Music Concert Lighting

This post is not actually for the photographers, it’s for all the lighting techs and lighting techs in training (hopefully a few lecturers will read it also). Especially for the techs at small venues.

Before I go on to the post proper, I need to explain that I totally understand the job of the lighting is to produce a show for the gig goers, the fans, the audience. There is a reason the large bands tour with huge lighting rigs and show; it is to provoke and enhance the atmosphere, to elevate beyond just a person or band standing on a stage performing. I know that. This is beyond doubt.

However before an act reaches the levels where they can afford to go on tour with their own crew and rig, the venue technician is usually the person responsible for how the act looks on stage and as that person you should have a few other considerations.

The acts you are dealing with are normally trying to establish themselves, they want or need reviews, be they on websites, bloggers, or in local or even national press, they need to get thier name out there. When it comes to reviews, pictures help, great images can grab attention, they can promote a review from a lesser spot to a more prominent one, a reader may stop and read a review based on the image.

Anyone involved in gigs knows the rules “first 3 and out, no flash”.

So put basically, if there are photographers or videographers in the house you have 3 songs to make your act look great. After the first 3 you can do everything to build the atmosphere but the first 3, why not help the artist?

(Ok I know there are artists that don’t like photographers or who want to be in the dark, to them, I refer to the paragraph above)

So how can you help?

  • Turn the lights on! Pitch black does not really help!
  • LED colour washes look really bad on camera!
  • Add a bit of white to the front, even if you have heavy back lighting or colour washes
  • Front/Side lighting works! Flat washes are boring.

What do I mean about the LED colour washes? Well put on that yellow or blue colour wash that seems to be the “flavour of the month” at the moment. Now stand where the artist will be and take a selfie on your phone? How does it look? Let’s just say not flattering! Compared to the filtered incandescent lamps of old, LED lights produce a really intense colour that might look great from the back of the room but from the pit, on camera, it’s probably one of the least flattering looks there is. Modern camera sensors have a real issue dealing with it and it’s tricky to dial out. Adding some white from the front on the artist makes all the difference and the rest of the stage still looks great from the audience.

Backlight Colour Wash – Straight from the camera
Zithulele ‘Jovi’ Zabani Nkosi of BCUC (Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness) photographed during the 40th WOMAD (World of Music arts and Dance)- It takes a LOT of effort to get it like this and its still not flattering
Kae Tempest photographed during the 40th WOMAD (World of Music arts and Dance) – A bit of front light makes ALL the difference!

You might think I’m writing this just to make my life easier in the pit. I am but because I want to produce great flattering photos. I’m not a kid, I’ve been doing this for a while and whilst there are many more experienced photographers shooting with the big names out there, I’ve been doing this in the smallest and largest venues there are for quite a while and the bottom line is, good photos help everyone in the business!

So the next time you light a venue, have a think about those first 3. Any photographers in there? Do your act and the venue that employs you a favour..

Until the next post.

J

WOMAD

Despite using, writing about and loving the XF90/F2 lens over 2 years ago in Cannes (and borrowing one since), I had not purchased one until a few weeks ago, when I took advantage of the (recently expired) cash back offer to pick a shiny new XF90 up from my preferred dealer Fixation.

It’s with this new purchase, a pair of X-T2’s plus a XF14/2.8 and XF56/1.2 that I rode down to cover WOMAD this weekend. Travelling by motorbike means I like to travel as light as possible. I had guessed that the XF90 (equivalent of approx a 135mm) would be ideal for half length images on the main stage, with the XF56 for full length. I guessed right.

The 2 most effective ways of using a wide such as the XF14 is either to get in close to exaggerate the perspective or to take a step back for the wide general view.

Moon Hooch performs on the Charlie Gillett Stage WOMAD Festival (World of Music Arts and Dance) on Friday 26 July 2019

Moon Hooch performs on the Charlie Gillett Stage : X-T2 & 14mm@F11

Anna Calvi performs on the Open Air Stage WOMAD Festival (World of Music Arts and Dance) on Saturday 27 July 2019

Anna Calvi performs on the Open Air Stage shot from the top of the Light/Sound Tower. X-T2 & 14mm@F2.8 (1/5th sec)

On the smaller, less bright stages, the speed (wide aperture) of the XF56 enabled a lower ISO and higher shutter speed than the slower F2.8 lenses.  Gigs (should) feature bright lights, strong colours and high contrasts which can make them tricky. Shooting with the  Astia simulation dialled in, I set a fixed white balance (depends on the venue) and the dial down the hilights in camera whilst increasing the shadow contrast. The resultant jpgs require minimal work. (If it is a tricky venue, I do switch to RAW).

Anna Calvi performs on the Open Air Stage. X-T2 +XF56@F1.2

Anna Calvi performs on the Open Air Stage. X-T2 & XF56@F1.2

Macy Gray performs in the Saim Tent at WOMAD X-T2 & XF56@F1.2

Macy Gray performs in the Saim Tent at WOMAD X-T2 & XF56@F1.2

The XF90 allows me to stay further back and produce an image with a lovely soft out of focus background. To enable a wide aperture on bright days I sometimes resorted to the Mechanical + Electronic shutter option. As long as there are no artificial lights or fast moving subject the ES is fine.

Atmosphere at the WOMAD Festival (World of Music Arts and Dance) on Friday 26 July 2019

Relaxing in a hammock checking a smartphone. X-T2 & XF90@

Extinction Rebellion The Red Brigade at the WOMAD Festival. X-T2 & XF90@F2

Extinction Rebellion The Red Brigade at the WOMAD Festival. X-T2 & XF90@F2

Extinction Rebellion The Red Brigade at the WOMAD Festival. X-T2 & XF90@F2

Extinction Rebellion The Red Brigade at the WOMAD Festival. X-T2 & XF90@F2

I must admit i got a bit carried away with the bright reds of the robes against the dark greens of the arboretum and did not really shoot enough wide images to put the brigade into a wider context. I did love the images i got though..

So that was WOMAD, shot on 3 fixed length lenses. Zoom lenses are very handy but they are not the only tool!

Next up, probably Brighton Pride next week…..