I find photographing a show is pretty straightforward now that I’ve been at it for about 10 years. At this point I can predict that my starting settings for a venue like the Revival Club will be about 1/200 sec at f5.6 with an ISO averaging about 3200 or less. This depends on how well the stage is lit and particularly if I’m using my 70-200 lens. Challenges come up when there’s a sudden lighting change, a performer is outside the lit area, there’s smoke (ugh), or mostly blue or red lighting. There are usually quite a few of these, and I shoot manual, so I’m frequently scrambling to get settings that will work for a given image.
I deal with these challenges when I review and post-process photos. Generally nothing makes it out the door here without some level of editing – on average about 1-2 minutes an image. This adds up when you’re processing two to three hundred images a show. I usually focus on lighting adjustments, white balancing, cropping and straightening, and perhaps some sharpening of an image. I do 99.999% of this in Lightroom and only go to Photoshop to clone out some distraction, or to get a little fancy with something like the Nik tools.
In this photo of Knox Harter from High Society Cabaret’s latest show, The Silent Goodbye, that was the case. I shot this image at 1/250 sec, f8.0 and ISO 8000, which should give you some idea how dark it was on stage at that moment – the settings still weren’t enough. I liked the image but on first glance figured it was unsalvageable. It turned out to be easier than I’d anticipated to bring up the exposure to make it work. The left portion of the image is, in fact, a mess, with a fair amount of banding and artifacts, concealed (but not eliminated) with Lightroom’s excellent radial filter. Additional tinting and detailing in Photoshop using Nik finished the image. I’d say more than a few photographers are breathing a sigh of relief now that DXO has taken over development of the Nik tools from Google, who had abandoned the desktop version. It can certainly speed up the editing process, which was about 20 minutes in this case.
You can see the end result above, and a comparison with the original below. Click on the arrows at the center of the image to slide the dividing line around between the before and after portions.