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Having grown up in the late 60s, I was excited to learn that one of my contemporaries – James Taylor – was going to be performing in Grand Rapids on March 8th. I anxiously waited for tickets to go on sale, but they were quickly sold out in less than an hour. Fortunately, I found two available last minute tickets through StubHub so I was still in luck.

Through the years, I’ve done my fair share of event photography. But nowadays when I go to a concert or show, I’m usually attending as a spectator and not as a working photographer with a press pass. Since one of my hobbies is to collecting pictures of celebrities, I continue to take a small camera with me – just in case.

Typically, show venues are a mixture of dark backgrounds with strong spotlights. For effect, the performers are often “creatively lit” (read dimly). This stage lighting makes for a very contrasty scene.

So the challenge is to be able to use the theater’s available light to capture the performers. Flash is a no-no.

 

Wait for the right moment
Arnold McCuller

Although my camera is set for dim lighting (ISO is set to 1600), the dim lighting forces a slow shutter speed – in this case about 1/25 second. Here the performer is moving slightly so I end up with a blurred image. Performer: Arnold McCuller

Arnold McCuller

The solution to the blurred image is to carefully watch the performer and snap when he/she is in a more or less stationary position. With a little practice, you’ll be able to anticipate the times when the performer is positioned like a statue.

Adjust the exposure
James Taylor

Most cameras determine the exposure by averaging the amount of light in a scene. On a dark stage with bright spotlights, the camera is usually “fooled” by the darkness. This overexposure causes the brightly lit faces to be washed out. Performer: James Taylor

James Taylor

To prevent the his face from being washed out, I set the camera to reduce the exposure. For this shot, I used the camera’s exposure compensation to make a -2 (f/stop) adjustment. Although his guitar is darker, his face is now properly exposed.

 

For stage performances, you can use relatively inexpensive equipment. On this occasion I used a Canon SX210 IS point-and-shoot which has a 14X optical lens. Our seats were fairly close – the seventh row – but the lens allowed me to zoom in to grab a decent shot.

Just a quick note about courtesy: The auditorium was filled to the brim. Everyone paid for tickets with their hard-earned money so I go out of my way to keep as unobtrusive as possible when taking photos. I’m careful not to put my camera in front of another spectator and to be silent as I snap (usually a menu selection for “silent mode”). They are there for the performance, not to be disturbed by a rude and noisy picturetaker.

And since my real reason for being at the concert was to hear the performance, I make sure that I get to enjoy the music without being overly preoccupied with my camera. And by the way, the performance was great!

You can see more celebrity photos from my hobby collection here.

 

Written by Arnie Lee