As Giants, Echoheart, and For The Fire at The Forge in Joliet, IL Jun 15, 2017

Thursday, June 15th, 2017, The Forge in Joliet, IL hosted a local musician showcase featuring two Chicago area bands and two touring acts. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it in time to catch the opening act (sorry!), but I did capture For The Fire, Echoheart, and As Giants on camera. I intended to capture As Giants and shoot a few photos of the other acts to get a feel of the stage, how my camera wanted to behave, and the lighting. Instead, I snapped just under 400 photos between the three acts! For a local show attempting to fill a large stage, the performances of For The Fire, Echoheart, and As Giants was amazing! Although the show was free, it was worth much much more to attend.

For those that attended, or those that couldn’t, I have organized the photo albums of all three acts below. Some of these are among my best shots yet, but some not quite. I selected the best of my under 400 photos for your enjoyment. If you’re curious about how I snapped these, what I used, and my thought process, keep reading.

As Giants

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Echoheart

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For The Fire

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Why tilted photos?

Many years ago, I snapped concert photos from uncommon angles. I haven’t in some years, but Thursday felt like the right time to revisit this style. The tilted and angled shots I snapped are all intentional. Typically, people expect photos to be straight. I’ve shot them this way for some years too. The problem is this doesn’t always give the right feel of the show. I intentionally angled my shots to add excitement and emphasize the energy all three bands brought on stage. I didn’t feel that straightened photos would convey the energy these bands brought, despite the crowd size. It also allowed me to include interesting combinations of other band members and the stage that otherwise wouldn’t fit in a straightened photo. Additionally, doing this allowed me more control over where the viewer’s eyes are drawn. 

Gear used

  • Canon 7D Mark II
  • Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX HSM
  • Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX HSM
  • Rokinon 8mm f/3.5

Over a year ago, almost 2 years now, I traded in my Canon T2i (550D) for a Canon 7D Mark II. It’s a heavy camera, but durable and has an incredible focus system. It’s a versatile camera. Most professionals shoot concert photos with a Full Frame camera such as the Canon 6D or 5D series. They just perform better in low light situations. There is less noise in the photos. You will see noise (similar to grain) in these photos because of the smaller image sensor, but it’s less distracting than some lesser or older cameras. The noise looks much closer to film grain than my T2i did. Though it’s still ugly, I don’t feel it takes away from the photos as much as some cameras do. Some photos are worse than others, however. That’s due to the changing light conditions and not correctly exposing for it. I’ll discuss that more shortly.

Sigma 17-50mm

Managing 3 lenses on 1 camera body in front of the stage was tough. I used the Sigma 17-50mm lens most of the time. It’s the most versatile. It can zoom from wide enough to capture the entire stage and close enough to capture the drummer in the back. It’s not the sharpest lens in the toolbox but it’s still plenty sharp. The downside is the limited light capturing this lens is capable of. While it captures more light than any kit lens that comes with any camera, it’s borderline too low for concerts on a crop sensor camera like the 7D Mark II or lesser cameras. This is why you will see noise in some photos. 

Sigma 30mm

The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens is an older model that can be owned for around $300 used. The newer model is right around $1,000 (give or take a couple hundred). Before you look for the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX HSM lens, I should mention that I have read mixed opinions on it suggesting perhaps quality control was poor during the production of this lens. Some people received very sharp copies of the lens and others didn’t. The sharpness could also be a result of the lens needing to be calibrated for different cameras, which isn’t indicative of poor quality. However, this lens is my sharpest in my kit. I must have gotten a good copy if there is indeed a problem of sharpness among these lenses. It is also capable of capturing more light than my 17-50mm lens. The catch is the Sigma 30mm lens is not a zoom lens. It’s fixed at the 30mm focal length. This limited my shots, but helped in reducing noise and producing sharper photos. It’s also fun to be challenged trying to capture amazing shots with a fixed focal length. It forces you to be more creative and attentive to what you’re shooting. I didn’t use this lens as much as I would have liked, but that was partially due to the fast pace some of these bands moved on stage. It’s difficult to prepare a shot when you don’t know where the band member will be next — not that it takes that long. A lot can change in just one second. 

Rokinon 8mm

This is a relatively new lens that I am still getting the hang of. There were lots of shots taken with this lens that didn’t turn out. It’s a fisheye lens, which means it captures a very wide field of view, but with lots of distortion. This lens captures 160 degrees of what’s in front of it. It makes very interesting images, but being creative with that much in the frame and with as much distortion this lens creates. It’s a challenge, but one I am excited to master.

To make things more difficult, this is a completely manual lens. That means the aperture (part of exposure) and focus are all manual. I kept the aperture open as wide as it can (f/3.5) to accommodate the low light environment and let my camera adjust shutter and ISO accordingly. The challenge was finding focus. When you’re capturing that wide of a shot, details appear small. So small, in fact, that it’s near impossible to tell if the shot was in focus or not until you review it on a larger screen. Knowing this, I tried to rely on the focus scale and set focus to the appropriate distance. While this worked well, I still missed shots. The other problem, or mistake, I encountered with this lens was with relation to lens flares. I’m assuming this is related to dust the lens might have picked up when swapping lenses by the stage, but I need to verify this. This lens might just produce lots of lens flare regardless of what’s on the lens. I’m indifferent about it. I feel it brings an interesting look to the shots, but the flares can also be distracting. 

Focus

In the past, auto focus has been a challenge. It either focuses on the closest object to the lens like a mic stand or on the band member’s torso or guitar. This leaves the face slightly out of focus. It doesn’t always do this, but it happens often enough for concern. Knowing this going into the show, one of the first things I did was set my Canon 7DII to a focus point of my choosing. This let me keep auto focus, but it would only use a focus point I told it to use. This let me be more in control over where the camera focuses. The focus point I chose was the center focus point. Actually, I chose the center cluster of focus points to give my camera a little more leeway in case I missed slightly. 

Why the center focus point? In most cameras, the center focus point is a cross-type focus point. That means it’s accurate both vertically and horizontally. Generally, the other focus points are only accurate horizontally as they’re not cross type. The Canon 7D Mark II has 65 focus points and all are cross type. So this wasn’t the sole reason for my choice. I felt it worth mentioning as a tip for other photographers reading this. The bigger reason I chose this is because it’s versatile for the focus and recompose technique. 

Focus and recompose is a technique in which you focus your shot by half-pressing the shutter and holding it or the back button you programmed for focus (if you setup back button focus). Then you reposition your shot to be more pleasing to the eye. The center focus point is helpful because you don’t have to think too much about your framing when focusing. Just center the area of interest, then move the camera and snap the photo. In low light situations, though, make sure the camera isn’t moving when you snap the photo. The camera movement can result in motion blur. 

I chose to focus the center focus point on the band members’ eyes whenever possible. This ensures the face is in sharp focus and the photo is more personal to the audience. When the eyes and face are sharp, it’s easier to make a personal connection with the audience. It feels more like you were there. There are exceptions, but this is the safest tactic to use. Just keep in mind that whatever is in sharpest focus is where your audience’s eyes will be drawn. This is true even if you miss focus and the area you intended to focus on is just slightly out of focus. The area in sharp focus is what will draw your audience’s eyes. 

Exposure

Exposure is just as important as focus, but I don’t recommend manual exposure in situations where the lighting will change rapidly. I generally stick to Program [P] mode on my camera, but not for this show. I knew my camera would prefer a slow shutter speed to accommodate the low light in the venue. I wanted to be in control over the shutter speed because a slow shutter means more motion blur. I dialed the camera into Shutter Priority [Tv] mode and began to experiment with the ideal shutter for the show. I tried to aim for as fast as possible without requiring my camera’s ISO to be too high or too slow that motion blur becomes noticeable. I settled on 160, though I might have been able to go a little slower. This won’t be the magic number at every concert or all of the time. 

Post Processing

There’s not a lot to share with post processing since I only made minor adjustments. I did some minor cropping to some photos to make the composition more pleasing to the eye or better fit composition rules. I corrected exposure, recovered highlights, and boosted shadows where they needed. I also added sharpening and contrast to make the photos more dramatic. Where possible, I color corrected photos for the stage lights to make the skin look more natural. Some stage lights were too harsh to fix the shot though. 

I had the most fun with the black and white shots, though. I added a 10% blue tint to the shadows to make them look subtly more dramatic. I could have gone with a 10% orange/red to give them a warmer feel too. I did this in the split toning section of Capture One Pro, but you can replicate this in any photo editor using the same ideas. I also adjusted the color sliders to adjust contrast and exposure. This is easier to show than it is to tell, however. Generally, photo editors will default to the red color channel for black and white. This may look good from the start, but often times you can get better results mixing the color channels for black and white. You can add subtle details to some areas or you can make drastic changes elsewhere. One example of this is from a shot of Echoheart. The singer’s hair is blue and the stage lights were originally orange. This color mixture added some purple to her hair. I darkened the orange lighting to add contrast, but I boosted the purple color channel to make the details in her hair pop a little more. This added some separation of the singer from the background. 

Wrap up

As you can see, thought went into every aspect of shooting this concert. I chose a variety of lenses, though it’s not common to swap lenses during a concert due to the risk of dropping a lens or dust getting in the camera. What is more common is the photographer bringing two cameras and swapping between cameras. I don’t own two cameras, so this isn’t an option for me. The techniques I used in shooting the show involved using a center focus point while focusing and recomposing the shot. My shots were also intentionally tilted to convey the energy of the show. I  also set the shutter speed manually and let the camera automatically calculate the rest of the exposure. Post processing was minimal, just adding contrast, sharpness, color correcting for the skin, and tinting black and whites. 

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