Thursday, May 24, 2012

Concert Photography: Tips on Shooting Jazz, Soloists, and Big Bands

For me, there's no doubt about it--rock concerts are what I love to shoot!  When you google around for tips on shooting concerts, most of the tips you'll find pertain to shooting rock bands.  Why is that?  Basically, because if you can shoot a rock band, you can shoot any type of live performance.  A rock performance has to be one of the most difficult photographic situations a photographer can encounter.  You have to deal with people running and jumping all over the stage.  There's also smoke, low ambient light, and bright colored spot lights that are continuously changing.  Oh!  And let's not forget strobes! Try timing a shutter press with a strobe providing all of your stage lighting and let me know how that works out for you! (Thank you D4 and 11 FPS!)

I wrote a post last year giving my tips for concert photography.  Rather than restate all my tips, you can read the article here.  When it comes to dealing with the intimate setting of a jazz club, or trying to shoot an orchestra, all the same principles apply.  However these types of shoots are generally much easier (for a few reasons, which I'll go in to later) The biggest difference that I've found is that instead of strobing and pulsating lights, you only have to deal with a spot light.   

In a jazz club, the spot light(s) will pretty much always remain stationary, unless the performers are shifting positions on stage. For the most part the lighting is pretty static.  So what does that mean to you?  Well, it means that all you have to do is simply set your meter to spot, set your ISO as high as you're comfortable with and set your shutter speed to at least the minimum of your focal length.  If you're shooting a 200mm lens, your shutter speed should be at 1/250 to avoid dealing with camera shake.  Obviously if your shooting at 70mm and trying to capture a jazz guitarist, you don't want to be shooting at 1/80.  As for aperture, adjust it as necessary to get the desired depth of field.   For an ensemble, you'll probably want to shoot around f5.6.  If your lens has image stabilization technology, you can drop your shutter speed by one or two stops (depending) and not have to worry about camera shake.   If you're focusing on an individual, adjust your aperture and shutter speed accordingly.  The main thing to keep in mind is that the light isn't changing, so your camera settings only need to change if you want more or less depth of field.  And let the auto white-balance do it's thing.  You can always adjust that very easily during post-processing.

Aside from the constant lighting, the other thing that makes these types of shoots easier, is that you're generally shooting from a fixed spot.  There isn't a photo pit filled with a bunch of other photographers.  There may be at most two other photographers.  Depending on the venue, this means you can spread out and don't have to be right on top of each other.  However, being that these types of shows tend to take place in more intimate venues, there may be times when you, as a photographer, will be invited to shoot. When this happens, it really opens for what you can do creatively, as it means you may have the ability to roam and shoot from back stage or from the stage sides.  You're provided with the opportunity to get some really unique and create shots of the various musicians on stage.

So to summarize:

  • Read  my post on rock concert photography--The same rules apply!
  • Spot meter
  • ISO to at least 1600.  I prefer 3200.
  • Aperture to 5.6 if you have an ensemble on stage.
  • Shutter speed set to no less than the current focal length of your lens (unless you have IS/VR)
  • Auto White Balance
  • If you have stage/backstage access than roam and get creative


Here are some examples of jazz/soloist/big band shows that I've photographed.  Feel free to click on any picture to be taken the the full gallery with additional images.

Clint Holmes


Clint Holmes


Kris Kristofferson performs at The Orleans Showroom in Las Vegas, NV


The Las Vegas Tenors perform at the South Point Casino in Las Vegas, NV


The Las Vegas Tenors perform at the South Point Casino in Las Vegas, NV

I love hearing from my readers.   You can follow me on Twitter or use the "Contact" button to get in touch, so feel free to send me your comments and let me know if you have any suggestions.  Please visit my the concert section of my website to see these and additional photos from all the shows.

1 comment:

  1. Great tips on shooting stage lighting. When I get to shoot live events it will come in handy trying to expose for the subject when the lighting is changing and the subject is moving around the stage.

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