Black And White Photography For Concert Photographers

Nine Inch Nails; Stadthalle, Vienna, Austria

Have you ever been frustrated by how your photos turn out after shooting a concert in low-light situations? Most of the time, you have to fight with red/blue/green spotlights making your life difficult. In this blog post, I want to focus on this problem, but also on the solution which is Black & White Photography. I´ll also offer my favorite Black and White Lightroom Presets as a free download to help you to get awesome concert photos, even in small clubs.

The Problem: The Red/Blue/Green Monster

I would say that concert photography is one of the most challenging fields in photography. You´ll work in dark venues, you won’t be able to use flash and you’re dependent on the mood of the light technician. In general, you´ll never know the next move of the artist on stage and there is absolutely no way to direct them. However, the most prominent problem that we have to deal as concert photographers is the light situation.

 

The main problem you often face as a concert photographer is the lighting on stage. If you are already a gig photographer, you´ll have noticed that sometimes the stage is filled with only red, blue and green spotlights. This depends on the club’s lighting equipment and, in general, I would say the smaller the venue the poorer the lighting equipment. However, it’s also happened to me quite often that bands just don´t want to have the lights on onstage or the light technician appears to be sleeping. This super low light situation gives our camera equipment a hard time both when trying to focus correctly and getting enough light to hit the camera sensor.

 

To read my suggestions for the right camera equipment for starters on a budget click here.

 

Furthermore, you´ll discover that the musicians on the back of your LCD display will look like creatures from outer space. Yes, I love the similarly named song by The Prodigy, but I definitely don´t want my photos looking like that! You can argue that the artist might want to have their concert pictures colored red and as an observer we have to capture the “real world situation” with our camera. This is all fine and if you like the look, move on. But besides this philosophical question, red lighting gives our camera sensor a very hard time. A digital image is comprised of three channels: red, green, and blue (RGB). If you shoot in “red light” conditions, you´ll get an excess of light in the red channel which will result in loss of detail in your photos.

KingBuzzo red light, black and white photography, how to becomea rockstar photographer

KingBuzzo stage performance in red spotlights

 

I even know of some concert photographers who decline to shoot a concert which is lit with red spotlights. Recently, I took concert photos of King Buzzo of the Melvins. He did a solo performance and as the show started, the stage was flooded with four red spotlights. After taking some photos in front of the stage, I went back to the light technician and asked if the light was going to change or if the red spots would stay on for the whole show. “Nope, it’s not going to change, just red light”, was his answer. Next day, I talked to the promoter of the concert and he explained that King Buzzo just wanted to have his stage lit with one color. Unfortunately, the light technician decided to turn on the red spotlights. So, sometimes as a concert photographer you have to deal with these situations, but as I don´t really like the look of green, red and pink people I’ve had to figure out how to make them look awesome again!

 

 

The Solution: Black & White Photography

Personally, I think there’s only one solution to overcome the problem described above and that’s using the beauty of Black and White Photography. To get the best from your photos taken under challenging stage lighting conditions, make sure you follow the next 2 suggestions.

 

1. Shoot RAW

I am a RAW shooter, as it gives you the most flexibility when post-processing your concert pictures. If you shoot in JPEG, the internal camera processor will apply adjustments such as saturation, contrast, sharpness and more to your pictures but this won´t help you much in your situation. Furthermore, you’re limited by using JPEG files in your post-production workflow ( i only suggest to use JPEG when you shoot your first concert and you don´t know how to process RAW data). When shooting in the RAW format, you can change any parameter you can dream of in a dedicated program such as Adobe Lightroom. If you are new to post-processing, I would suggest taking a look at some workshops on the internet. I can guarantee you that every professional-looking concert picture you´ll ever see was manipulated in some way or other. Adobe Lightroom seems to be the best choice since it´s rather intuitive and works great when dealing with large amounts of pictures.

Find my best camera settings for concert photography here.

 

The Prodigy by Matthias Hombauer

The Prodigy. From out of space (left) and the black and white photography version (right)

 

2. Use The Power Of Black And White Photography!

Here comes the magic! Until now we’ve captured RAW photos of red, green and blue musicians on stage. Here’s how to make them shine: Convert them into Black & White! I think this is the single most important lesson I learnt when I started out! Have you ever wondered why so many concert photos are published in Black & White? Bingo! Not only do you get rid of the awful color cast but also the grain which you might see because of your high ISO setting is much less distracting. I really love how “creepy” photos turn into “raw (no pun intended!), sweaty and sexy” looking masterpieces.

 

Iggy Pop by Matthias Hombauer

On stage with Iggy Pop. Boring stage light on Iggy (left) and the more iconic black and white photography image (right)

 

The easiest way to use Black & White Photography is to remove the saturation from your photo. In Adobe Lightroom there’s a saturation slider you can drag to -100 (for beginners). It might take some practice to understand all the sliders and settings in Adobe Lightroom, but removing the saturation will already will give you a good starting point to play further with. So convert your photos into Black & White and make your musicians look awesome again! As I want you to get started as soon as possible, you can get my Black and White Photography Rockstar Lightroom Presets here.

 

Stromae by Matthias Hombauer

Stromae. Awful purple/pink stage lighting (above) and my final black and white photography version (bottom)

 

One more tip!

Try to avoid over-exposing your concert photos. When using RAW format you will be able to rescue some of the highlights, but your options are limited. Furthermore, over-exposed concert photos will give you a hard time when post-processing using Black & White Photography settings in your chosen photography application.

There are other options like using a flash or using filters. However, in general you are not allowed to use flash in the photopit and using filters (e.g. blue filter) will cut another 1/3 – 1 full stop of light.

 

Disclosure my Matthias Hombauer

Disclosure. Blue lighting thunder (left) and the cool version when using black and white photography (right)

 

Summary of Black and White Photography:

      • Shoot RAW
      • Use Manual camera settings
      • Avoid over-exposing in red/green/blue light
      • always use the color mode of your camera to capture a concert
      • use the magic of Black & White Photography in post production

 

Download my Black and White Photography Rockstar Lightroom presets for FREE

Since I know a lot of concert photographers struggle with the bad lighting situations at concerts, I decided to develop my own Black & White Photography Rockstar presets for Adobe Lightroom (Version 4 and above, Win and Mac. It even includes an instruction on how to install my presets if you´re new to Adobe Lightroom).

You can download them here for FREE.

I like a contrasty look and all of the concert photos posted here were developed with just one click using my own presets.

 

My Black and White Photography Rockstar presets will include the 3 following presets:

        • Rockstars on grain (Black and White Photography look with extra grain)
        • Rockstars on fire (more contrasty Black and White Photography look)
        • Rockstars on steroids (the ultimate contrasty Black and White Photography look)

 

All 3 basic presets are used by myself for post processing my own concert photos. Why do i not have 365 different presets? I don´t need more, because all 3 work on multiple lighting conditions for “raw and sexy” black and white concert images.

Adobe Lightroom Black & White Presets

Adobe Lightroom Black & White Presets

 

What people are saying:

I tested all 3 presets on multiple red, green and blue overcasted images. Final result was awesome and needed no extra slider tweaking. I can totally recommend Matthias Hombauers’ Lightroom presets!” – Anja Ivanovic, Music Photographer, Slovenia

 

“I had the chance to test Matthias Hombauers’ Lightroom presets on a variety of concert shots (good light, of course bad light, daylight, LED, etc.) and at least one of his presets always brought me to a point where only a few individual tweaks (if any) were needed to finish editing the shot.” – Rolf Riot, Music Photographer, Switzerland

 

“I’ve been using these presets now for a little while and they are simple outstanding! Not only have they helped to speed up my post processing workflow, but they will help turn your photos into beautiful black and white images. Easily the best way to help combat the harsh lighting conditions every concert photographer encounters on a regular basis.” – Mat Allan, Music Photographer, Australia

 

“These presets made my post production a lot easier. I really like the tones. Just perfect! I can highly recommend Matthias Hombauers’ Black & White Rockstar LR presets!” – Pasi Eriksson, Music Photographer, Finland

 

Download my free Black and White Lightroom Presets and use them for your own pictures. Post your favorite Black and White Concert Photo in the comment section below and tell me which LR preset you like the most.

 

Click the yellow button below to get my Black and White Lightroom Presets.

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  • I agree, Matthias. In quite a few circumstances there is no way to correct the color cast enough and converting the photo to B/W is the only way to make it presentable. For B/W conversion I’ve been test driving Nik Silver Efex Pro (as part of Google’s Nik Software Collection) and must say I’m very pleased with the end results so far.

    • Thanks @victor_peters:disqus for your comment. Yes, sometimes a conversion into black and white is the only option to make the concert photos shine again. However I also convert my photos if the lighting is too boring. I have never tested Nik Silver Efex Pro, but great to hear that they work out for you.

  • Vedran Matica

    What is also important to note is the fact that camera tends to overexpose picture in the cases of strong red lighting conditions.
    I remember that there is a technical explanation for this and it’s related with DSLR’s algorithm and the distribution of pixels for red (25%), green (50%) and blue (25%) on the image sensor. So, in such cases it helps to adjust the exposure compensation in a way to underexpose photos.

    • Thanks Vedran for your explanation. I didn´t know the exact reason why red light gives the camera sensor such a hard time. Always great to learn from each other.

  • As a rule I never, ever convert to black and white by moving the saturation to -100. Lightroom has some great B&W conversion tools, so I usually click the black and white button to start the conversion, and then work on the color channel adjustments individually to really fine tune how things show up. Even your white balance can drastically change how your black and white conversion turns out, but I know you weren’t trying to go into that much detail. I included a before and after of a shot I grabbed over Labor Day weekend, where I lowered the blue channel a bit to get a really strong black background after the conversion.

    Really liking the preset comparison!

    • Hi @deshauncraddock:disqus! Thanks for your comment. I just wanted to point out, that it is very easy for beginners to convert photos into black and white by dragging the saturation slider to -100. My presets also use the advanced balck and white photography conversion settings of Lightroom. You The National conversion looks great too.

  • Im sure this will help alot of people! Especially when working those damn reds! i sometimes work with colors on those… but most of the times i pick BW over those!

    • Hi Stefan! Thanks for your comment and I totally agree, sometimes your only option is to convert your photos into black and white to make them shine again.

  • Woooff I hate red/green photos! and even when the smoke screen does not help a bit! See what I get from a smoky green!

    • Hi Gabriela. I know it can be hard to get great shots under this lighting conditions. So, the best way is to convert the your photos into black and white. Your picture looks great, congrats!

  • Hy Matthias, great article. I used a Leica M Monochrom at my last shooting. Only B&W – there was so little post processing so I had more time for family 🙂
    My fried used my D4 and I think he ist still post-processing 🙂
    Greetings from Germany
    Michel
    PS: I think I fell in love with this small B&W Leica

    • Hi Michel! Thanks for sharing. Wow, you are using a Leica M Monochrom? How do you like it and which lenses did you use? Love your second photo with the blurred drumsticks which indicates the action on stage.

      • Hi Matthias,
        I got a M Monochrom with a Summilux 50mm f/1.4 ASPH for the evening.
        EXIF: 1/90sec at f/11, ISO 6400 (f/11 because little training with focus)
        It was a experiment if the M can also be used at a concert. There is much less noise with the D4 but with the Leica the noise is different – an I think I like it very much

  • Trekk Shotz

    A little help when shooting in red is to change your white balance in camera while shooting between 2200-2700k and shoot slightly under exposed.

    Don’t forget to change it back when the lights change…and yes, it changes often. Some groups and bands lighting techs love the red spotlights; Rob Zombie, Korn, and Iggy Pop just to name a few.

    In addition, if allowed, flash can help in some cases if the fog machine is not being excessively used; of course, flash is usually not an option except for some smaller clubs.

    Cheers

    • Hi Trekk! Thanks for your tip! I have never tried to change the color temperatur setting manually for concert photography. Normally, I stay on Auto White Balance.

      I covered the concerts of both Korn and Iggy Pop and as you mentioned there were most likely green and red spotlights.

      Yes, flash can help if you are allowed to use it and yes it´s usually no option on the photo pit.

      • megs

        Hi, THE DREADED RED! I don’t know if its the “right thing to do” but personally the first thing I go for with nasty constant red/ blue / green mosters is the temperature too Trekk 🙂 (manually not camera preset) sometimes I can have my camera as low as 1000K, always shoot raw, but I never use flash.
        Cheers megs

  • somehow the pic was missing…

  • Guest

    Got a real soft spot for B&W mate. Love it. Cheers for the article.

    • great to hear Mark! Black and white photography and concerts fit really well. Nice shot!

  • Mark Turner Images

    Bit of a before and after. 🙂

    • wow, that´s a huge difference! I guess you wouldn´t have used the left one for your portfolio! 😉

  • Ric Peace

    Let’s just face it B&W is just too damn cool 🙂

  • southcoasting

    Cool article – I love the challenge of gig photography

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/southcoasting/6912948757/in/set-72157601436140859

    • thank you for your comment and for sharing. You are absolutely right, concert photography can be a big challenge sometimes!

  • John Sarmiento

    Works quite well for me, Matthias! Check this out, my recent coverage of The Voice finalist Christina Grimmie’s performance here in the Philippines. The light technician seemed to be cracked up with his lighting sequences that the face of the artist (and overall the stage front) wasn’t well lit compared to the rear and side parts. I switched my Nikon to BW mode (right pic) during these conditions. Not a problem at all when the artist stopped singing and white lights focused on her (left pic)to give way for a few speeches. I say BW shooting is an effective tool in suppressing the red, green and blue “film” or “transparency” generated when shooting with these lights (especially when you happen to stand at the line of fire of the lights). Nonetheless, color alteration to BW shouldn’t be always regarded as bringing “relief” or saves the photographer from ruining his night, but also it takes the photos to a new, unique level with dramatic color effects that sets the photographer apart from the others. Cheers!

  • Eleonora Ladin

    just love b/w photo! 😉

  • Phillip Johnson

    Lera Lynn @ the Triple Door on October 7th. There was some very strong reds in this one and I love the Rockstar 1 pre-set. I’m sure when I shoot some more hardcore/punk/metal bands in small clubs in the future, I’ll use the grainier one as well. Awesome Matthias, thank you so much!

    • Phillip Johnson

      Here are the pictures. Rock on Matthias!

  • Markus Schlieper

  • Donn Delica

    Hello Matthias!! Thanks for the preset, now I am able to process photos
    more effectively and with a big less in my struggle to come up with good
    photos! But what’s great is that I am now able to appreciate more my
    captured moments rather than be frustrated about it!
    Here is a sample
    with a blue light cast (I call it the smurf effect) where usually I
    would spend hours sliding the colors to at least make a good
    output…but using your preset and tweaking the shadow and exposure a
    little bit..there you go..a better output and I can say with more drama
    into it!
    Here is a sample taken with my 70D and sigma 18-300 lens

    • thanks for posting Donn! Great that my Black and White LR Presets help you with your post processing. Great capture. I can feel the “power” of this performance.

  • Tim Grime

    Hi Matthias,
    Thanks for the great read and the LR presets. As you mention, the lights are troublesome and I do convert to mono often. Here is an example from a shoot a few months ago with The Church with the SOOC and the converted versions. The original shot is ISO6400, f2.8 at 70mm 1/640sec (Canon 6D, 24-70mm f2.8 L); then the mono is using your grainy preset, with a little crop and tweak in the curves. The venue was a small room in a pub with typical spotlights as well as a horrible LEDs strips on the ceiling (a bit of which you can see top right of frame in the original colour).
    Greetings from Perth, Western Australia!

    • Hi Tim, thanks so much for testing my Presets and posting your work here. A conversion into B&W can really work like magic. Great capture

  • Magda Dziemianczuk

    Hi Matthias. Thank you so much for the LR presets and the blog. Love Black and White photos at the moment and it’s extremely useful when the colours of the lighting are a bit strange, especially hate the blue and red lights. Love the Rockstars on steroids and Rockstars on fire presets. Here’s one of Andy the Kid I shot in Melbourne in May.
    Greetings from Melbourne, Australia 🙂 magdadphotography.com

    • Hi Magda, thanks and posting and great that you like the Rockstars on fire and on steroids preset. I use them a lot and most of the time they work out of the box. greetings to Melbourne and nice shot!

  • Xander Buys

    Conversion to B&W really makes a difference! This was shot in color, scene was lit by heavy blue lights.

  • Donn Delica

    Hello Matthias. Another recycle bin bound photo saved by your preset…I was so frustrated on the turn out because of the green washout but look, after I applied your preset then do some little tweaking, boom! Again thank you very much!!!

    • Hi Donn thanks fro sharing. The Black and White version is so much stronger. cool capture.

  • Always been a big Fan of Black and White Pictures.
    Often i use it even if the Pictures also look great in color.
    I like it`s Documentary Style it gives to the Pictures.
    Depending on what Shows I Shoot, sometimes there is almost no Light. Especially in Small Clubs.
    So the only Solution is to go Black & White with the Pictures.
    And to be honest, I just love Black & White Photos!

    • Epic shot Mike. I totally agree, when there is almost no light the best option is to convert the photos into B&W.

      • Thank You Matthias!

        • Mylène Edwina

          This is an AMAZING shot. Wow.

  • As always, some really great information here, and thanks for the presets! I agree with you, I have also found red lighting to be the worst kind to have to work with. All to often it just seems to blow out all of the details in the photos.
    I learned to really appreciate black & white photography when I first started studying photography. The first courses I took were 35mm black & white film photography, and I learned everything from how to use a 35mm camera to how to develop my own film & prints. I love that with digital RAW files, not only can you do great black & white photos, but you can really do some amazing things with the black & white by tweaking channels, etc.

    • Hi Roxanne. B&W rocks. Great to hear that you developed your own print. Have you ever tried to shoot a concert with an analog camera? I did it once, but it can be tricky in low light situations

      • Actually, the first concert I ever shot was with analog. Not only that, but the only film I had with me at the time was slide film, which has a very limited tolerance when it comes to lighting, so it was VERY challenging. I had gone to a Queensryche concert and had taken my camera with me because I was planning to take some photos of the city skyline at night before I went home. When I got to the concert, some other people that were going in just happened to tell me that if I had a camera to bring it because they were allowing cameras, so that was how I ended up shooting the concert. Many years later, I actually got to meet Queenryche and show them the photos, and they loved them and asked if they could put them on their website.

  • Kateřina Triss

    Hi Matthias, thank you for your article, it is very useful for me. I usually try to keep colours, but sometimes BW is the only way. In that cases I convert all photos, because I don´t like if there are BW and coloured pictures mixed in one gallery. Here I post a picture from one of my shooting. The first one is without any post processing and on the second one I tried one of your presets.

    • Thanks for sharing Katerina. I agree with not mixing B&W with color photos in one set. Your B/W version of the photo is much stronger than the “blue” one.

  • Tiffany Marie Linton

    I love how converting images that seem over saturated into beautiful eye-catching B&W images.

    Mushroomhead tends to use a ton of lighting theatrics so B&W conversion was a must with his image.

  • Albert Hendrix

    Hi
    MATTHIAS,
    I had problems with the installions of the progamma.So it dosn’t work.I have Windows 7.

    • Hi Albert. Please try to directly drag and drop the presets into LR. Someone had the same issues with Windows 7, cause she couldn´t find the right folder. She solved the problem by dragging the Presets into LR. Please let me known if this works for you

  • Willy Larsen

    Hi, thanks for the presets, have just started testing them out. B/W is a nice option to have, either for artistic purposes or to “save” a shot.

    Thanks for all your great tips! Keep ’em coming! 🙂

  • Steffi Schwarzin

    Hello Matthias, thank you very much indeed for sharing your presets.. Usually they work fantastically, but I think, they work best with portraits. These pics are my favourite results. Your presets really have convinced me to try black and white more often in future.

    • Thanks for sharing Steffi. Your pics look fantastic. I love the second one!

      • Steffi Schwarzin

        Thank you, Matthias :-). It is also my favourite…You won’t believe that precisely this pic was shot under the worst light situation I have ever experienced. There was almost no light, a dark video screen in the back and nothing and nobody really visable in the fog. And I was on the verge of despair.
        Bye the way, love your blog, great idea.
        Thanx again and rock on! m/

  • Nessa EJ

    Hi Matthias! Really accurate solution! I had difficulties with Sonata’s pics due to the lights but now I can upload more of my shots. Thank you!!
    https://www.facebook.com/nessa.fotograf/photos/a.1430473717250482.1073741841.1409686959329158/1507833826181137/?type=3&theater

    • Hi Nessa! Thanks for sharing your photo and great to hear that my LR presets helped you with your post production.

  • Elexis Hipp

    Lol I am so glad to see an article about this! Converting the images to B&W has literally saved my life more times than I can count when I’ve been in poor lighting situations. Here’s one that I took!

    • Thanks for your feedback Elexis! I agree, sometimes only converting into black and white will save the photos. Awesome shot!

  • Lecy Suzuki

    Hi Matthias!
    I’m new here and I really enjoy your job.
    Last month, I went to a concert and all my pictures were red or blue. Then, I turned them in B&W moving the saturation to -100. Today I tested one of your LR presets (the first one) and here it is. Before and after.
    Thank you for sharing!!

    • Hi Lecy, Thanks for sharing! I love your photo in black and white. Classy shot!

  • Simone Celestino

    Love this presets <3<3<3

    • Thank you Simone! Great to hear that you like my Black And White Rockstar Presets. Great capture!

  • bujang

    hey.. page not found.. could you re-upload the file? I want to try that Lightroom preset.. thanks

  • Renato Verweij

    Hi Matthias!
    Thank you for your great posts!!
    Just recently we (a group of concertphotographers at a small venue in Vlaardingen, Holland) discussed how we really really hate red lights.. 😉 But, and that’s also true, the technician argued that for a good show, they really really need that colour!
    (Luckily we came to a nice agreement on how we can cooperate in realizing a great (light)show ánd some amazing pictures..)
    But we always have the option of converting right?
    This is an example of how I could convert an almost worthless photo into some “fine art” using BW converting…:) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fb14eead32ba690e54a27fa3db34dca5cbf4e85b1f7b132056d650955a0ff7c4.jpg

    • Thanks for your comment Renato and awesome to hear that you found a way that works for both photographers and light technicians. B&W is the way to go if you have to deal with challenging light conditions on stage. Cool shot!

  • Renato Verweij