. Here I lit the whole car so that there are no contours and shadows but just a white dull surface.

Finally, my session ended in results like the following image. I think I’m on a good way but not on the royal road. Maybe there is really no way around Photoshop?! I don’t think so …

If you have any tips – let me know!
If you have a cool car that you want to be shot – also let me know!


See you next year, guys!

Well, Thursday was my last morning at the reservoir. I arrived at 5.00 a.m. and tried a new position on the other side of the waters under bushes. I built the hide into the bushes and hung a camouflage net in front of it and put the lens through. I was sure that this would be a great position to shoot close-up images. Finally, I cannot confirm that because there were no Osprey action that day. 8.55 a.m. was a time where they surely appeared the days before but not on Thursday. I waited until 10.30 a.m. than I went home.

I’m pretty sure that they already moved to Africa on Wednesday. Normally Ospreys stay in Germany until August. So, I will have to wait for next year. Around March 2012 they will come back and I will be there – that’s for sure. 🙂

These are last impressions from the reservoir:

Therewith the 24h Osprey Project is closed.

See you next time when I will tell you something about one of my other projects!


Another Morning at the Reservoir

Well, OSPREY MANIA! Yeah! %)

Today I went to the reservoir again. And it was amazing! I watched THREE Osprey hunts within two hours. And I shot all three. But, (yes I hate that exceptions too) every time I was too far away! The last action was near my first position but I changed the place before and finally missed great close-up images. Argh!

6:48 a.m. (ISO 3200)

8:56 a.m. (ISO 400)

8:57 a.m. (ISO 400)

However, I – will retry tomorrow, indeed.

Here are more reservoir expressions from today:


They’re still there!

Yeah, I’m VERY happy!!! The Ospreys are still living at the reservoir!!! 😀
When I arrived around 5 o’clock the sun was rising and the scenery looked like this:

I immediately went to the place from where to shoot which I found a few days ago at my first visit after four years. Because I had no camo tent I built one with an umbrella and a camo net. I used a SuperClamp a Novoflex P19 and a mike stand to fix the umbrella. Then I put a camo net on top of the umbrella. Done! 😉

Here you can see the mike stand, SuperClamp, Novoflex P19 and umbrella construction and the fluffy interior of the “tent”. 😉

Of course, that’s me in my DIY camo tent. 🙂
(Photo details: I used a ND-Grad filter to darken the sky and a SB-800 to lighten the inside of the tent. (NIKON D200, Tamron 10-24/4.5-5.6))

After almost 3h of waiting (and listening “The Three Investigators – ???”) I recognized shrill calls and tumult. Glancing at the sky I saw a swarm of ravens chasing two bigger birds. When I had a closer look I saw that these bigger birds were – Ospreys! I thought: “Awesome! They’re still living here!” and gripped my camera. 😀
I was happy and nervous at the same time. I’m sure that the angler on the other side of the waters could smell my excitement. The ravens chased the Ospreys and they were very fast and also too far away for my 600mm lens. To make matters worse, I had to shoot against the light. So, I waited until they came around again. This time there was just one Osprey who was searching for fish. I followed it and suddenly it happened: The Osprey caught a fish! Wow! What a spectacle! I’ve never seen that before live. Actually the action happened too far away and wasn’t worth the clicks but my NIKON D3 rattled like a machine-gun – 11 fps. ” Maybe I can crop it.”, I thought.
And here is a cropped frame:

Too far away as I said but finally, the Osprey project was an success and lasted at least 4h instead of 24h! Why just 4h? Well, Ospreys need one or two fish per day only. I would have to wait too long until the next hunt in the evening (if there would be ever another hunt). Therefor I’ll be at the reservoir again tomorrow because after a cool night they need something to eat in the morning for sure.

Oh, and Tweety was there, too:

Wagtail (Motacilla)



Hi, I hope you had a great weekend.

This week I’ll continue current projects but I’ll also make a start on upcoming projects.

The current project is on “Track and Field” sports scenes. It’s fun to shoot because it offers so dynamic and predictable scenes that I can arrange everything in my mind and on the the track exactly. Then I just wait for the athlete and press the shutter – “CLICK!”. Done! 🙂

Maybe I’ll give detailed information about this project in one of the following posts …

My upcoming project will include some more portraiture. Therefor I’m looking for ballet girls. So, if you are a ballet girl or if you know one in the area around Alsfeld please let me know! I plan to shoot some atmospheric and moody images and authentic ballet scenes. I’m really looking forward to this ballet project!

I’ll do a 24h nature/wildlife project tomorrow: shooting Ospreys. We don’t have any Ospreys here normally. Finally, I don’t know if it will succeed but I want to give it a try.  I met the first Osprey here in our area in 2008 at a reservoir, chasing fish. At that time I had only a NIKON Nikkor AF-I 300/2.8 with a defect AF – so I had to focus manually. I was on my way home and packing my stuff when I glanced up and saw this Osprey which clawed a fish . It came closer and I put the 3o0/2.8 onto my NIKON D70s, aimed, focused manually and shot several frames as the Osprey flew over my head at a high of 25 meters or so. That was pretty amazing!
I always wanted a better shot of it and maybe the luck will be on my side tomorrow. We will see. I’ll post the results of this project the next days.