Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I want to photograph some local gigs to build up a portfolio. Has anyone any tips on what kit, and techniques would give the best results? The gigs would be mostly rock bands.

Here's my kit:

  • Nikon D70S
  • AFS Nikkor DX 18-70mm 3.5-4.5
  • Tamron 70-300mm 4-5.6

Any help most appreciated,

Jonesy

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Given the equipment you have listed, I would say an entire kit replacement might be in order. The Nikon D70s looks like a decent DSLR, however it does not have the greatest high-ISO performance. Higher ISO capability with low noise would be a huge boon for photographing concerts (which tend to be quite dark.) Something that can handle ISO 1600, possibly even ISO 3200, without a lot of noise would be a LOT better for photographing dark scenes like concerts.

Neither of your lenses are very fast, with the fastest aperture being f/3.5 on the 18-70mm. I would highly recommend f/2.8 at at the very least, with f/1.8 or f/1.4 being far preferable. A 50mm, 35mm, or 24mm lens at f/1.8 at least, or f/1.4 if possible, would be fast enough for you to capture some decent concert shots. If you keep your existing camera body, I would say shoot for f/1.4 or f/1.2 if you can, as that should allow you to use ISO 400-800 (however, your shots are still going to be pretty dark.)

If you intend to photograph concert musicians up close, 24mm, 35mm, or 50mm lenses should suffice. If you think you might be photographing from farther away, or want to get closer shots with decent bokeh, 85mm, 100mm, or 135mm lenses would be better. Again, the fastest lens you can get would be ideal. At 85mm you should be able to get as wide as f/1.2, for 100mm anr 135mm you might be able to find lenses as fast as f/2, however f/2.8 should work.

Lenses with wider apertures tend to have thinner DOF, which might pose a small challenge for getting perfect focus. A camera body with better ISO performance, up to ISO 3200, would greatly help in this area, as you could stop down the lens to increase your DOF. On the flip side, thinner DOF results in smoother background blur (bokeh). Not sure that bokeh will really be an issue for concerts...backgrounds will probably be all dark or black anyway.

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2  
If jrista didn't make it clear enough, I used to shoot TMAX 3200 with a one-stop push at pub-type gigs (effectively ISO/ASA 6400) using lenses with f/1.2 max apertures (absolutely necessary for manual focus under those lighting conditions) at shooting aperures that rarely went smaller than f/2. Stage lighting only looks bright relative to the darkness around it -- and musicians don't stay still. –  user2719 Dec 28 '10 at 20:07

You're not going to have much fun with those variable aperture lenses unless you're in really well lit venues. Wide apertures rule in gig photography.

For smaller venues, a 50mm f/1.8 will get you started for about £100. Next step would be a 24-70mm f/2.8 to give you a bit more flexibility (doesn't have to be Nikon - Sigma do a screw focus one for about £450), then you can add a wide angle and a longer tele for a bit of variety when you're ready.

For bigger venues, you'll need a 70-200mm f/2.8. And a mortgage.

Then again, the D70S tops out at ISO 1600, and I'm not sure what sort of noise levels you get there. You might be struggling with that. On a good day, I work ISO 800 - 1600, but I'd be nervous about shooting a gig without having the option of going up to at least ISO 2500.

Did I mention that gig photography is really expensive?

Oh, and How do I get a photographer pass for gigs and concerts?

Edit: Kelby Training have a training video on gig photography. It's not mind-blowing if you've been shooting gigs for a while, but it'll get you up to speed fast. Might be worth signing up for a month to watch it: Kelby Training

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Even at f/2.8 ISO 1600 on my Canon 50D, I can barely push more than 1/80th of a second for "okay" lit venues such as smaller ones. I high ISO capable camera would really work wonders if they didn't cost one million dollurs. –  Nick Bedford Dec 28 '10 at 23:28
    
I think a decent high-ISO DSLR can be had for less than $1000 these days. Even with a kit lens. You will obviously get the best ISO performance with a camera that uses a larger sensor, like a full-frame DSLR, but there have been significant advancements in sensor design and signal floor, and even entry level DSLR's can handle 1600 or even 3200 ISO pretty well now. –  jrista Dec 28 '10 at 23:56
    
yeah to get a f/2.8 70-300mm is about 6 times more expensive than my 4-5.6 :( –  iamjonesy Dec 29 '10 at 16:37

I have a Canon 50D and at ISO 1600 with my Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens I can barely push it beyond 1/80th to get enough light in for most of the venues I shoot at (most aren't amazingly well lit, that's for sure).

The unfortunate problem I face is that ISO 1600 is really as far as I'm aesthetically allowing myself to go. If I pushed it to ISO 3200 on f/2.8 with IS (which doesn't help subject motion blur), I might be able to achieve 1/125th or something but then the noise in the photo would start to ruin the benefit of a faster shutter speed. The noise would start to seriously degrade the detail in the photo.

Unfortunately for you, I don't believe your gear is anywhere near even that which I have, which is probably the bare minimum to shoot low light venues anyway.

Your variable aperture lenses mean your shutter speed will have to slow down when zoomed in, something you want to do the opposite with. Those lenses are also considerably slower than even an f/2.8.

At f/4.5, the 18-70mm is 1.6 stops slower than my lens at 55mm, meaning you shutter speed must be around 1/3rd the speed or your ISO 3 times higher. Rough calculations. I hate the stops math :P

I fear you would likely get rather frustrated with the difficulty exposing the scene with your current kit.

Now if you had a full frame sensor you'd be able to push your ISO far beyond 1600 and be able to achieve a shutter speed within 1/250th if you wanted.

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