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I am a bit of a noob when it comes to photography. But I recently got the opportunity to shoot John Mayer this past weekend in Wisconsin. Upon getting home, I noticed the pictures weren't as sharp as they could have been, and saw that almost all of them had a slight blur to them.

Me being new to the photography world, it is quite overwhelming jumping into such a huge act like John Mayer. I took some advice from a Nat Cam employee on how to shoot.

He told me to shoot in Aperture Priority mode. Keep my lens wide open at 2.8, (lens I'm using is a Tamron 17-50mm (no stabilizing feature) on my Nikon D5100). I stuck to shooting from an ISO of 800-1600 most of the show. Exposure meter was at 0.0 the whole time.

I'll attach some pictures.

But I do need some help badly, as I am shooting John Mayer again next week, and I really dont want to mess thing up this time. Because all of my pics so far aren't really useable.

I stopped back into Nat Cam yesterday to see if they could explain the problem. The guy there thought it was the "focusing points" that were focusing on random things in the background, speakers, mic stand, etc and that I should change it from auto area AF to Dynamic area so that I can put one focus point on his face so the focus point doesn't get distracted with anything else. He also told me to bump up my ISO to 3200 because the "D5100 can handle it". Lastly he said I should keep it on center weighted metering as I have it.

Do you all think that could be the problem? Or is it something else?

I can use all the help I can get, I just don't want to blow my shots again next week.

Thank you all who respond!

share|improve this question
Looking at some of the other photos in your photobucket album demonstrates that a lot of the issue seems to be related to the sharpening settings used. You have several shots there with two very different versions displayed: one very soft and another with sharpening applied and a little less saturation/exposure as well. – Michael Clark Jul 10 '13 at 9:02
The other "sharpened" duplicate photos was my attempting to use photoshop for the first time. Failed pretty bad. – Justin F. Jul 10 '13 at 21:56
How were the others processed? – Michael Clark Jul 10 '13 at 21:59
@MichaelClark Can I chat with you and ask some questions if you are available? They weren't processed at all, as I have no clue how to use photo shop – Justin F. Jul 10 '13 at 22:21

When shooting a concert or other event under theatrical type lighting, I use a single focus point only (usually the center) and use either Evaluative or Center Weighted metering in Aperture mode when shooting wide/normal angle (less than 80mm on a FF body). If the background is dark, as is usually the case, I use about -1 to -2 stops exposure compensation (EC). I tend to shoot in manual mode with the telephoto lens. The key is that regardless of which shooting mode you select, you must keep an eye on the shutter speed (Tv) and Aperture (Av) displayed in the viewfinder for every shot and adjust if necessary.

My general setup is a 24-105mm IS lens on FF body, ISO at around 3200, Av around f/4, Evaluative metering with -2 EC and the single center focus point. (Nikon's "Matrix metering" is a little less consistent than Canon's "evaluative", so if shooting Nikon I would probably go with center-weighted and about -1 EC.) My second body is a Canon 7D (APS-C sized sensor, like your D5100) with a 70-200mm IS lens, ISO at 1600, Av at f/2.8, center weighted metering with -2 EC and the single focus point. My 7D allows me to use the center point for horizontal shots and automatically senses when I go vertical and switches to one of the points near the top of the frame I have selected for portrait orientation. With both bodies I will mix it up some and go from Aperture to Manual exposure as well as from Evaluative to Center weighted metering. Learning your camera's controls well enough to do this on the fly without even pulling your eye off of the viewfinder is paramount!

The IS/VR doesn't help with subject motion, but it does help with the stability of the surface upon which you are standing. Temporary outdoor stages move around a lot, and even on the ground in the media pit, the ground shakes from the energy pumping out of the speakers (don't forget your ear plugs if you want to still have good hearing in a few years). I own the Canon version of the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II and used it on my APS-C bodies as my primary normal zoom lens for several years, but with the narrower Av allowed by the higher usable ISO on my FF body I find using IS at f/4 works better for me.

As far as subject motion goes, be very selective about when you open the shutter. A guitarist's hands slow down at the top and bottom of the strumming motion. That split second between moving up and then down is when you can get a clean shot even at moderately slower shutter speed (Tv). The same holds true for a jumping performer: catch them in mid-air just as they stop going up and start coming back down. If the lights are blinking on/off rapidly, time your release when the lights are up - just be sure your metering was also done when the lights were up. Learn to use the back buttons on your camera body to lock in focus and/or exposure, then wait for the next cycle to trip the shutter.

Don't be afraid to take plenty of extra shots! You are stretching your gear's limits to the edge of their capabilities. Just like when shooting sports, there are going to be some shots where focus or exposure is missed. Your client (or fans) don't care if you took 20 or 200 or 2000 shots, as long as the 20 you deliver meet their expectations. That doesn't mean you just "pray and spray", but it does mean you acknowledge that there will be plenty of times when you anticipated the artist zigging left and he zagged right!

And since you have expressed how new you are to photography, I'll remind you to save your files in RAW format so that you have MUCH more latitude to adjust exposure and color temperature variations in post production. And don't expect too much from your gear. While it is true that better gear won't take a better shot for you, it is also true that lesser gear can limit what you can do in challenging light. You are going to need to shoot RAW at higher ISO and deal with the noise in post. And regardless of your gear, you're not going to get results at a live concert that are as good from a technical standpoint as you would be able to produce in a controlled studio setting.

Canon 5DII, EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS @ 55mm, Aperture Priority, 1/160 sec, f/4, Evaluative metering, -1 1/3 EC, ISO 2000. Exposure increased 0.5 stops in post. At this slower Tv, timing his arm at the top of its motion was the only way to freeze it. Manwell

Canon 7D, EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II @ 200mm, Aperture Priority, 1/1600 sec, f/2.8, Center-Weighted Avg., -2 EC, ISO 3200, Exposure increased 0.3 stops in post. I could have gotten away with a stop less ISO and Tv in this one, but even with the noise reduction (NR) needed for ISO 3200 on the 7D, you can still read the numbers and see the index marks on his watch before downsizing! Yes, it is a $2,300 lens. Kevin

share|improve this answer
Wow, thanks for all the info. I will admit, it is a bit overwhelming, and I don't understand all of you lingo... like "tv" and a few others. Is there a way you can dumb it down for me a bit. Because I'm only work with a d5100. $500 camera and $500 lens. So can you suggest some settings to use, as I'm shooting John Mayer again next week. I have a D5100 with a Tamron 17-50mm (no stabilizing feature) lens. So I'm not dealing with $5,000 worth of camera equipment. When I say I'm new to photography, I mean new, new. – Justin F. Jul 10 '13 at 22:14
I just really badly NEED to take some good photos this next week, as I have quite a few people counting on me to come out with some GREAT photos, (lots of pressure). It will be in the same setting as before, just at a new venue (RED ROCKS) and John Mayer again. So please experts, dumb it down for me a bit, as a few things mentioned above were a bit confusing. – Justin F. Jul 10 '13 at 22:17
Tv (Time value) is shorthand for shutter speed. The main things you can do with your current gear is shoot RAW, use a high enough ISO to keep your Tv up and time your shots with the performers movements and when the lights are at their peak intensity. Then deal with the noise from high ISO in post. Based on the photos in your photobucket gallery I don't think your problem is focus. The ones you sharpened in PS show that. You need to learn how to use post processing to bring out the best on the photos you take. – Michael Clark Jul 11 '13 at 12:00
Due to the nature of this community, the answer is written a little more broadly than for just your specific situation. But there are a lot of things in the answer you should be able to apply with a D5100 and Tamron 17-50. I got a lot of great shots back a few years ago with a Rebel XTi (limited to about ISO 800!) and that lens, and even better shots with a 50D and that lens. The main thing is that there is no substitute for experience. The more you shoot in those situations, the better you'll get at recognizing what will and what will not work in a given situation with a given set of gear. – Michael Clark Jul 11 '13 at 12:05
Great answer. One point not mentioned is white balance, which should generally be set to tungsten for stage lights. – Caleb Dec 24 '14 at 15:29

I would concur with their advice. The first photo, the guitar body itself is clearly in focus. The second one is a little ambiguous at the resolution you have posted, but it may either be a stray focus point or a shutter being too slow.

The advice to use a specific focus point will allow you to shoot for the eyes and the extra ISO should give you a faster shutter to reduce motion blur without having to worry too much about noise yet.

Be aware that at f/2.8, you aren't going to have all that wide of a depth of field to work with, so things are going to go out of focus pretty quickly on either side of the focal point. If you want more in focus, you are going to have to close down the aperture some, but that will also reduce the light reaching the center and slowing the shutter speed, which of course starts making camera shake a problem again.

Trying using the 1/focal length rule for shutter speed and adjust the ISO and aperture as necessary to balance depth of field and noise levels. Adjust the rule as necessary based on your ability to hold the camera steady. Also, since you are in the press area, if they allow it, bring a monopod to help with holding the weight of the camera and it should buy you some additional breathing room (though you still have the motion of your subjects to worry about.)

share|improve this answer
Sorry, I'm not completely understanding. Doesn't the camera control the shutter speed in "A" mode? I'm a bit confused by the 1/focal length rule. – Justin F. Jul 9 '13 at 20:54
Also, as you can see in the pics, I am zoomed in completely in every photo. I almost felt like I need a little more zoom to get a few close ups of his face/guitar, (that way I dont have to crop a bunch of the photo). Do you recommend me getting the next step up zoom lens? Or do the photos look fine? – Justin F. Jul 9 '13 at 20:57
Also, the opening band pics came out great. I just don't understand why John Mayer's came out so bad. Seen here:… – Justin F. Jul 9 '13 at 21:02
Then again, since I was shooting in an amphitheater, it was much lighter out before the sun went down... so maybe bumping up the iso will really help the John Mayer shots? – Justin F. Jul 9 '13 at 21:06
@JustinF. They were recommending f/2.8 mostly to capture as much light as possible, but if you are shooting at an angle where it makes the DoF too small, it'll force the image out of focus anyway. In those cases, you need to adjust the aperture down to allow for more of the shot to be in focus even though it'll cost you in terms of needing to increase ISO unless you have shutter speed to spare. As for AUTO, in general, you are going to end up with the same shots. At low light, AUTO is going to throw the aperture wide open, just like you have it manually set now. – AJ Henderson Jul 9 '13 at 22:47

F/2.8 is pretty low and whole John Mayer may be out of focused area if you focus wrongly. So if he is moving, you should definitely use dynamic focusing. And you should also check, if your focusing is working properly. I had for example issue with tamron 28-75 - it was focusing before focused item. So try to shoot something with similar setting and then check, if it's focused properly.

But you should definitely check shutter speed. If it's too low, blur may be consequence of hand shake (you have no stabilization) or singer's movement.

share|improve this answer
I'm pretty sure the lens is focusing fine, due to the sharp pictures I got from the opening act. Could it have been because of the daylight the opener had? And when John Mayer started I had bumped it down to 800-900. – Justin F. Jul 9 '13 at 21:28
Do you think I should jump to a lens that zooms a little more, due to shooting at the top of my current lens zoom capability? Or does quality go down from jumping up to the next step up? – Justin F. Jul 9 '13 at 21:30
I don't think that upgrading your zoom will help. Good zoom lens is not cheap and cheaper one may be slower. ISO is good think, because you can increase it and therefore lower shutter speed, but you will add noise. – zacharmarz Jul 9 '13 at 21:45
I thought higher the ISO, the higher the shutter speed? Ooops must have had it wrong. Also do you recommend a good ISO # to shoot at with John Mayer? – Justin F. Jul 9 '13 at 21:48
You are right, I'm wrong. I was thinking about two things in that moment ;) Sorry. – zacharmarz Jul 9 '13 at 22:13

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