My First Attempt at Band Photography

I shot my first “bar band” last night. I know a band member, so getting permission wasn’t a problem. The problem was, well, the lighting. Or lack thereof. The band brought their own lights — a bank of colored lights that sat on the floor in front of the drummer and changed in rhythm with the music, basically. But that was it. The lead singers stood in front of those lights, so they were always backlit, with no light from the front.

This left me with one lens that could do the job — my new Canon 28mm f/1.8. Everything else I had started at f/2.8, which was fine for the drummer who had a light on over his head, or for the guitarists off on the side, where the flashing lights would often spill onto them. But it was not good enough anywhere else, unless I wanted to shoot at 1/30th of a second or less and hope for the best with the movement.

I missed my 50mm f/1.8 this weekend more than ever. (Sadly, it broke on me a month or two back.) But I also am more determined to replace it someday with the 50mm f/1.4, just for the extra bit of light that would let in for such an environment. Of course, I also want the 85mm f/1.8 so I can take tighter pictures, but that’s photography, isn’t it? There’s always something else to buy.

Finding a place to take pictures was a bit of a problem, too: Small bar, lots of people standing around. I spent most of the time on one knee off to the right side of the stage, shooting up at the band. Occasionally, I would stand up with my back to a pole so as not to block too many views. But at that angle, mic stands started to get into the picture in uncomfortable ways. After the first set, I repositioned to the opposite side of the stage when a spot along the wall opened up. I shot there mostly standing up, but knelt down once in a while. Then, finally, I got into the side area almost behind the stage where I could get one more look at the band.

Shot most of the night at a ridiculous ISO 4000 and 1/40th of a second. Yes, manual mode. Just hit burst mode and prayed for the best. That’s how I took 900+ pics. Most of it will be garbage. The funny thing is that every picture is a different color. If I took ten pics in a row, those lights on the floor would cycle through twice, so you can see the rotation of colors — blue, purple, red, orange, white. So a single shot might have four different looks, and hopefully one of them will be sharp enough to use.

I would have preferred shooting 1/80th or 1/125th of a second, but there wasn’t enough light to get anything on the sensor at that speed. And cranking it up to ISO 6400 was just too noisy for me to deal with.

In the end, I’m thinking that most of these shots will be converted to black and white. From what little I’ve seen of them so far, they’re extremely grainy. ISO 4000, even on a Canon 60D is pushing it. And at f/1.8, I was never getting more than one band member in focus at a time.

I also learned just how large the files are on an 18 megapixel camera than a 10 megapixel camera. I’m pushing 25 MB per file now, or about 40 pics per Gig on the memory card. I’m pretty sure that’s more than twice as much per file, for 80% more megapixels. I blew through the 16GB and 8GB cards like they were nothing. And now I have a hard drive issue at home, because I’ve run out of space from the 60D pics in the last month.


Sorry I don’t have any pictures to accompany this writeup with. They’re still converting to DNG and getting loaded up into a LightRoom catalog in the background. Sadly, it’s LR2. I should be getting LR3 in December, at which time I might have to go back to these pictures with the better noise reduction. For now, I’m hoping Noise Ninja and LR2 will suffice.

More to come. . .