So in my last article, we looked at how you can get to shoot live music. Hopefully, some of you will have used that article as the motivation to actually get out there and shoot. Great! If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
This time, I want to write based on a comment I received about how to edit music photography, with some top tips to get your music editing to rock god standard. There is no right or wrong way to edit photos. You have your style of editing, and I have mine, so when looking at this if you think ‘I prefer more contrast’ then simply add more contrast.
I use Capture One Pro editing software. I know a huge percentage of you use Lightroom, but in reality, things are very similar. The buttons are in different places, but they do the same thing. What I want to do with this article is give you some pointers, rather than an exact step-by-step guide. Like all good recipes, you need to adjust for your oven and how spicy you like your food. With that said, let’s get cooking.
The thrill of a gig fades, for the fans, for the bands and for the publications that put the images out there. While speed is not super important when editing for small bands, I would always advise you to get your editing done as soon as possible. That way if you are delivering images to the band, they will still be hyped about the show and seeing your amazing photos will make them even more excited.
When I am editing for a publication, the idea is to get the images out as soon as possible. Therefore my editing technique is designed with speed as a factor. For portfolio images, or ones you love, by all means, go into Photoshop and remove things, touch up the skin, etc., But in general, this is not required.
This tight deadline means you have to sometimes decide against removing the distracting lights or fire exit sign. It is much quicker to do now that Capture One, Lightroom, et al. have these features built-in. However, be warned, you can still easily get caught up in this process.
Many of you may be starting out, so you can spend time finessing the details a little more. There are many great tutorials on DPS about Photoshop and more advanced editing techniques, so make sure you read up on them if this is something you want to do.
Editing Starts in Camera When Shooting
I can’t stress this enough. The tendency to overshoot is strong! In a digital age, we can shoot and delete so quickly that we get carried away. The thrill of being at an event shooting live music can add to this, as you want to get THE shot. However, try to restrain yourself a bit. Every image you shoot is something you have to go back to and edit, so bear this in mind. That said, I have been guilty and when a singer is bursting around the stage, shooting at the camera’s max FPS is something that can help you get that great shot.
Metadata (AKA the Boring Habit That is Good to Get Into Early)
Metadata is the information that is attached to your file. It includes camera settings etc., but when you shoot for organizations or stock agencies, you need to include metadata within your images. It is best to get into this habit early.
Make your contact information into a preset, so it can be added easily on import to save time. The first data you need to add is the content field, which contains the following sections:
The ‘Headline’ is simple. Put the name of the band performing live at XYZ Venue. If you have a shot of the lead singer, then add that information. For example, on this image, the Headline is ‘Diet Cig. Live at The Rescue Rooms Nottingham. Dot to Dot 2015.’
With the description following as ‘Alex Luciano of the New York band, Diet Cig play at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms as part of the Dot To Dot Festival.’
I saved the most important until last – ‘Keywords.’ You use Keywords for image searches within your catalog, or within a picture library or publication where you have submitted the image. For example, on this shot, the image includes keywords such as ‘Fender Guitars’ and ‘Vans.’ It’s amazing how many times people ask for a musician playing a specific guitar brand, or playing in a particular brand. So make it easy on yourself and use keywords to find them. I think the weirdest request I had was for artists performing in slippers. Unfortunately, I have none in my catalog. However, this goes to show how keywording in all the details, may come in handy.
Start this process early. Otherwise, before you know it, you’ve shot so many gigs without it that the thought of adding metadata to so many images means you don’t do it at all. Get into the habit, and it is painless. Leave it until later, and you won’t do it. Trust me! My first year of shooting live music has no metadata to this day!
You now need to narrow it down to a reasonable set of images to edit. I recommend around 10 to 15 max. You have to be ruthless in this selection process! When choosing shots, you may need to focus on minute details (and sometimes even perceived differences) to narrow it down. The key here is to be ruthless. Just like a holiday slideshow from your relatives – no matter how fantastic you think they are, nobody wants to see all 128 shots of a band that are in focus and well exposed. You want a small set of images that capture the intensity of being there. That way, they have much more impact. You will wow people rather than have them thinking ‘isn’t this shot just the same as the last one?’
White Balance / Color Correction
White Balance and Color correction are the hardest part. You find so many variations of color at a concert that getting a realistic skin tone may be impossible. In this case, you can either embrace the colors or go to black and white. It comes down to your eye, and you may have to compromise.
As the screenshots show below, in mixed light, this can be quite extreme because your cameras’ white balance can miss by quite a way. Regarding camera setting, I leave the white balance on auto. Lighting changes so much in a concert situation, that even guessing what mode to set it to is not practical. Leave it in auto. Let the camera do its best, and then (and I hate to use this term) fix it in post.
This is where you choose if you want it in black and white. Sometimes you have a great shot, but the color is beyond fixing (red light is killer, and for some reason, lighting guys love red!). So the only option is black and white. Now as I said in my last article when doing this for media outlets, black and white is generally a no-go, but for personal work (and even portfolio) there is nothing wrong with black and white. I love the look.
The other option is to go with the color and let it be part of the atmosphere of the photo. I have a shot of Ian Brown from the Stone Roses (whom I idolized as a youngster) looking through his tambourine and straight down the lens. The lighting meant that I would never be able to get natural skin tones, so I embraced the color and edited it with that in mind.
Once you have your color set, you can begin to work on exposure. Similar to any other editing you do, but the main difference is how much you use the ‘recover highlights’ and ‘shadows sliders.’ Concert lighting is usually high contrast, especially if you have the background lights in the shot. Using the recovery sliders can help here. Background lights are generally the only time I do a bit of retouching. If I have a fantastic photo with a distracting background light, I quickly remove it. This is the beauty of only having ten images to edit rather than 75. You can spend a little more time with each image, even when you are on a tight turnaround. Another tip here is to lower the saturation to help take the edge of hard colors. You can also work with individual colors too, which helps.
For the image we are working with here, I reduced exposure by just under 1-stop and recovered the highlights. I also added a little clarity & contrast to the image for more punch.
For my final tweaks, I use ‘curves.’ You can also use ‘levels,’ but this is down your preference. Whichever you use, it is a case of working with each color channel to create a more balanced final color. Tweak the contrast until you are happy.
With the image we are using here, I tweaked the ‘mid-tones’ a little. I adjusted each of the red and green channels, making subtle changes (subtlety is key here) to get a better balance of color in the image.
If needed, you can crop the image. I’m not going to bore you with how to, but it is just something to keep in mind. Remember, a little crop can remove things like fire exit signs a lot quicker than Photoshopping them out.
I always like to add a small vignette to my images. Usually very subtle, but I just like the way it draws attention to the subject. I think sometimes it is more a force of habit rather than necessary. Again, this is up to you.
Walk away from your monitor for a couple of minutes. Grab a drink, or go to the bathroom. The key is to get away from the screen for a couple of minutes. You can easily push things like contrast too far without realizing. So take 2-minutes away then come back and check if you are happy.
Copy, Paste, Tweak, Repeat.
When editing more images from the same show, the starting point is always copying and pasting the settings form the image you already edited. Generally, this gives you a great starting point. However, the lighting for the first song and the third song are not always the same, so you may have to start from scratch. As with anything, the more you do, the easier it becomes.
Black and White
Finally, let’s go through black and white. I always follow the same process as for color photos as above. It helps me to know if a photo works best in black and white or color. With this image, I couldn’t get the color right. To me, it lacked something, but I loved the energy. So, I decided to try black and white instead.
When converting to black and white, I always start with a preset because I find ‘Capture One’ has some great ones. The preset is used to get the image close to what I want and then I tweak to my taste. Using black and white is a savior for when the light is mostly red. Red can make for some amazing black and white photos. However, when you know you have to deliver in color, it’s great that the sound of the music drowns out your swearing at the lighting technicians!
I hope you found this article helpful. Unfortunately, there is no preset or magic bullet to offer, as all lighting situations are different. However, I hope you found this article helpful for editing music photography images of your own.
As always, pop any comments below and I will do my best to answer.