The premise is, though, that a good camera is needed to take powerful shots at concerts. Often, compact digital cameras just lack the capabilities which allow to work in such difficult conditions. For example, they usually focus slowly (in low light conditions might fail to focus at all) and their sensors are quite noisy even at low ISO. So what I am going to say mostly applies to DSLR cameras; however, I will go into more general considerations too, that hopefully can make this article interesting also for photographers who don't use a DSLR.
When shooting at live concerts, not only jazz ones, you will have to deal with low and continuously changing lightning, and with moving subjects. In addition, most of the times you will not be allowed to move freely around the stage: it is quite probable that you will even be forbidden to leave your seat, unless you have some special permission as an official photographer.
As to regards the last issue, I recommend to always have a telephoto lens at hand, better if stabilized. If possible, choose your seat so that you have a good sight of the whole stage. Note that central places aren't by default the best option: it depends on the placement of instruments, musicians and microphones. Remember that jazz musicians love to have the instruments placed following a sort of "tradition": looking at the stage from the hall, the piano should be on the left and the drums on the right. The other instruments will have their place between them, and the bass will be right in the middle most of the times. Keep in mind that it is a matter of relative, not absolute, positions: sometimes the first row of seat does not offer the best perspective of view all over the stage. You will learn that mike rods suck. Music stands suck even more. Front line musicians, if they aren't your main subject, suck really terribly.
If you are allowed to move around, be polite. People are there to enjoy the concert, not your silohuette in front of the stage. Try to shoot from ground up: you will not annoy spectators and you'll also get interesting compositions and perspectives, that way. Always remember that many DSLR cameras produce an audible click when shooting: if you are in the audience, you'd better avoid to take shots while the musicians play very softly.
If there are other photographers around, don't be selfish. After long shooting from the uniquely good position you have found, move and leave it available for others. Cohoperate with other photographers: it will be appreciated and, very often, the courtesy will be given back. Look at them carefully while they shoot, you can learn by example: where do they shoot from? How do they try to portray? When do they shoot? Do they review the photos they have just taken, and how often?
Now, we go into some technical details. As said above, a long lens can be very useful, especially if you will be shooting relatively far from the stage. But it is a must if you want to focus on details and portraits, even if you can reach the stage and shoot from a very short distance. Most of the times I mount my 70-300mm lens and don't even carry with me my 17-85mm lens: there's obviously much of personal in this choice. If you think that the concert will offer a great lightning or scenography, you will definitely have difficulties with a telephoto lens.
As to regards settings, after trying several configurations I found full manual mode to be convenient. It allows to check what changes are caused by which parameters: the goal is to find a set of values that only need to be slightly adjusted from time to time during the show. Letting the camera on its own usually does not yield good results, since it may react to something uninteresting from a human point of view. For example, the aperture priority mode can unespectedly raise the shutter time, in response to momentarily changes in lighting, thus causing blur in the photos.
The major issue of shooting at jazz concerts is lightning. While rock and pop live concerts photographers enjoy a very powerful lightning most of the times, jazz musicians often play in a more intimate atmosphere, that is created also through low lightning. Good for listeners, less good for photographers. And the usual behavior of musicians, who never stand still, doesn't help. The result is that usually you will shoot with maximum aperture (minimun f/number) and high ISO to have chanches to use a fast enough shutter time. This is where you will notice the difference between SLR and compact cameras, the latter possibly having autofocus problems in addition to producing a disturbing digital noise in images taken even with a not so high ISO setting. After a few concerts, your own eyes will suggest you good settings; however, some simple rules of thumb allow to define a reasonable set of parameters as a starting point.
I will describe them in the second part of this news. Now, enjoy with me some cool live concert shots I found here on DA.
:thumb68890056: :thumb68434953: :thumb68401784: