When we consider photo editing, most of us think about the myriad of tools and techniques
afforded to us by Photoshop and Lightroom, or the hundreds of effects, plugins, and pre-sets we
could use. However in this article I am going to talk about music photography editing tips already at the concert.
More often than not though, for music photography, our assignment could have a very
strict policy that forbids the alteration of our images.
This is not to say that the image does not get edited-far from it. Every choice and decision that we make when we bring the camera to our eye is a form of editing.
Rather than trying to discuss the infinite things we could do on our computer,
let´s explore some ways to “edit” our photos as we shoot.
Music Photography Editing Tips
The Curse of the LCD
Prior to the DSLR revolution of the past 10 years or so, music photographers had to be much
more conscientious about practicing good camera technique. And we wouldn’t even know how
well we did until we got results processed at a lab. The instant feedback on our camera LCD
screen is simultaneously feeing AND crippling. Sure, we can see right away how we´re doing and
what adjustments might need to be made, but we also aren´t forced to be absolutely certain about
what we´re doing as we do it.
4 Simple in-Camera Edits
There are several factors that we should always consider as we “edit” while we shoot. This is not
an exhaustive list, and they´re not things that we can always influence, but even in the midst of a
crazy photo pit we need to be mindful.
Here are four simple choices that you can do in-camera to get better concert photos:
- Lens Selection and focal length
- F-stop and shutter speed
- Composition, framing, & orientation
- Timing & Ambience
Let´s explain these music photography editing tips in more detail.
Lens selection and focal length
A longer lens can “compress” a scene and bring a background element seemingly closer to a
foreground element. A wider angle can feel more “immersive”, but will require a very close
proximity to the subject to fill the frame. Extremely wide lenses give us the risk of distortion
and bowed lines. None of these things are necessarily bad…we just need to know what the
end result will be. Learn which exact camera equipment I am using here.
F-stop and shutter speed
Shooting at a wide F-stop (a smaller number, like 2.8 or 1.8) means more light gets through
the lens. It also means that the plane of focus is very shallow, so background elements go
blurry. Sometimes this effect is so extreme that it becomes difficult to focus; we might
unintentionally have a microphone in focus, but leave the singer´s face blurry. A smaller f-
stop (like 5.6 or 8) puts more into focus, but with the trade-off of less light through the lens –
so we may need to adjust something else to get a proper exposure. A fast shutter speed will
freeze the action of our scene; a slower shutter speed gives us motion blur (and possibly
camera shake). You might want the blur of a drummer going wild, or you might want them
crisp – this is your decision as the photographer capturing a moment.
Composition, framing, orientation
What gets into a frame is up to you. If there’s an exit sign on a wall or a mic on a boom stand
or a stage monitor encroaching and distracting from an otherwise strong subject, move or re-
compose a little. A vertical (portrait) orientation of an image has a different feel from a
horizontal (landscape). Again, not necessarily bad, we just need to be aware of what the
difference might be in our final image.
Of these two things, the only factor under our control is when we press capture the photo. A
guitarist leaping from a drum riser probably looks best at the apex of the jump. The ambience
of a scene is generally out of our hands. We cannot decide what the light-show is doing,
when pyro goes off, what the smoke machine is going to do. But we can be aware of these
things, start to recognize patterns, anticipate moments. We capture very small moments in
time, and we need to be deliberate about which moments we choose to record.
Make it Second Nature!
Being mindful and purposeful of these things will improve any genre of photography. As music
photographers, we have such limited time to make these decisions on the fly that we must
practice and let these things become ingrained in us. These need to be reflexes so that we can
STOP thinking about them, and just know that they are second nature.
The result will be stronger, more impactful images, and we’ll spend less time trying to fix things in Photoshop and Lightroom. Not that there’s anything wrong with the post-processing, but when applying these music photography editing tips at your next concert, you’ll save some time in front of your computer.
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