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I mentioned in my first post that I intended to write an article a week. A bit ambitious and I’ve struggled, so rather than beat my brains out about it, I’ve decided a target of once a month is far more sensible. Since my street photo shoot in Central London, I shot a gig at Sanctuary Studios, Watford (Sat 6th May) and I’d like to share the experience from a perspective of someone new to shooting music gigs or concerts. I have only ever shot just the one before.

It was about two and a half of years ago I had the pleasure of shooting “Scandal” for Vibe Radio, a Watford broadcast station. That was a fireworks night in Cassiobury Park also in Watford. The stage was big, lighting was great and although not bright, it was professional stage lighting with mixtures of colours and brightness constantly changing. I had a lot of space between the front of stage and the crowd behind a barrier and had access to the stage itself. A great night with great conditions, I had some very pleasing shots.

Scandal playing in Cassiobury Park, fireworks night 2014.

Above image: “Scandal” Cassiobury Park fireworks night, 2014

Back to Sanctuary Studios last week. Three bands played, Tactful Kactus, Love Buzz and The Visitors, the latter being the main attraction.

Each band played their own style of Rock with The Visitors adding some New Wave/Punk into the mix. IT WAS LOUD, my ears were ringing at the end of the evening. It was all very good stuff, lots of energy and lots of fun. I particularly enjoyed The Visitor playing Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin, I was brought up on that stuff.

Photographically, this night was a whole different challenge to the Scandal gig. The light was dim, the venue small and I had to be careful of the audience and wires and stuff when shooting from close to the stage.

I used a Canon EOS 5D MK3 with a Tamron 24 -70mm f/2.8 and a Canon 70 -200mm f/2.8 L. A note on the Tamron lens, it has image stabilisation (Tamron call it Vibration Reduction). The Canon equivalent, at much more money, does not, and I was glad of it tonight. The Canon has better build quality and reportedly better image quality, but there’s little in it apart from the price.

I prepared by setting up my camera to deal with the conditions because I knew it would be a low light situation. The Canon has programmable custom settings in the mode dial marked C1, C2 & C3. I set C1 with the following settings.

  • Aperture Priority
  • f/2.8
  • ISO Auto
  • AI Servo
  • High Speed Continuous Shutter
  • Auto White Balance
  • Raw
  • ISO range 100 – 128000
  • Minimum Shutter Speed 1/125th second
  • Auto Focus Case 2 (Continuously track subjects, ignoring possible obstacles)

I added some variations on this into C2 and C3 but never used them in the end. A quick tip here, assuming your camera has custom setting slots of some kind. In any situation, if you find you need to adjust between a different set of settings in a pressured environment, pre program the settings you need so you can change quickly without having to fumble around in menus etc.

Right from the start my shutter speed was below 1/125th second and the ISO was stuck up at 128000, and at times the camera refused to focus. I was struggling with the available light. Despite this I managed some reasonable shots, that were just about good enough for purpose. They were mainly for web use and perhaps small prints on promotional leaflets.

Still, I was unhappy with the conditions. Geoff of The Visitors, who asked me to so the photography were on last. I have a bit of pride in that I want to get the best shots possible and I know Danny, the owner of Sanctuary Studios. I explained my problem hoping he could do something about it. He was a little hesitant at first, saying he didn’t want to spoil it for the audience, which is totally understandable, so I didn’t push it. However, he pondered for a moment and then said he can switch on 4 lights above the stage. It was worth asking then.

The Visitors started their show and I was shooting away, now achieving faster shutter speeds and an ISO of 64000 depending on where I was shooting. It wasn’t ideal, but was a welcome improvement.

I picked a selection of the best shots, around 60, polished them up in Lightroom and sent them to Geoff.  He was delighted with the shots, so all good in the end.

To finish off, here’s few picks from the evening, Thanks for reading and would love to hear from you, please feel free to leave a comment below….