Getting the Shot

October 26, 2014

It would be great if the lighting conditions were ideal every time we went out to shoot. The reality is that lighting can vary greatly from location to location, day to day, and situation to situation. While you can sometimes return to a location repeatedly if you're shooting a landscape, you really don't have that option at an event. The event happens at its scheduled time, and if you miss a shot, it's gone. Being able to push your gear (and yourself) out of your comfort zone in these situations will go a long way.

Last night, I went to Brooklyn Bowl in NYC to photograph some performances on the final night of the CMJ Music Marathon. I've been to the venue once before to shoot, and while I recall coming home that night with useable images, they weren't as good as I would have liked. I wasn't aggressive enough with my camera. I let the ISO sit at 3200 when I could have pushed it an extra stop. I didn't at the time because I just didn't feel comfortable, and I was worried about the noise. Looking back, I think that I could have done things differently.

Nikon D750 — 24mm, 1/60 sec, ƒ/3.5, 9000 ISO

This is Ayad Al Adhamy, lead singer/guitarist of the band Team Spirit. He came down off the stage and ended up on the floor with everyone. There was some light on him as he continued to perform down there, but since he was completely off stage, the light was very inconsistent. Shooting at my usual stage settings was out of the question.

What did I do? Well, first, I didn't panic. I knew I didn't have much time, but I made an assessment of things I could control, and then tried to stabilize as many variables as I could. I could only open up the aperture as wide as ƒ/2.8, but I wanted a bit more depth so I opted for ƒ/3.5. I could change my shutter speed as needed, but didn't want to go below 1/100. I ended up going down to 1/60th, but it worked out.

Since I didn't know what ISO would be appropriate, I switched my camera into Auto ISO. I had already been shooting the show at 4000, then 6400 ISO, but it still wasn't enough. The camera chose an ISO of 9000 for this shot, after I had dialed in the f-stop and shutter speed manually. It was a particularly calm part of the performance, so 1/60th of a second was still enough to stop most motion. Here's another shot of him earlier in the set, at 6400 ISO.

Nikon D750 — 105mm, 1/400 sec, ƒ/3.2, 6400 ISO

I was originally worried that the shot might have too much noise. As Ayad got down from the stage, that worry shifted from my image having too much noise, to not having an image at all, and that is when I made the decision to go for more ISO. If you think about the progression of photography, you understand that certain things have gotten a lot easier. Film speed tops out at 3200 ISO. Getting a shot like this back then would mean pushing it a couple of stops and accepting the increased grain and contrast. Concert lighting hasn't suddenly become more camera friendly since the invention of the digital camera. It's the cameras that have improved drastically and make challenging lighting less of a pain. Before last night, I never really thought to push my camera or let it assist me, but today I see it differently. I would have been so upset with myself if I missed this shot, but now I have one of my favorite shots of that night. It's noisy, but it also has the feeling of the night captured in every pixel. So yeah, don't panic. Try to think of what you can do, what you can compromise. Not every situation will be easily overcome, but try. You never know what results you can get if you don't.

If you were at CMJ Music Marathon this weekend, I hope you had a fantastic time. If you were at Brooklyn Bowl last night, I hope I was able to capture some of the energy for you.

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