Music photography and the difficulties of shooting in the dark

Music photography and the difficulties of shooting in the dark

I bitterly remember the time when I was asked to photograph a band in a dark whisky bar. The light was so low (Candlelight plus some disco lights in purple, orange and green) and in no way, the camera could focus. The tiny pinhole of modern DSLR’s viewfinder didn’t let me focus manually either. I was watching the band playing hide and seek in the dark in frustration. My equipment was too modest for the job, but I doubt even having the best professional cameras could have changed anything for the better then. After that night, I studied and thought a lot about ways to do better if I had another photoshoot in similar conditions. Choices of lenses, flashes, autofocus method, post processing choices, noise reduction and composition re-evaluated and re-thought.

Recently I was asked to do another photo shoot for the band Big Boss Groove, in Mawson Club, Canberra. When I entered the club I realised I’m going to have a difficult night; the environmental light was nonexistent and harsh disco lights in red, green and purple were used on a corner of a stage, flashing on musicians faces.

I realised that Canon 5D Mark II can’t focus in that light if I insist on using single point focus. So I switched to full autofocus, something I rarely do, and also switched to burst shooting. To my surprise, results were better than waiting forever for the camera focus on a single point. Of course, I had to pick and choose in-focus photos from a collection about twice the number I usually shoot normally, which was frustrating, but I didn’t return from the event empty handed.

I like nightclub’s spotlights. They are interesting and can be used as a strong compositional element, provided that light designers plan them carefully. Otherwise, they distort the colour channels of every object they hit in a way that is irrecoverable in post processing. Also, they make the focusing in low light even more difficult.

Because of very low light, I broke the rule of not using flash for some shots. Using Nikon SB-700 pointed to the ceiling and the diffuser, I took some of the most difficult to expose angles.

Here you can see the results of my photo shoot and judge yourself how much I was successful in taking successful shots in such a challenging environment. Comments are welcome.

Big Boss Groove at Mawson Club - 2016

Big Boss Groove at AIS Arena, Canberra

Big Boss Groove in AIS arena

I have photographed Big Boss Groove first in Merimbula Jazz Festival in 2015 and later in their rehearsals and performance in Great Hall, Parliament House in Canberra. This time, I had the opportunity to photograph the band in AIS arena and was very fortunate with the large and accessible stage as well as very good stage lighting.

Photography was done with two cameras, Canon 5D Mark II with Canon EF 17 – 40mm f/4.0L USM attached to it most of the time for wide angle shots, and — when I had the chance to swap lenses in a short break amid the fast-paced performance- Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM for some close ups and to capture brass and artists under the dreamy light of hundreds of small bulbs.

Telephoto shots were taken by Sigma 70 – 200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM mounted on the tiny, simple and old Nikon D3100.

With the Nikon, at times when the light were too low to focus, I’ve used Nikon AF‑S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G. to get the shots I wanted.

If you forgive my Middle-Eastern mindset which is infused with military terminology from childhood, I believe if ultra wides and telephotos are respectively equivalents of cannons and sniper rifles, normal primes are the dagger; when all else failed, go up close and finish the job.

Big Boss Groove at AIS Arena, Canberra

Toni Maxfield, Big Boss Groove

Big Boss Groove: A rehearsal

Before enjoying their energetic performance in Great Hall, Parliament House back in 2015, I had the chance to attend one of the Big Boss Groove’s rehearsals. Lenses used in this photo shoot: Sigma 70 – 200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM, Nikon AF‑S DX Nikkor 18 – 105mm f/3.5 – 5.6G ED VR and Nikon AF‑S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G.

Big Boss Groove : Rehearsals

Big Boss Groove in Great Hall, Parliament House -

Big Boss Groove in Great Hall, Parliament House

Big Boss Groove is a well-known Canberra-based corporate party band. Made up of nine incredibly talented and professional musicians, their jazz performances are both beautiful and strong. I’ve enjoyed their performance first in 2015 in Merimbula jazz festival and later had the chance to shoot them on their rehearsals and also one of their performances in Great Hall, Parliament House in Canberra.

Big Boss Groove in Great Hall, Parliament House