Nick Waterhouse & the Tarots playing at the Li Po Lounge in San Francisco with Miila and the Geeks all the way in from Japan. Happening only a day or two after the massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, the money from the show went to a Japan relief fund.
As a music photographer, there’s nothing quite like the sinking feeling you get walking into a “venue” that turns out to really be a cleared out basement storage room lit by a couple of 40 watt bulbs and some Christmas lights. Thankfully, with the magic of clean high ISO (these were shot at ISO 5000) fast glass (f/2.8) and some help from other fans with their flash photos and cell phone lights I was able to come away with some shots that I liked.
The one above was taken “catching the flash” of another photographer’s light. The basic technique is to slow down your shutter speed enough and hope that during the time your shutter is open and before it closes that someone else takes a photo with a flash nearly simultaneously so that you can “steal” some of their light. Thought it sounds like these might be just lucky shots it’s easier to pull of than you might think. Most cameras these days emit either a red focus assist light or some kind of pre-flash right before the main flash fires. People taking cellphones photos are even better to have around. Their super bright led lights typically stay on for a full second or more giving you some really great light. This photo above was captured with the help of someone’s cell phone flash.
Typically, when people shoot with on camera flash, they are pointed directly at your subject. This means where you want to be is off to either side of the flash when it goes off. This usually helps add depth and separation to your subjects.
Finally, depending on the actual lighting conditions, the venue (i.e. what’s behind the band) and your personal style, you will probably want to make sure you’re dragging the shutter enough that you get at least some of the ambient light in your photo. You’ll also notice—even at ISO 5000—when there is enough light that the highlights are surprisingly clean and without much noise.
You can see the difference if you compare the above photo with the following one.
This photo was taken moments before the cell phone flash went off. This also helps illustrate, what I see, as the biggest challenge to capturing good photos using someone else’s flash. While the lighting in this second photo might not be as good, sometimes a photo is more about capturing a moment, a look or just a glance. Personally, I prefer this second image over the first one, though there are reasons why I also like the first one nearly as much. To me they tell two different stories and are about two different people.