Peter Mulvey at Eddie’s Attic | Atlanta Concert Photographer | The Camera Coach

Shot some photos of the Peter Mulvey show for the Eddie’s Attic website, and I’m so glad I did.  He was just fantastic.  Smart, down-to-earth, interesting, funny, great guitar player.  What else do you need?  Well I had fish tacos and beer…that was nice too.

(Skip down to the pictures if you don’t want to nerd out….)

PHOTOGRAPHER NERDOUT SECTION: Seems like I’ve been having this conversation a bunch lately with people who are having trouble getting good exposures at concerts or in similar lighting situations.  So I thought I’d share an idea for you to try.

First of all, your camera sucks.

I’m kidding of course, but it really kind of does.  Compared to the human eye, a camera is hilariously bad at seeing stuff.  In camera terms, the human eye can see about 18 stops of light at once, while a camera can only see about 5 stops.  That means the human eye can see and process a massively large difference in dark and bright at the same time.  A camera, even the best camera you can find, is less than a third as good as the human eye at seeing a wide range of dark and bright at the same time.

So what do you do?  Put down your camera and start living your life like a normal person!  Kidding.

We photographers have to train our eyes to see like our cameras do, yes.   But we can also force our cameras to see more like we do.  More specifically, we can force our cameras to see only what we want them to see.  How?  Spot metering.

SPOT METERING: In high contrast lighting situations (that is, situations where there is a pretty large difference in the brightness of the brightest spots of light at the darkness of the darkest spots of light) your camera kind of can become a complete moron.  Concerts are a great example of a situation in which there is high contrast lighting.  Usually the stage lights are bright where they shine on the band, but since the rest of the lights in the house are off, there are a lot of very dark areas too.

The camera sees these shadows and wants to brighten them, but if your bright spots in your lighting are pretty bright already your camera may overexpose them when it tries to brighten what it sees as the dark spots because your camera can’t just brighten the dark spots and keep the highlights exposed where they are. So what do you do? You have to get your camera to ignore everything in the frame except what you tell it to see.
Most modern cameras use some sort of Matrix metering system which averages all of the areas of brightness in your frame and comes up with an exposure that it thinks is right. In high contrast lighting, usually this will blow out your brighter spots and you’ll want to throw your camera at the wall. Try using SPOT metering, or if your camera doesn’t have Spot metering use Center-Weighted Average. Spot metering will only look at the brightness of a small spot in the middle of your frame like maybe your subject’s face and will expose only for that small area.  Then, in MANUAL MODE, you set your exposure and snap away.  Should work great.  Try it out.  I think you’ll be impressed with yourself.

Feel free to leave any questions or ideas in the comments below or email me!

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jpotter - March 18, 2010 - 6:21 am

Great photos, Josh. I like the one of the sneakers and paraphenalia at his feet. Plus the advice on spot metering is spot on (couldn't help the pun, dude). I'm teaching myself all this stuff about how to take better photos and your blog is very helpful. The Nerd Out section is my favorite part.

Josh Lamkin - March 18, 2010 - 7:49 am

I'm so glad you're enjoying it!

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