As I was working through photos of a recent gig, I found quite a few where the lighting and my timing were out, leaving otherwise great shots irretrievably underlit. It’s a shame they don’t always come out, but the joy of digital photography, when it comes to live shows, is that you can compensate for unpredictable light and movement with multiple photos. Though some people would argue ramping your ISO up to beyond 3200 brings too much noise into the image, with dark venues there’s very little option but to do so, thus very often I shoot at 3200 or higher to increase the chances of getting the best chance of a satisfying image.
When shooting shows, the emphasis is always on communicating the energy of the event to the magazine audience. So, it’s paramount to capture crisp, well-lit images of the band members, preferably with them in full rocking-out mode. It helps if your band are both energetic and photogenic, but it’s also a blessing if the lighting designer is on your side. You can often predict what a lighting designer is going to do with a song. If it’s a slow number, you can pretty much expect shades of blue, rotating spot-lights and a darkened stage. If it’s an aggressive, heavy number then red-lights will be dominating. I’ve begun to use red-light as an opportunity to take a break and enjoy watching the bands, as I’ve learned my lesson that red hues destroy an otherwise decent shot.
When shooting, I take a few moments to monitor what the lights are doing above me. This can really help with mentally setting up a photo, and then just waiting for a band member to come into the frame. A perfect example of this occurred when I was shooting Matenrou Opera (摩天楼オペラ, “Skyscraper Opera”) at Shinjuku Blaze a few months back. During a slow number, the lights came down and smoke wafted across the stage, throwing sharp, spiraling shafts of light through the darkness. I hunkered down with the spot-light positioned straight into the camera lens and waited. It didn’t take too long for Matenrou’s singer, Sono, to come to the front of the stage and provide almost exactly what I was looking for.
A while later, I managed to get a nice shot of the bassist, Yo, back-lit with blue light.
But sometimes, just sometimes, those underlit photos are perfectly underlit. With their willowy frames, impossibly teased hair, and ability to strike a pose, if there’s one thing Japanese rock musicians can pull off in the dark, it’s a good silhouette.