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Tomorrow I am going to a big event and I would like to know how to take the best pictures. It's an indoor event with lots of lasers and lights. I want to take pictures from far away where the entire laser and light show can be seen, as in this example:

this example

Or when I get closer to the stage: I want to take pictures very high quality and with very nice lighting like this:

this

or

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There really are no magic "best settings"; instead, you need to know the techniques that might lead to the right settings for a certain scene and desired result. The closest thing to a "best setting" without that is probably going to be one of the scene modes. The photos you link to weren't done on the photographer's first attempt at such an event; if you hope to get that kind of result the first time, you'll probably be disappointed. This takes practice. –  mattdm Apr 5 '13 at 22:59
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Be aware there have been cases in which lasers at lights shows resulted in permanent damage to the camera's sensor. youtube.com/watch?v=J0TgaGePhJA&feature=related –  Michael Clark Apr 6 '13 at 19:39
    

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Unlike AJ, I think the low-light capability of the P510 is halfway decent for its class; of course I'm not comparing it to any DSLR as the P510 is the best I've got at the moment. If it's all you've got, it's better than nothing and loads better than a P&S, but if you're getting paid to produce, I'd seriously consider borrowing or renting a professional DSLR that has true ISO equivalents of 6400 or better and a sensor rated well in low-light applications. Full-frame 35mm sensors are preferred over APS-C for this type of work; more sensor area means more photons per sensor pixel, for better contrast and lower noise at higher ISO. APS-C have their place; it's not here (though an APS-C DSLR would still fare better than the P510's tiny CMOS).

If you're stuck with the P510, don't lose hope; I've done some admirable indoor-light work with it. Some tips:

  • ISO 1600 is the highest you'll want to use with the P510, as the ISO 3200 and 6400 are not "true" ISO settings; they're a post-processing step that further amplifies the ISO 1600 sensor levels. They'll be noisy, and you can do better, even with the native JPEG format, just plugging them into something like Photoshop or Lightroom and using their ISO autocorrect filter.

  • Given the above, in a dark club with no real ability to use a fill flash, you'll want the aperture wide open and the shutter set somewhere that will provide a "natural" looking shot while minimizing motion blur. Screw trying to get depth-of-field; people will be dancing, so a shutter longer than about 1/30" will produce unworkable motion blur, and there will be noticeable blur right down to about 1/250" (at which point I doubt you'd get anything). Aperture and depth of field are the least of your worries here; get a clean shot of what you want to focus on and don't try to take in everything crystal clear.

  • Get a tripod. There is no way in hell this camera will let you shorten the shutter enough to make hands shaking not an issue. If you need to move around a lot, a tripod becomes a monopod by just collapsing two legs and the spreader, and you'll still take steadier shots.

  • There is an "overlay composition" mode; I haven't played with it much but basically it takes a burst of pictures and "sums" them into your final shot; this can cancel noise, increase contrast, or both. It's good for stills in extremely low light, and for certain artistic shots like tracking a laser light show.

  • The actual multi-shot burst mode isn't great; you get five frames per second at full res before the shoot/process/store pipeline is full. But, consider it, especially for live-action type shots where you don't have the time or ability to compose the subjects in the frame. Do the best you can, take a burst before the moment passes, and choose the best shot from what you get.

  • The fill flash is crappy and there's no way to hook an external flash unit to this camera. If you want good results, don't bother unless it's pitch-black and you're taking shots of faces in the crowd. Try to adjust the camera to get a decently-lit shot using ambient light.

  • Experiment. It's a digital camera. You get a preview of the resulting shot in the viewfinder half a second after you click the shutter, and the show will be hours long. Take your time when you have it to compose the shots and adjust the "exposure triangle" to suit the light and artistic needs of the shot. For an "establishing" shot capturing the full venue, a crazy long shutter (1/2" or longer) and a step down on the ISO can give you those fluid-light shots of glow-sticks, spots and lasers. For faces in the crowd, max out the ISO and aperture so you can make the shutter as fast as the light level allows.

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Great answer. I've got no hands on experience with the P510, so I'll gladly defer to your hands on experience. –  AJ Henderson Apr 11 '13 at 13:26
    
+1. A well phrased answer. –  Evan Pak May 16 '13 at 1:44

There isn't really a big trick. The main thing is you will want the aperture as open as you can get it without hitting depth of field issues. You are likely to have a lot of trouble accomplishing your goal with a P510 as well since the low light quality seems to be spotty at best. Most of the photos you linked were probably shot on fairly high end gear with really solid low light capability (noise free out to the high 4 digit ISOs where as the P510 doesn't make it to 4 digits without noise issues.)

On stage there should be enough light, but it'll probably be tricky to get the balance of light on the subject and the light effects that you want without issues. It can be fairly tricky even with high end gear. Your best bet will probably be to experiment and play with the exposure compensation. Also, if you can, don't be afraid to use the flash to fill in faces while still getting the lights in the background if you have problems with dark faces while trying to get the lights.

Update: I'd defer to KeithS' advice since he has the camera and I'm only able to work from reviews about it. It may also very a lot based on how much light they actually have on stage. (Some stages are actually very bright, where as others are not, it really depends on how they do lighting.) Do expect to need to do a lot of color work in post though, stage lighting is always tricky since it is filtered light of a variety of different colors or in some more modern cases, single frequencies of light coming from LED Parcans.

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Nikon P510 has no RAW, only JPEG format. The 16 MP stuffed on a 6.17x4.55 mm sensor does not sound promising. Perhaps he should visit a camera rental and get another camera to shoot with? –  Esa Paulasto Apr 6 '13 at 4:45

That's a good answer from @KeithS with experience in just the same camera as in the question. I would pay close attention to it, were I to go to a gig with that camera. I can add an example photo, to visualise the challenge, for those photographers who have never taken a camera to a gig. It was taken with a compact camera, somewhat similar to the Nikon P510 (released in February 2012) but a few years older and of lesser quality, Olympus SP-550 (January 2007). Both are the largest ultra-zoom cameras of their time.

Here's the photo, straight out from camera:

Artist in photo - Paula Koivuniemi

1/40 sec, f/4.3, ISO 100, Focal length 30 mm (35 mm equivalent: 180 mm)

  • First advice of mine: Stay sober! You see my ISO setting was 100. I had been drinking wine and beer all night and forgot to crank up the ISO.
  • Using zoom to "get closer" will make for smaller aperture = longer exposure time = motion blur, and I only used zoom very sparingly, standing about 10 meters away from the artist.
  • The hands of people in front of you may get in the photo. Sometimes it can add a good effect, but not the way it happens in this photo.
  • Effect-smoke can drift everywhere from the stand and make your photo shooting a miserable experience. Not talking about breathing difficulties here, though that can be an issue as well.
  • Lights behind the band can be of any colour or just blinding white. This band had red and purple lights along with the bright whites.
  • Framing nicely can be a tough job, as the artist moves around and you may end up cutting limb and head off from other members of the band, which of course is bad. Shoot a little bit wider than you actually want, so you'll have room around to crop nicely when back home at your computer.
  • Don't get mad at people when they bumb into you and you almost dropped your camera. Just stay cool, and sober.

Link to full res photo.

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