I Suck At Live Music Photography

There, I said it.  I’m an amateur when it comes to photography, a true newb.  I can’t afford the best equipment and I just can’t seem to get the results I want out of the gear I do have.  But I don’t blame the gear, not at all.  It’s more of a pebkac-style problem, I just haven’t figured out how to get nice clean shots in the dimly lit rooms of Austin’s various staple venues.



I have done much reading on the topic, consuming a few dozen articles and blog posts from pros who have SEO’d their websites enough to make it into the top page or so of various Google search results.  I have read books, and I have done a lot of experimenting with my limited gear (though probably not enough).  There have been breakthroughs, sure, and I have a few photos I like, but nothing I’m truly happy with yet.

But I live in Austin, Texas, the Live Music Capital of the World, so I’m taking the “practice makes perfect” approach to this creative outlet and hitting up as many shows as I can, determined to learn how to use my camera to get the results I want.  Wannabe photographers like myself residing in and around Austin are at a distinct advantage in this field due to the endless opportunities to practice the art of live music photography, not only because there are dozens of shows around town every night of the year, but also because smaller Austin venues don’t mind us bringing in our DSLRs and camera bags and clicking away near the front of the stage.  This is something to be very thankful for.

Anyway, I was at Hole in the Wall a couple of weeks ago to see The Preservation play their first show ever, and I had a new lens to play with, a 50mm f/1.4 that I hoped would be much, much better than my old 50mm f/1.8.  This is the most expensive piece of glass I have ever purchased, and I will surely experience marked anguish and remorse with each interest-laden payment I make to my credit card.  And while the lens certainly does not make me a better photographer, it is easier to use and more adaptable in the painful low light conditions of Hole in the Wall’s front-room stage than my old 50mm f/1.8.

For all those hundreds of dollars, there were only two photos I was even close to happy with when I got home that night, and the colors and noise were so bad I ended up converting them to black and white in an attempt to spare myself some embarassment.

Tip Bucketthe-preservation-20091221-av-1

Perhaps more importantly, The Preservation, made up of Mario Matteoli (of Weary Boys fame) and his wife Cayce Marsh, Andy Bianculli, Ben Burdick, and Josh Weinholt (of Slowtrain), was a pleasure to hear.  They play some nice mellow rock, and it’s really fun to see Andy Bianculli’s guitar style meshed with Mario’s leads.  I’ll probably cover these guys in more depth later this year, as I am sure they will only get better as they play more gigs.

Anyway, I’m going to keep practicing live music photography because I enjoy it and I am determined to get those clean, crisp shots like the pros, and I will very likely continue to share the results with the readers of this blog.  Hopefully you will give me some feedback and possibly even throw some tips at me if you happen to be experienced with this medium.

6 Responses to “I Suck At Live Music Photography”

  1. Hans Watson

    Part of it could be the lighting at the clubs you frequent. I personally love when I get assignments to shoot at Elysium on Red River because they always seem to have good lighting which means I can use faster shutter speeds and lower iso.

  2. Marshall Stokes

    Thanks Hans, that’s pretty much what I have determined, the clubs I am doing most of my shooting at have pretty terrible lighting for photography. I just got home from Red 7 where one of my favorite bands, Frantic Clam, was playing on the inside stage. I didn’t even get my camera out for that one because they weren’t running the spotlights, just a single compact fluorescent above the stage, it was dismal. Of course, the show was great, because those guys are excellent musicians, but I was bummed about the lighting. On the outside stage, however, where Milk Thistle was playing, the lighting was much better, and I will be posting some photos from that show soon if any of them turn out.

    Anyway, thanks for the tip, I’ll have to try out Elysium some time, I haven’t been in there with a camera yet

  3. ARH

    That picture with the tip jar in focus is awesome! Really captures the true essence of Hole In The Wall. Keep shooting man, looking forward to seeing more pics.

  4. michele

    I agree with ARH – the tip jar pic is awesome! It’s a great reminder to tip your favorite bands, especially if there isn’t a cover.

  5. Peter Stanley

    fool, you don’t need a fancy camera to take good show shots. In fact, you must revel in the difficiencies of your camera. I only have an iPhone, but I have taken great pictures, if you will look at my album collection. Take this shot for instance:


    It took me 15 shots over 2 minutes to get this one.

  6. Peter Stanley

    PS If a band really likes a picture that they want to use for a poster but it’s low res, then use it for a template for an impressionist painting.

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