Band photography – how to not miss “the shot”

All photographers know what’s like to miss the perfect shot when it happens in an instant, so here I identify my own mistakes which you probably share, then I address them with solutions. I spend most of my time photographing local bands in Cape Town, South Africa, but some of this advice is also based on my experience in taking photos of sport and people too.

Watershed at Kirstenbosch, Cape Town

Be ready

As the action unfolds, you realise that your camera…

  1. is off
  2. is around your neck and not in your hands
  3. still has the lens cap on

Solutions

  1. If you know you have more than enough battery for the event, leave it on for a few seconds longer each time, or put in on in anticipation of the crucial moments.
  2. I can get tired holding my camera with a heavy zoom lens, but the least I can do is keep it around my neck while still holding it loosely with both hands.
  3. If I have a lens hood or filter on, I don’t mind leaving my lens cap off for a few minutes when I have nothing to shoot at the moment. Also I keep a lens cloth in my camera bag so I can wipe any dust or finger prints off straight away.

Planned shot of Just Jinjer's dreadlocks

 

Keep your eyes on the action

I have missed a few key shots on stage because I was too busy…

  1. checking the monitor to see if the previous shots came out alright.
  2. going through the last 10 shots to delete a few
  3. admiring the most recent shot, while something better happens.

Solutions:

  1. Wait for breaks in the action so you can review the image composition as well as settings. Choose Program, Aperture priority or Shutter speed priority, with EV compensation (like -4 or -5 on dark stages) and ISO limiting (e.g. 200-1600), then trust your camera for a while. If the light in unpredictable, or low, you’ll have to check image quality more frequently.
  2. I like to delete my bad photos on my camera as I find it more efficient than on my computer for a few reasons. But I try to avoid the decision-making of to delete or not, while the action is happening. In between bands is when I often take time out, to find my best shots so I can get more like that and to delete the bad ones.
  3. I know it’s tempting to look at a photo that you know turned out really well, but don’t let that take preference of taking another like it a few seconds later.

Focusing for mystery and interest

Stay in focus

With energetic events and moving objects, you might not get the right moment in perfectly focus because…

  1. autofocus let you down
  2. manual focus failed
  3. you got camera shake
  4. the depth of field is too narrow or misplaced
  5. you timed the shot wrong

Solutions

  1. autofocus let you down – If you choose the default version of autofocus mode, it will likely choose whatever object is biggest, brightest, or closest in the view. You can lock the focus and exposure with the AE-AF buttons or by half-pressing the shutter. More conveniently, I find when I want to keep the eyes and faces of people in focus, I set autofocus to the AF-point system. I then use the buttons to move the point around so that the face is in the top third of my photo, whether in portrait or landscape mode.  Also note that Autofocus will be less accurate in low light, so I like setting the AF point to the person’s face (which reflects) rather than their clothes or the background (which are harder reference points). I find the dynamic “3D” autofocus mode great sport or moving objects – while keeping the shutter half-pressed between shots to keep it locked on. (e.g. I have 11 AF points on my viewfinder, but it works differently and less efficiently in Live View. Live View also focuses incredibly slow in low light, but in good light it’s worth using for the facial recognition if it’s turned on).
    I caught this moment with rapid shot
  2. you got camera shake – I read an article in a photography magazine reviewing the difference an IS or VR lens makes and that feature is definitely useful especially at shutter speeds like 1/60 or longer (though it uses batter faster, it’s worth it). Still, it helps to find something to lean on – a wall, a chair, railing – to get sharp shots. By looking through the viewfinder against your face, the camera will be more stable than holding the weight out at a distance when using Live View.
  3. the depth of field is too narrow or misplaced – Since you’re shooting in low light, you’ll get narrow depth of field from a f/2.8 or f/1.8 lens, or from zooming in a lot. This can look very dramatic, make sure the focal point is spot on such as having eyes and face in focus (sharpening with a mask on the computer can help for misplaced focus). What usually takes priority over that rule, is focusing on what is nearest to the camera (as in the guitar back shot above, but not in microphone cases such as below).
    Focusing on the microphone blurs and softens faces
  4. I have missed a few cool shots because I was too busy thinking, “wow I can’t believe he’s jumping that high” or that “the chameleon is really catching the fly”. I have to work on remembering to take the photo. To catch quick movements like that, rapid shot /drive mode work well, but it’s really important to autofocus before the thing happens the since half a second it takes to autofocus could mean you miss the moment.

Other suggestions

If you know your memory card is getting full or your battery is running low, change it early during a calm moment so that your camera won’t let you down in a crucial moment.

My equipment:

  • Nikon D90, 2 batteries and a 16GB memory card
  • Nikon 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens
  • Sigma 24-70m f/2.8 lens
  • Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens
  • Sony H20

All photos in this post were taken by me. See my band photography WordPress blog at michaelcurrinphotography.

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Stonecollar at the Purple Turtle

Bryan Nicol drummer

Bryan Nicol

Stonecollar at the Purple Turtle in Cape Town South Africa, 30 April 2010.

Leshem Petersen

Leshem Petersen

Clinton Jurgens

Clinton Jurgens

Sean Tait

Sean Tait

Find the band on Facebook here. More of my photos of Stonecollar on Facebook here.

Photo of the Week entries

Every week I submit a Photo of the Week for the saockdigest and these are some of the best, from January to March 2010.
You can see my band photography portfolio at michael.currin.co.za.

Table Mountain Blues Summit I

2009-11-28
My photos of 3 top South African bands at the concert including the Albert Frost Trio, Boulevard Blues Band (guitarist Richard Pryor) and Dan Patlansky.

See the second post here. See all the photos in my Picasa Web Album.

The Albert Frost Trio

Dan Patlansky

Boulevard Blues Band