In this section we are going to share with you some tips on how to take better stage lighting photography. These tips will help you get the most out of your camera and make taking great stage photos easier and more fun.
Etiquette Rules to Follow During Stage Performances
+ Ask If You Can Take Photos
Stage lighting is tricky. Often, it’s the main reason people hire a photographer, and yet, it is also the aspect of a production least likely to be captured by the audience.
If you are shooting a concert or play, politely ask if you can photograph the stage and see how the lighting affects the performance. You might be surprised at what you discover.
+ Respect Others
If you are at a live performance, remember that others have payed their ticket to enjoy the spectacle. Don’t move around too much (it’s distracting for both the audience and the performers) and don’t make noise. If you want to move more freely, consider shooting from the back with a long telephoto lens. A restricted area with no public is also a good option, if you can access it.
Get To Know The Spectacle
Sony ILCE-7RM2 – Focal Length 35mm – Aperture ƒ/1.4 – Shutter Speed 1/125s – ISO 1250
The most important consideration when photographing stage lighting is to know what you are trying to photograph. Stage lighting can be very complex, with many shapes, colors, and patterns. You need to familiarize yourself with the different fixtures and how they affect the overall look of the production. In the beginning, you should concentrate on simple, straightforward lighting. As you gain experience, you will learn to see the potential of more complex lighting and be able to capture it.
+ Attend Rehearsals
Rehearsals are often neglected by stage photographers. However, the lighting changes during rehearsals and these changes can give you some amazing images.
For example, when the actors are warming up before the first night of a play, the stage lights will be soft and flattering. But, as they start to learn their lines, the light will grow harsher and more like that of a workday. As they become more comfortable with the play, the harshness will lessen. These subtle changes happen every night and you are likely to catch them all in a single photograph.
Settings Your Camera to Work Fast and Consistently
+ Use Manual Mode Or Aperture Priority
Stage lighting can be tricky to photograph because of all the different ways it can be used. If you are using an automatic exposure mode, you will probably get some pretty decent images, but you may also get some that are underexposed or overexposed.
This is because the light is coming from so many directions, it is very difficult for the camera to figure out how to make everything just right. If you are using manual or aperture priority mode, however, you will have much more control over the exposure.
+ Use Your Lens’s Widest Aperture Setting
When you are photographing a stage, you will almost always be forced to use a wide aperture setting on your lens. This will allow more light into the camera, and thus create a brighter image. However, if you do this, you must also make sure you are using a shutter speed that is fast enough to avoid camera shake.
+ Use A Fast Shutter Speed
When using stage lights, you must use a fast shutter speed. This is because the light will be very bright and the camera will not have enough time to expose the film before the light goes out. Therefore, you will need to use a fast shutter speed like 1/500th of a second or faster. If you do not use a fast shutter speed, the subject will appear to be moving because of the camera movement due to the shaking of the lights.
Fast shutter speeds freeze motion, especially when combined with a wides aperture. This means you can use a higher ISO setting which will give you a brighter image. However, you will need to be really careful when you are combining fast shutter speeds with a wides aperture, because if your hand is shaking or the camera is moving even a little bit, you could get a blurry image.
+ Boost Your ISO
Canon EOS 60D – Focal Length 50mm – Aperture ƒ/2.5 – Shutter Speed 1/500s – ISO 400
Stage lights can be very harsh, and unless you have a huge budget, you probably can’t get rid of them. However, you can use this harshness to your advantage by using a high ISO. You see, when you use a high ISO, the camera makes the image brighter by allowing more light to hit the sensor.
However, a higher ISO also means you will have more noise (grain) in your photos. For this reason, many photographers limit their use of high ISOs to when they are shooting in low light conditions.
+ Use Spot Metering
The most important lighting tip I can give you is to use spot metering. This is the way to get a good exposure every time, even in difficult lighting situations.
It’s easy to use; just press the shutter button halfway and then recompose the image to where you want the main subject to be sharp. Then, press the shutter button all the way down to take the photo.
The camera will focus, meter the correct part of the picture for the correct amount of light, and then automatically adjust the exposure to get the right balance between highlights, mid-tones and shadows.
+ Use The Middle Autofocus Point
Most cameras have a middle autofocus point which is used when the camera is set to auto focus. This is the point where the subject is most likely to be in focus. By using this point, you can ensure your subject is in sharp focus, even if they are not directly in front of you.
When you are focusing for the stage lights, use the middle autofocus point instead of the one next to the colored focus square. This way, your lens will be able to better compensate for the different color temperature of the lights.
+ Take A Fast Zoom Lens
Canon EOS 5D Mark III- Focal Length 165mm – Aperture ƒ/4.0 – Shutter Speed 1/250s – ISO 1250
If you are the hired photographer or there are no restrictions, a fast, zoom lens is the ideal glass to mount on your DSLR or mirrorless camera. In a small venue, I like the 24-200mm of my Sony RX-10. I can go from covering the entire scene with the wide end of the zoom, to zoom in and take headshots of the performers. A very popular choice among DSLR user and pros is a 70-200mm zoom lens, typically f/2.8 constant.
If you are taking photos of a stage and the light is not flattering to the subject, take a zoom lens and shoot from a distance. This will compress the perspective and give the photo an intimate feel. It will also take away any unflattering features of the stage lights.
+ Use Auto White Balance
Most people use AWB (Auto White Balance) when shooting indoors under artificial light sources. White balance combats unwanted color casts in your scene, and it’s important to use if you want good-looking photos.
However, I highly recommend you deal with white balance after taking your photos, during post-processing. So set your camera to Auto White Balance, then ignore the WB setting until you’re back at home.
You see, if you shoot in RAW, the white balance is completely flexible. Whether you determine the white balance setting at the time of capture or whether you wait until you’ve opened up Lightroom days later makes zero difference.
Except that setting the white balance during stage photography is very difficult to do, especially when you have different lights flashing all around the stage. So do yourself a favor and leave the white balance setting for another time.
+ Never Use Flash
Stage lighting can be tricky, and often photographers use flash as a “crutch” instead of using what natural light they have to illuminate the subject. This is a big mistake, because when you use flash it tends to wash out the colors in your photo and make everyone look pale and sickly. It also causes people to squint, which is never a good thing when you are photographing someone who is performing on stage.
+ Shoot In RAW Format
Shooting in RAW mode gives you much more leeway with your post-processing, allowing you to make much more dramatic adjustments.
For example, if you have a RAW file of a person’s face and you want to adjust the color of the person’s skin, you can do that easily. However, if you only shoot in JPEG format, the chances are, whatever adjustments you make will be lost when you convert the photo to a different format.
+ Use Burst Mode
Burst mode is the fastest way to take photos on your camera. It basically lets you fire off ten or more shots in rapid succession. This allows you to capture action sequences that would otherwise be impossible to capture. Burst mode is great for stage lighting because it gives you a way to shoot rapidly without missing a beat. That means you can capture the exact second an actor’s face lights up with a smile, or the exact second they realize they have lost the contest.
Capture The Movement
NIKON D3300- Focal Length 50mm – Aperture ƒ/1.8 – Shutter Speed 1/320s – ISO 3200
Stage lighting is tricky. It can create dramatic shadows and patterns, but it can also wash out your image if you don’t use it properly.
Look for the highlights on the actors faces and hands as they react to the various lights.
Look for the sparkles in their eyes as they watch their loved ones or their fans. Watch how they move when the spotlight hits them and how that movement is captured by your lens.
All this will add a layer of interest to your images that will make your viewer feel as though they are right there beside you watching the performance.
Capture Interactions On Stage
Orlando, United States -Sony ILCE-7RM2- Focal Length 50mm – Aperture ƒ/2.8 – Shutter Speed 1/800s – ISO 2500
It can be very rewarding to catch the interaction of the performers with their audience, or the audience with each other. If you photograph a concert, for example, pay attention to what the musicians do when they play a particularly passionate or tender note, and watch the reaction of the people in the audience. It’s a great way to make your pictures more human, and add another element of drama and interest to your images.
Take Wide Angle Shots to Show the Entire Stage
Canon EOS REBEL T3- Focal Length 24mm – Aperture ƒ/4 – Shutter Speed 1/200s – ISO 3200
A simple trick to get more attention from the audience is to take a shot that shows more of the stage than the band or singer. It is usually easy to see where the stage ends and the darkness of the night begins.
Take a shot from slightly above the stage looking straight down, and you will see the entire stage with all its drama and atmosphere. You can use this photo as a warm-up shot or as an opener for your concert or band photos.
When you are taking a stage photo it is important to remember that the goal is to “catch” the moment. Don’t wait for the “right” moment, because that moment may never come. Instead, just keep shooting and learning and you will get better and better at capturing those special moments.
This is a very informative post about some of the best stage photography tips ever written. We hope that after reading this article, you will take amazing stage photos and you will become a better photographer !