Tricky Lighting a.k.a Concerts UPDATED w/ New Video


Exposing for a concert performance is tricky. The contrast from light to dark is so broad that no camera really has the dynamic range to capture the things that go on in the shadows. So the choice is easy, you have the expose for the subject. Well, okay you could spot meter but you must have the hottest spotlight shining on your subject. Well stage lights flash and move, so there’s quite a bit of guessing involved and reliance on experience. Whatever I think is proper exposure in those situations I’ll go bit under because you can’t bring blown highlights back to life but you can bring up shadows a little. You’ll introduce noise most likely but it’s definitely the lesser of the two evils.

In a perfect world, there are sound checks and rehearsals that will allow you to get an idea for the lighting situation so you can really nail your exposure. It’s funny to think that in the dark venues of concerts fast lenses don’t matter as much. You’re exposing for the subject and thus relying on the spotlights, which are pretty bright. In that respect I could have achieved the same results at f4. As it were, my angles (the wide floor level and the stabilized telephoto, both 5d mark iii’s) were shot at f2.8 with an iso of 1250. Shutter speeds were at 1/50th of a second. There was a 3rd camera which got great angles and good energy but I believe he tried to expose for the scene. The results were blown highlights in the face, blown highlights in on white t-shirts, and noisy footage in the shadow. In post you can’t recover the highlights so faces, towels and shirts end up with no detail but you can crush the shadows a bit to hide the noise and add some grain later. Some of these entry level Canon cameras, like the t2i that the 3rd angle was shot with) have more of a video type noise rather than a fine film grain that happens with bodies like BMCC, C300 or 1dc, etc.

This was a quick full performance edit, just a bit of sharpening and little bit of grain, and a more substantial edit will follow. The photo was taken with a single flash, more on that later as well. Taking a keen interest in photography has helped my filmmaking in many ways.

Check out Richie FaReal’s music here. He’s “a real dope rapper” (8 mile reference!). The venue was at Oakland Grand Live and Richie made a special guest appearance on Tony Cassanova’s track J.M.H.K. Watch they’re music here.

Thanks to for the accommodations.

Update: Second Show

Make ’em See – Music by Richie FaReal


Richie FaReal is a super talented musician. He’s a songwriter/producer/rapper with music that I actually listen to which is a bonus not to have to generate love for a project.  Over the span of two days we maneuvered across San Francisco finding locations to shoot. My goal is always to capture the most minimalistic, clean and sharp images but this project organically turned into something that I thought was better suited to view as desaturated, black & white, gritty and grainy. Most of the performance was shot months ago but scheduling conflicts kept me from completing this. Richie and his manager did an outstanding job creating an official music video (here) that Richie actually heavily edited himself, talented guy. A window opened up and I wanted to complete what I started and here’s the result.


Since the official version was so clean and elegant, I thought we would go for the opposite, which became the goal months after the first day of shooting. Everything was captured with a Canon 5d Mark iii in plain h.264 with Cinestyle as the picture profile. A variety of lenses were used including the 50 1.2, 16-35 2.8 ii, 135 f2, 24-105 f4 and 100 2.8 macro is. We occasionally used a 160 led lite panel, especially for the performance sequence with smoke. Richie was completely backlit for that with a second lite panel used for fill. I shot as high iso 6400 and was wide open most of the time. We also drove around San Francisco with a Canon EOS M suction cupped to the rear passenger window. The Manfrotto Fig Rig got a lot of play during walking shots. Otherwise things were kept minimal incase we needed to run!

My favorite lens was the Canon 135 f2l, the bokeh is perfectly round and the out of focus bits looks sort of anamorphic-ally stretched. Everything was loaded into FCPX and synced with Plural Eyes 3. Color Grading was kept to a minimum, as I prefer Cinestyle’s flat look in the instance. So I desaturated the shadows and performed a Black and White conversion to a few of the angles. Worked with the red channel for the conversion and and applied a LUT s-curve to them as b&w lends itself nicely to contrasty footage. Added a touch of grain and then some more. Two levels of sharpening, USM and FCPX sharpen tool.


You can download Richie’s music for FREE over HERE.