In my last post I talked about using manual mode when shooting concerts because of the rapidly changing lights. And while I shoot in manual mode, that doesn’t mean I completely ignore my cameras built in light meter reading. As with all photography, the real trick is to use the best metering mode for the job, and when it comes to concert photography that is the spot metering mode. Now since I use manual mode the light meter reading doesn’t actually do anything except give me a reading of what the camera thinks the correct exposure should be.
Since the spot meter only takes into account a very small part of the overall scene, very dark or very bright backgrounds will not affect the meter reading. So those crazy moving lights don’t affect the spot meter readings as much as they do with the other metering modes. As you can see from the two images, it works the same if the background is really dark or really bright. Keeping the spot meter focused on the important part of the image gives me the feed back that helps me get the best exposure possible. The focus point and the spot metering point in both images is on the face of the performer.
The settings that I start with when shooting a concert are the same every time, but they change as I see what the lights are doing. Some bands like to have low lights, some like it very bright, others have fast moving strobes and some just have steady spotlights. Each situation requires that I adjust accordingly but here are the starting numbers: 1/160 of a second, f/2.8 and ISO 1600 for concerts indoors or at night, 1/320 of a second f/9 and ISO 200 for concerts outside in bright light. Bruce Hornsby was shot at 1/60 of a second at f/2.8 using ISO 800. Troy Sanders, bassist and vocalist for Mastodon was shot at 1/250 of a second using f/4 and ISO 640.