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Concert Photography Tips 4: How to use spot metering

Episode 4 is the biggest secret behind great concert photography – spot metering.

Concert Photography Tips 4: How to use spot metering November 7, 2016

Matt is a live music photographer from Brisbane, Australia. Passionate about dark shadows and crisp details, Matt is committed to sharing his knowledge with beginner photographers. Matt has been published by TIME, Huffington Post, VICE, and more.

Concert Photography Tips Episode 4 has been released! Episode 4 is the biggest secret behind great concert photography – spot metering.

This is what made the biggest difference in my gig photography, but I never hear people tell each other. I think it’s because it’s photography’s biggest secret to getting a dynamic photo! The photo that is the focus of this lesson is actually one of The Smith Street Band, because it’s the one that reminded me to do this lesson.

The Smith Street Band Matt Warrell Concert Photography Tips How to spot meter

Using spot metering allowed me to get the beams of light bright, without over exposure, but also protecting the colour. Here’s the full transcript for those that can’t watch the video.

If you haven’t experimented with spot metering yet, you haven’t enjoyed the benefits of one of your cameras best features for live music photography. If someone asks me how to get both deep shadows and balanced highlights in their photos, I usually find that haven’t tried the different metering modes on their camera.

Metering is simply the measuring of light and letting your camera tell you the settings needed for a balanced exposure based on the light passing through the lens. The most common metering type beginner photographers use is evaluative metering – probably because that’s what their camera is on when they bought it.

But evaluative metering tells your camera that you want the exposure to be calculated based off the light that is shown on the focus point – but to also have a look around that focus point and try to balance that light too. When you have strobes and other blasts of light passing over your subject, evaluative metering just isn’t accurate enough for me. I use spot metering when I shoot gigs. Spot metering takes a measurement of light exclusively off a single point and excludes all other references of light that I see through my viewfinder.

It’s one of the most important things to consider when shooting, because it will tell you what settings you should use based off your desired reference point. No matter if you shoot in aperture priority, shutter speed priority or program mode, it will give you greater control at gigs when working with various lighting setups. You can lock your camera’s decision on lighting by pointing your camera at the desired lighting point and locking the exposure. Check your manual if you need more information on how to spot meter.

While other photographers are shooting the first song, I often sit back and look at the various lighting patterns to see where an artist moves and if there is a common sequence with the light. This might seem like a waste of time when you only have three songs in the pit, but I find it gives me a better plan for the following two songs. It might net me less photos overall, but I find I have more keepers than I would if I just went in without a plan.

I get the best results when I use spot metering to meter off the light passing through smoke or haze. Lock your exposure on the smoke or haze, then focus your shot and capture it. Similarly, metering off the light as it is on the artist, then timing your shots as it returns to the artist is another way to get a good dynamic tonal range. So my routine is:

1. Choose a lighting area to use as my target average
2. Lock the exposure for that light amount
3. Compose my shot and focus on the artist
4. Capture the shot

Simply – Lighting, focus, shoot. Lighting, focus, shoot. Lighting, focus, shoot. If you lock the exposure off a certain lighting level, you can go – lighting, focus, shoot. focus, shoot. focus, shoot. If you don’t take a photo for five or so seconds, the exposure lock will automatically disengage.

You want to lock the exposure off the light at around half of its total strength. Haze and smoke makes this super easy because it acts as a natural diffuser for the light. Metering off the haze to get your average point will give you two things:

1. A background that is not over or under exposed
2. Protecting the vibrant colours from being too washed out or dark

I don’t worry if my subject is a little too dark when metering like this. It’s far less work to edit a person than it is to edit an entire background. Vibrant, colourful photos will catch peoples eye, so nailing the background is just as important as it is to capture the artist. I aim for a sharp as nails focus on the artist, and a super colourful background when using this technique.

If you master the metering of light, you’ll master the art of capturing a dynamic image that is full of colour.

I posted a one minute version on Instagram due to their limits, but this is the full four minute version on how to use spot metering with concert photography.

Hope it helps! 🍕

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Matt is a live music photographer from Brisbane, Australia. Passionate about dark shadows and crisp details, Matt is committed to sharing his knowledge with beginner photographers. Matt has been published by TIME, Huffington Post, VICE, and more.