Concert Photography How-To: Metering & Exposure, pt. 2

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In part one of this series, I covered my basic four-step approach to determining exposure that might otherwise prove difficult if one were to rely on the in-camera meter. In this second installment, I'll cover a few other techniques I use in addition to that feedback loop method.

While the four-step method is a great start to determining exposure for concert lighting, with the practice, it's possible to achieve accurate exposure when the light levels change without as much attention to review and adjustment. Once you've mastered establishing a baseline exposure, as described in the previous article, it's time to take it to the next steps:

  • Simplify
  • Memorize
  • Internalize

Each of these three approaches to metering and exposure for concert photography are designed to increase efficiency; with three-song limits nearly standard these days, any more time you can spend with your eye to the viewfinder instead of on the LCD is going to help.

Note: I shoot manual about 99% of the time, which may be a useful reference in reading these suggestions.

Simplify

When I shoot, I try to change as few variables as possible in exposure from one lighting scheme to the next. Why? Because having more choices isn't the same as having better choices.

The fewer things you change, the faster and more efficiently you'll be able to work.

While shooting in manual gives full control over aperture and shutter speed in addition to ISO, try limiting yourself to adjusting a single setting. By dealing with the bare minimum of information and decreasing options, you get the simplicity of a program priority mode with all the control of manual when you need it.

In addition, dealing with the least number of variables possible will help you with the next technique: memorization.

Memorize

Just as music has patterns, so too does concert lighting. For any given lighting scheme, a lighting tech is likely to employ it more than once during a set, if not several times during one song.

One key method for achieving a better metering workflow in the pit is to get into the practice of memorizing exposures as you shoot.

As lighting mixes recur, having memorized the exposure for a specific scheme will save you time and free you up concentrate on closing on those killer images instead of worrying about basic technique.

Internalize

Believe it or not, your eyes and brain form a capable and responsive judge of ambient light; training them can be a huge boon for achieving more accurate and consistent metering.

In fact, the first step to internalizing light levels is something you're probably already doing regularly in the pit: guessing. You're already trying to estimate the amount of light as the first step in the feedback loop, so make it count and guess smarter.

Make it a game. Take an extra second as you begin the task of metering and ask yourself, “Is this ISO 1600 dark, or ISO 3200 dark?” If you guess wrong, you can always go back to step one. But guess correctly and you've saved yourself a few seconds. Do this often enough and you will begin to know the difference in that stop.

The more you practice, the more precise you'll become at evaluating and calculating light levels on the fly, even without having to review at every step.

Synthesize

The end goal utilizing the above techniques is to remove as many steps as possible between seeing the image and executing it. Or, in other words, to enable you to produce the best exposures possible with the least effort (i.e., as efficiently as possible). Put these tricks together and you should be able to adjust exposure on the fly and with minimal review.

In the next installment of this series, we'll go over some other general suggestions and maybe have a look at the histogram displays for a few different types of images.

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon D750:
I use two Nikon D750 for my live music photography. Amazing high ISO performance in a compact body with tons of pro features.
nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 24-70mm f/2.8:
For most gigs, the 24-70mm is my go-to lens. Exceptional image quality at wide apertures and super-functional range.
Nikon-70-200-squareNikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.
nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.
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