One of the unique opportunities I get each year at the New York State Fair is to photograph concerts of big name recording artists. Last year I photographed Sara Evans and, this week, Lady Antebellum. Normally such events do not allow digital SLR cameras and long lenses into the venue unless you are working for the media. However, the skills used for concerts are also needed if you go to tourist destinations which feature live shows that allow photography like Walt Disney World (You just knew I was going to sneak that in, right?) or local shows, plays and concerts.
As you can see from the Lady Antebellum concert photo, stage lighting is an exposure meters nightmare. If you use matrix or evaluative metering the camera’s computer will try and balance out the bright subjects in the spotlights and the dark shadows which often surround them. That is a very tough task for even the best of cameras.
To simplify the task, I switch to spot metering which takes the area the camera meters from the whole frame down to a small percentage. The spot meter area can often be chosen in your camera’s settings. Mine is 12% of the center area in my viewfinder. By metering an area that small, the camera can easily determine the exposure to use.
In the photo above, I metered off of Charles Kelly’s face. His skin was the brightest under the lights and once I got him exposed correctly, I did not worry about the dark shadows. I still needed to do one extra step which was to dial in the exposure using the exposure compensation button. You will notice the EV number is -1.3 which was needed to control the highlights coming off the performer’s skin. Even then I had to recover some highlights in post-production.
- Change Exposure Metering to Spot
- Meter off the brightest part of the scene
- Use Exposure Compensation button to control highlights
Oh, yes, and practice. If you are asked or want to photograph a play, for incidence. Ask if you can come to dress rehearsals when full stage lighting is used. I got to practice a lot over the course of this fabulous two hour concert.