Now a few of my friends and acquaintances have dSLR cameras and enjoy music photography I thought I’d mention one of the better venues for gigs in Wakefield but which also has the most undesirable light; certainly it’s the most hostile I’ve come across for a photographer.

I’m talking about Escobar in Wakefield, a music venue which features quite a lot of upcoming bands alongside mainstream returners (such as The Cribs, Reverend & The Makers, The Kooks, etc.). As such, amateur photographers can find themselves shooting away at their mates’ ‘Unsigned Bands’ gig on a Monday alongside professional music-press photographers – the walls of the venue are decorated with images of past gigs and magazine articles sporting photos of previous successes. Myself, I’ve photographed there frequently including Leeds band Vessels, Rosie Doonan, Jonny The Firth, Chat Noir and a few of the Louder Than Bombs showcase nights.

The lighting can be described as ‘atmospheric’ – it’s quite dark with a predominance on red and orange lighting fading in and out (it doesn’t seem predictable and there’s no obvious lighting desk); as a result it’s very easy to unexpectedly blow out the red channel on your photos. There is no side-access to the stage so you’re left crouching near the barrier on either side with the crowd at your back.

From that particular venue I’ve learned quite a few lessons, most of which apply to ‘hostile stage environments’ in general:

  • It is a trial simply to focus on your subject let alone grab a steady shot so you do have to get quite arty.
  • I break my own rule in this particular venue and use a flashgun (checking – if I can – that it’s OK before using it, some bands find it distracting).
  • The flashgun is on-body and bounced off the ceiling – the main stage area has a brown ceiling which provides a nice warm glow.
  • I put a 1/4 CTO gel over the flashgun head -pick yours up from and use a rubber band to keep it on (Royal Mail red rubber bands are ideal). This colour-corrects the artificial light, otherwise you will get an undesirable contrast in the blue-tinged subject near the flash and the warmer background.
  • The flashgun’s own focus-assist is pretty useful too, even if you stop the flashgun from firing it can help a lot.
  • As we’re using flash, we might as well do some 2nd-curtain work – that’s where the flash fires as the shutter closes. You can get some nice effects with long shutter speeds and 2nd-curtain such as motion blur in this photo.
  • Shooting in RAW is absolutely essential as you will need to colour-correct afterwards in Lightroom or Aperture.
  • Forget Tv and Av modes – utterly useless in this scenario. You will need to go fully manual and ride your settings. Expect a lot of duff photos as a result.
  • You may get away without a flashgun if you are using a very high ISO (start at ISO1600 in Escobar), have a fast (f/1.8 or higher) lens, and your subject doesn’t move around much – this particular venue has a lot of folk bands and Indie bands with slow songs which suit that setup.
  • If all else fails you can shove stuff into monochrome and slap on the effects, but I feel it’s always nice to get ‘real’ photos first.
  • Oh and whatever you do, don’t get in the way of the punters – they paid to be there.

Hopefully this will help a few photographers in Escobar itself, but in general those are the rules I apply in the ‘dark’. You can see my pics from this particular venue here.

For preference I use both Canon EOS 40D and Canon EOS 5D Mk 2 – although the former is fairly useless unless I’m using the f/1.4 50mm or the f/1.2 85mm – and the lenses I use for preference in the venue are f/2.8 IS L 70-200, f/4 IS L 24-105 and f/1.4 50mm.

(NB. if you want to practice a little, we’re playing in February…!)

Edit: I changed the title of this entry to something a little more representative of the content.