Cornerstone Rocks

[Note:  This is more of a How-To, Problem-Solution blog for photographers.]

Cornerstone Fellowship in Livermore performed a live recording concert last night for their CD.

The music had some rock, some R&B… it was a jamming concert!  There were thousands of people standing on their feet, singing, clapping and dancing.  I found myself subconsciously pressing my shutter to the beat!

The Photography Objective

They wanted just one photo of the concert, taken from the back of the room, to capture the mood of the concert and the audience.  It was not a photo to highlight the band.

This photo will be used as the cover of the CD album.

To capture one good photo of the concert, I thought it would take 10-15 minutes, not including set-up time.  But I was there for one hour!

The Challenge

There was only one main source of light, which was on-stage (as I expected), but the concert hall was a huge space that held thousands of people (not what I expected).  The stage lights weren’t enough to light the audience and outside the first few rows next to the stage, it was as dark as a movie theater.

If I were highlighting just the band, individual members of the band, or just the audience, then it would’ve been a piece of cake.  But I am a natural problem-solver and I like a good challenge!

If I opened the aperture wide open, then I’d get light on the audience, but the stage would be blown-out.  (I still love this photo though!)

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If I decreased the aperture and lengthened the shutter speed (and stabilized the camera to avoid camera shake), I’d get details on-stage, but the audience would be pitch black.

I tried hundreds of variations of ISO, shutter speed and aperture to see if I could find the magic combination to let in enough light, so I could see the audience while not losing too much detail on-stage.  The concert hall was just too large for this to work from camera settings alone since I needed to capture images from the back of the concert.

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I also played with all kinds of flash effects (diffusers, bouncing the light off walls and ceilings, shooting it in various angles into the audience, etc).

To properly light up the concert hall, I needed either studio lights (like some large soft boxes) in a few areas of the room, or multiple flashes with color gels set up around the room and facing walls.  I love the colored gel idea (blues, pinks and greens to match the lights on stage) because it would give just enough light to show the enormity of the room and audience while also giving the image a sense of the concert mood!

But there was no time to prepare for this kind of lighting work since this was a last minute job (less than 24 hour notice).   So what could I do?

Solution 1:  Get Creative

A perspective from the main floor will show silhouettes of heads and hands in the air.  I then added some highlights to heads further back in the crowd in post-processing.

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Another perspective:  ground-level and straight-on.  I then composed the photo so the band is at the top of a vertical image.

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Solution 2:  Be Patient

In the 1 hour that I was there, there were only 2 instances where a small spot lights from stage were directed out into the audience, thus allowing me to capture the feel of the concert.

For most of the concert, I had my camera in “ready position” and waited for this to happen, not knowing if it ever would.  I was GIDDY with joy when this happened!  (I think I wore one of those dumb smiles and my feet may have tapped the floor a little!)  :)

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Then taken from the side to avoid distraction from the control panel area.  And the spotlights went out onto the audience once more!  Woooweee!

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Here’s one with a little more detail on stage… (smaller aperture)

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A Star is Born!

I think this one would look great as an album cover.

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My Favorite

This one shows more of the audience than the last one and, thus, meets the objective of the shoot more.

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A Fun Mistake

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Blog Readers:  Which photo would you choose for the album cover when considering the objective?


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5 Comments

  1. Wow, Annie, these look great!

    I gotta say, though…I really love the first one, for very specific reasons.

    I know that the stage is blown out, but I kind of like it; it accentuates the crowd and not the stage, as if to say, what really matters isn’t what’s going on onstage, but what’s going on in the hearts of those worshiping. I get a real feel for how the room looked and felt from that first pic.

    derek

  2. I like the vertical one and the one below it. The vertical one has impact with the bottom black! The one below – I like it if you crop it to have more focus on the stage and the audience right below the stage. The rest are good shots too.

  3. I add to my favorites: the first photo under “Be Patient” has color, light and clarity, and the first photo in the blog with the incredible light is the most impactful.

  4. amy nguyen (san carlos)

    i LOVE the first one, too! and how appropriate that derek used the phrase, “those worshipping!” that blown out, super bright stage seems appropriate! what i love most about that shot is how you could see all those people! my other two favorites (i find i have so many “favorites” when it comes to annie’s photos!) are the “star is born one” (LOVE the star light!) and annie’s favorite. basically, you can’t go wrong, though!

  5. I can’t wait to see the final product! The CD is due to come out before Christmas. Upon seeing the photos, they now want to use a digipack CD case, so they can use 2 images! I’m soooo excited! I’ll post a photo of the CD when I get it.