A few weekends ago I shot my first live gig, for rising star Joe Spink - http://on.fb.me/1s7tV9u - I had previously shot and co-edited his music video for 'Perfect Days' - http://bit.ly/1iYszKm - which was created as part of an event, earlier this year called 'One Shot: Music Video Challenge Weekend' by 'ELFM' and 'SODIUM'. Me and Joe had kept in touch over Twitter and when he had organised a gig alongside 'Bridge Burners' and 'Gentlemen Psychopaths' we spoke about me shooting the his act.
Personally I'd never shot a gig before, I've been at plenty and shot in low light but never combined the two as such; so I kept an open mind of how to handle this. I didn't know the venue either, 'The Packhorse' nears Leeds University, but Joe told me it was just a small place so I should be able to get close. Knowing this I stuck with only short lenses, the Nikkor 50mm 1.8D, the Nikkor 35mm 1.8G, and then my 18-70mm 3.5-5.6; I didn't bother bringing my 55-200mm as 1) it's a cheap poor mans zoom lens that I use rarely and 2) it's terrible in low light and chances are it'd only hinder me and not give me what I wanted.
Joe was on second and so with the first band I just enjoyed the music and observed - looking for vantage points: where to shoot from, where I'd be in the way of people watching, how close could I get, how the crowd were being, what the lighting was like etc etc. The place is small, it's essentially a large room with a built in stage, no press pit or anything of that calibre. This meant I could get close to the stage as long as there was no one in the way; luckily the majority of the audience were proud parents and minors so there was little chance of a mosh/circle pit breaking out and me being knocked to the floor with some smashed glass in my hands.
Joe set was around an hour long which was plenty of time to get some good images and I fired off over 650 photos, which is hugely over the top as I only kept around 40 in the end, I knew this was way to many when I was there, but I had my reasons; that'll i'll explain later. I primarily stuck with the two prime lenses because of the f1.8 aperture and I love shooting with these two lenses, they're very nice to use and look much nicer than the zoom lens. I did use the zoom for the few wide shots I got, but this was also when I noticed this lens was broken; it's never been dropped or bashed or anything that would lead me to knowing why it's broken but the lens is stuck between 24 and 35mm now, so essentially it was next to useless.
For camera settings I altered my 'standard' colour profile to have have less contrast, to help hold onto the dark areas better, and raised the sharpness too. I then changed my white balance to be auto (always seem to find auto does a better job than any of the presets) and added some green and amber to combat the purple and blue lighting. I shot mostly at ISO1250, some at 1600 and some even at 2000 as this place was dark. The D7000 seems to hold it's own very well at these ISOs, there is noise but it's fixable and not too ugly. My shutter speeds varied depending on what I was going for, some were even shot at 1/10th to get a lovely blur on guitarists hands, but was often shooting at 1/100th to get a sharp clean image on people.
My 'style' changed over the course of the gig as I gained more confidence in where I felt I could stand, or kneel, or sit at one point, without being in anyones way. I was initially taking the odd photo and observing, trying to foresee the moments that i could capture; and once I lined up something I would fire off about 6-10 photos as the D7000 I use can do up to 6fps on the 'Continuous High' mode. The reason for this is not that I'm a bad photographer, or that I don't know how to put the camera in single shot, or I'm just trigger happy; over the years I've learnt when to take a photo and when not too, but my reason was this; with the act moving so much on stage and moving hands, and sticks and pulling faces so quickly, I didn't want the option of missing a better shot than I got because I'd only shot one photo and 'chimped' at it before realising it's not as good as I wanted. I wanted the option to choose later, and with it being my first gig and knowing what I can achieve, I wanted the best.
As you may see from the shots taken (scattered through this article) I like dutch angles, in fact, I love them. I find them pleasing to the eye, horizontal horizons work well in landscapes shots and when you want that, but often I think a dutch angle works better, you can fit more into a shot and it adds some character; it doesn't work for everything, but for this I thought they worked better than if they were always entirely straight. I also shot a few by lens whacking (removing the lens and angling it against your camera body to achieve focus) and the reason for this, was not only because it can look amazing, with light leaking in behind the lens causing great colours and distortion (watch 'Perfect Days' for an example) but this was how Joe's music video was primarily shot, and I wanted to emulate that. The headshot of Joe that I previewed the night of the gig was shot by lens whacking and it's tack sharp on the right side of his face (left side looking at the photo) but the left is a little bit off, and this kind of selective focus couldn't be achieved without a tilt shift lens or by lens whacking.
As for post production, I initially loaded all the photos to Lightroom, and then just moved the shots I liked best to a new folder, and removed the originals from Lightroom's catalogue. Initially the shots were all very blue and purple with little detail, this was down to the harsh coloured lighting at the event, very little I could do about that with no personal lighting to make people visible with white light. I therefore played around with the HSL (Hue Saturation, Luminance) settings a lot. Every shot has a very similar colouring to them with some difference in exposure and how many adjustment brushes they have on them. But mostly they have a lot of desaturation in the blue and purple channels, with the luminance pushed towards the white so whatever colour was left was made lighter, and this pulled out details in faces, skin tones and the guitars - and also created those lines of colour you see outlining everything.
I'm going to be shooting more gigs for Joe Spink later this year at other venues such as the Cockpit, and hopefully this will become a more common thing for me as I really enjoyed the experience; and from the response we've had, people really liked them too; so stay tuned and watch out for more.