Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bo Diddley 1929-2008

Yesterday the world lost a great and influential musician, Bo Diddley. He was a great blues guitarist and one of the pioneers of rock and roll guitar playing, and was very instrumental in developing the sound of rock and roll. Bo Diddley created the "Bo Diddley beat", a staccato style of playing that has been copied by such performers as the Rolling Stones and many others. Bo Diddley was known not only for the "Bo Diddley beat" but also for his signature square shaped Gretsch guitar which was reportedly designed to mimic the guitar that he had built out of a cigar box as a child.

I was fortunate to have been able to photograph this guitar legend a few years ago at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX. The lighting in the theatre was very dim, so it was absolutely necessary to have a fast lens. To shoot this concert I brought along my D200 with a Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8.

In a situation like this, where the light is dim and you have a performer who is moving quite a bit, Vibration Reduction (VR) lenses are all but useless. Nothing will get a good sharp image but a fast shutter speed. Therefore shooting wide open is just about the only way to go.

Even with a fast aperture lens it was necessary to crank up the camera's ISO setting. To get a good sharp image in dim lighting you sometimes need to make the trade-off of capturing an image with a bit of noise. For this particular venue setting I chose an ISO of 1250, which gave me a shutter speed of about 1/250. This shutter speed was about the minimum acceptable speed I could shoot at without getting camera shake blur from hand-holding the camera with a telephoto lens. With the D200, ISO 1250 shows an acceptable amount of noise and I was able to print this image up to 13X9 with pretty good results.

In order to make the most of the available light I chose to use spot metering. Spot metering reads the light and sets the exposure reading the light off of just a small spot of the intended subject. With the D200 and a CPU lens the spot meter is tied to the active focus point so there is no need to meter using the center point then recompose for the shot.

 Using Matrix metering, which takes a reading of the entire scene, would have resulted in the camera trying to expose to capture detail in all of the dark, shadowy areas of the stage behind Bo Diddley. This would cause my exposure times to be much longer giving me shots that had both camera shake and motion blur and also possibly over-exposing the subject. 

Choosing spot metering allowed me to control what the most important area of the scene to expose for. Since the main focus of the image was Bo Diddley I wasn't concerned about what was lurking in the shadow areas and spot metering caused those areas to go black giving the image a lot of contrast and allowing Bo to stand out as the main subject.

One of the most important things for photographing in a setting like this is to be sure your exposure is "dead on". Under-exposed images show excessive amounts of noise in dark areas, and it's often almost impossible to correct in post-production, especially if the subject is relatively dark. 

Over-exposing the image gives you some of the same problems since the shadow areas will show excessive noise. Fortunately, in a low-light setting such as this you can use curves or levels adjustment or a camera RAW adjustment in post-processing to bring an overexposed  back down a bit although any blown-out highlights will still be lost. 

The most important thing you can do when photographing a scene like this is to check your histogram to be sure that your exposure is right. Nothing, not even shooting in RAW, will give you a good solid image like capturing the perfect exposure as you shoot.


Marina Miller said...

you know, I am quite impressed with your ability to nail the exposure of both shots. I do extensive low light photography with a D200 and find myself SO frustrated with the noise. I guess I should really push the limits with the higher ISOs and focus more on getting it right in camera, regardless of raw or jpeg.

DSP Custom Photography / Dead Sailor Productions said...

Thanks for compliment Marina.

I actually learned this the hard way. I was shooting some bands without flash and I couldn't get a fast enough shutter speed at ISO 800, which is where I'd ideally shoot in low-light if I had the choice.

I decided that maybe I should try to underexpose to get a faster shutter speed to freeze the movement, then I'd push the exposure in Adobe Camera Raw.

Well, what happened was that my noise levels ended up being much worse than if I'd have just shot at ISO 1600 in the first place.

Sometimes that's how you learn, trial and error...

Marina Miller said...

yeah, I am learning....

ps, you can see my recent band photography at 808shows.com/blog