My sister Una was in Ireland this weekend (she is based in London) for the first tour of her new band “Una & the Balkan Bears“, and their Saturday night gig at the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray was a chance for me to get to see them perform for the first time. And yes I may be biased, but I have to say they were brilliant. Not only was the music and singing brilliant, but it was great to see her take centre stage headlining a gig with her own group, and of course to get a couple of photographs of the occasion.
I wasn’t at the gig as a photographer – I was there to enjoy the music – but Una had mentioned earlier that if I wanted to take some photographs that would be no problem, so I did bring one camera and one lens. The gig was all seated, and I was pretty much in the middle of a row near the front, so I couldn’t move around without disturbing some people so all my photos came from the same position. That the position was front and centre wasn’t a bad thing I guess.
I recorded audio during the gig also, using my Zoom H2 recorder that I’ve used for audio slideshows in the past, and just left that sitting on my camera bag in front of me to take in the ambient sound. The quality of the resultant recording was actually pretty good, although it ran out of memory space 40 minutes in to the performance. As it happened, 40 minutes in was about when I took my first photo. In total I took about 40 images, and 30 of them were usable.
Getting good photographs was a challenge for two reasons - the lack of light, and the colour(s) of what light there was. Common enough problems for this type of theatre environment with stage lighting, which is I guess why some theatre photography is done not during live shows but during dress rehearsals where, if the photographer is lucky, the lights can be adjusted for the benefit of the photography – though I understand it doesn’t always work like this always.
For this particular gig I was at the mercy of the stage lighting being used during the show itself, and that put my ISO right up at 3200 (as high as I will go unless absolutely necessary) and my aperture at f/2.8 – its widest, to let in the most light possible. For my first two shots the camera, set the shutter speed at 1/10s, which gave me very little prospect of getting anything usable at all – not only due to camera movement, but due to subject movement also. I realised then though that I was using matrix metering, across the entire stage (large parts of which were in darkness), and when I switched to spot metering, metering off Una’s dress, the shutter speed went to a more usable 1/25s, and an even better 1/50s when I dialled in -1 stop of exposure compensation to allow for the fact that the dress was black (but lit).
That exposure gave me the photo you see up top. Well, after a conversion to monochrome. The colour of the lights being used to light the stage is what prompted me to do the conversion. A clearer indication of those colours can be seen in the following shot, though in this case I kind of like the mix of colour.
You can probably appreciate that getting the white balance spot on for this type of image is an impossibility – there is no right white balance to use here – and when I played with the white balance in post processing (remembering that the shot was taken in RAW format so I can adjust white balance after the fact), I was able to find colour temperatures ranging from 2000K to 5000K worked for certain parts of the image and not for others. Whether the one I chose for this version is the best or not is a arguable.
Just for the sake of comparison, below is the colour version (again with the disclaimer that the choice of colour temperature for white balance is a tad arbitrary) of the image at the top of this post, and you can see some of those colourful light sources at the top of the frame.
PS: Eagle-eyed readers might notice I’ve added a Music category today – I couldn’t fit this particular image into the existing category, and I have a few others like it too that I posted in the past, so they’ve also been re-categorized.