Post Processing Workflow
So now we've done our shoots. Let's jump into the edit. Now before we jump into actually editing the photos, I wanted to go over my kind of philosophy and approach to editing music photography. There are a couple main considerations I have for editing when I approach live music photography. They're pretty much pretty common to what you would have for a normal photo shoot. They are technical, aesthetic, and then client or content related. For technical considerations, the main ones I evaluate are exposure, focus, motion blur. All these basic technical considerations that you might want for a technically perfect photo. As far as aesthetic considerations this is going to include lighting, composition, the moment itself, as well as subject considerations. And by the last thing I mean, is this image flattering to the subject? You might have a great moment but it might not be the best representation of a band member. And one thing you always want to do is put the band members in a flattering...
light for the most part. Because not only does it increase the appeal of the photo to the band as a client, to the management company, the their publicist, but it pays dividends for me as a photographer. You don't want to be known as someone who's going to be taking unflattering photos of any band. It's gonna give you a bad rap. So, as a photographer, I always want to present my subjects in the most flattering light, even if they're not the end client. And so, that's what I mean by subject considerations for aesthetics. As far as client or content considerations, these include hero moments. A client checklist, maybe there's a brand they want you to focus on specific elements of the shoot, and it doesn't mean telling the full story or presenting the band in a certain light. But it's about focusing on them and their experience for an event. In addition, there will be an editorial checklist, and this is like kind of any shoot you might have. This would include nailing key moments, kind of like these hero moments, but guest appearances. Maybe there's a fan artist interaction. You want to nail the front of house shot, the reverse shot, et cetera. And these are things that may not be your best shots but you want to include them in the final edit because they're important to telling that whole story of the show for whoever your client is, whoever the publication is, or even if it's for yourself. Overall, the intent of the edit is to satisfy your goal and tell the most complete story in the context of that goal. So, whether you're shooting for a publication, for a brand, for a sponsor, for the band, their management, whatever. You always want to consider their goals. What images are going to ladder up to accomplishing those goals, and deliver those to your fullest ability. As far as editing, I simply use a star rating system to tag my image selects. I'll usually do a one to maybe three or four, or five star system. In the first round of editing I will judge exclusively for aesthetics and the content. This is checking primarily for the aesthetics, the image content itself, rather than any technical details. So, I'll probably do one to three rounds of this kind of editing, just to ensure that I'm telling the story. Checking off images as I have them in my mind before zooming in, checking focus and so forth. Once you advance, the first round will be less critical. It's kind of anything that catches my eye. The second round of editing for two stars is going to be increasingly critical. Simply advancing in a positive way the images that are the best out of that set. Maybe you're shooting, at first you identify three out of five images from a moment. Let's say a guitar solo. In the next round of editing, you maybe cut that to two or one, and so on. After all aesthetic and content considerations, I would move onto the technical edit. This will be just zooming in. Is it in focus? Is it sharp? Is their motion blur that's acceptable to me or not? And if it's not, I would probably either negatively flag those, or simply advance on the photos that satisfy those considerations, that are technically perfect. Again, this is my preference. I like to be a technical shooter. It's satisfying and challenging to me. But, if you have other considerations you obviously would want to factor those in to how you edit. If you are fine with a little motion blur and it achieves and kind of accomplishes that goal. Maybe an image might not be technically perfect but it satisfies a storytelling element. The client wants that shot. It is otherwise a compelling photo. Obviously by all means it's gonna make the final select. The last part of my edit is to go back. I will kind of look at all the images, these are maybe the four or five star images at this point, that have kind of satisfied both aesthetic considerations, technical considerations, and so forth. But then I'll kind of go back, look to see if there were any holes. In that editing process, did I cut an image that maybe again is not an A plus image, but it helps fulfill and satisfy part of that client goal, editorial goal, et cetera. And if there are those images, this is going back, let's say I'm at five stars now, I'll go back to the three or four star selects. See if any are filling holes that I want to put in, and then advance those images. And after completing all the steps, I'll have my final edit. And ideally I'm aiming to deliver about five to 10%. Ideally maybe even a little less than five percent. I might shoot hundreds of images for a band. Certainly if I'm on tour, shooting maybe 1,000 images a night. But, I only really want to deliver let's say 50 or 100 selects. Not only because these are the best images and I don't want to show anythings that's not the best or that's not satisfying client goals, the editorial goals. But, I don't want to process any more images than I have to. I don't want to have to export or deal with any volume more than the best single product that I'm putting out. Now moving on, after selecting my edits I will move onto processing. And, in processing for live music photos I really try to keep a pretty naturalistic approach. I'm not trying to depart dramatically from reality. I'm not trying to go for an HDR image for example with my music photography. I want to keep it looking pretty natural, or maybe just a little bit better than reality. And maybe an idealized view. And by idealized, for the cleanest look for example, if the lighting maybe had a magenta cast, instead of keeping that which was very true to reality, a magenta cast, I might try to neutralize that cast so that it was pure white for example. Just because it might have more aesthetic impact. It's gonna have a look that you might prefer. And for the person who was not at the show they might prefer that look. If someone even was at the show, and they see the two images next to each other, they might prefer the cleaner look, and that's my personal preference, and the way I certainly process. As far as adjustments that I do, I use Adobe Lightroom. I'm really sticking to the basic adjustments pretty much in the Development pane. Because I'm really not looking to spend more than an couple seconds on any photo. I'm adjusting in this order, exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, white balance, and the black point. Maybe adding dehaze or clarity, but not going too far beyond that. Beyond these raw adjustments, I will crop to any kind of geometric or optical adjustments that I need to, level the photo and so forth. But that's really it. That's all I want to do for any given live music, for the basic delivery. And the point of this again is expediency. If I'm editing or processing 50 to 100 photos for a show or even if it's less, 20 photos, I still don't want to spend that much time on it. I'm really aiming to spend 10 seconds or less, at most, 10 or 20 seconds in doing the edit, and I'm gonna call it good. So as far as editing software, I use Camera Bits Photo Mechanic, and I love using this software because it's so fast. For editing photos, for going between photos, there's nothing faster for me. It's much faster than using Adobe Lightroom to edit, simply because Photo Mechanic uses the built-in JPEG from the RAW file instead of trying to build its own preview. And so going between files is so much faster. In addition, Photo Mechanic has great ITPC metadata editing capabilities, and it's just a super lightweight streamlined piece of software that kind of has one single goal. And I use it exclusively for editing that is choosing the photos that I want to deliver as selects. And so, as you can see here, there's zero lag between going through the photos. It's really easy to make my selects this way. And, especially if there's a sequence of images where here I can go between them with zero lag as fast as I want. So, right now we're jumping into the bare X portraits, and we basically have five final selects from this series. These are just the unedited RAW photos. What we're looking at here now is the first look. This is the band on stage. A little bit of light on the background from the key light. This is one of the last looks from that five, 10 minute shoot we had with them on stage. This next shot, this is the stairwell shot. Again, super quick, and the best photo from that sequence. Here's the first look from the outdoor location. This is them sitting on that, kind of on the curb, sitting on that stoop. Again I like the graphic band below them. This was with the SoftLighter and just bouncing the ambience with a little bit of that flash look. Here is that same location, just pivoting about 45 degrees. I'm not shooting right down the sidewalk, but kind of shooting into that wall. Just having a little more depth. And a little bit here you see that John is a little bit of a looser look is in contrast to some of the earlier portraits of the group. And finally this is one of the last looks we did. We had four frames in this location, and just a little bit of a more relaxed look from the group. All right, just jumping into the edits. I'm gonna pick, just these two exterior shots just because I feel like it captures the personality of the band a little more. A little bit more levity as opposed to the seriousness of that first interior shot. This one looks pretty solid to me. I mean, again I'm just making super basis adjustments. It's just kind of by feel. So, for this, just increasing, for again all the basic edits I do is for the most part, if I were to generalize I probably do a minor exposure bump, increase to the contrast, bring down the highlights, increase the shadows a little bit. This just gives it, for me, makes the image a little less flat, all these adjustments. And for me, produces a tonality that I like. I mean the white balance here looks pretty good to me. This is mixing with the ambient light. And in seeing the final photo I'm pleased with the location because one of the reasons we picked this spot was for the foliage, the way these leaves would hopefully pick up the light from the strobe. And, I think it's a nice contrast for the band. And that's pretty much all that I'd spend on this initial edit for a portrait like this. Again, just ideally a few seconds. Now going to the first location. Again, this is pretty much spot on, roughly, ballpark I would say. The histogram looks solid. No kind of glaring errors to me. Again, maybe bumping the exposure a little bit. Increasing contrast, bringing down the highlights, because you know, Matt's hair, it's practically white. It's gonna be prone to blowing out a lot, pretty much first out of anything in the scene. Increasing shadows a little bit. And this is, again pretty much the extent of what I do up front. You might do tone curves, but for me, this is a proof for example certainly. Not heavily retouching the portrait. This is good enough to export at first blush. So moving on, we're gonna jump into the Low Hums shoot. These are six photos from that. It's kind of just a super classic one person music shot. Drummer, sorry the bass player, guitarist. More of a group shot, not quite getting all five members. The drummer shot, you don't forget the drummer. Another super standard kind of lead singer wailing shot. And for this particular photo, I crouched down a little bit. I like doing that even at small venues and particularly at small venues because with small venues you're often dealing with a very low stage. And so, for me, getting a lower vantage point kind of creates a different angle. Something that you might have if you had a higher stage. And it's more reminiscent of what you would have for a larger band playing a larger venue. And so, I feel this kind of gives a nice feel to even small bands. It makes them a little more kind of heroic looking. Like you're literally looking up at them as opposed to being eye level. So it's a minor trick that can dramatically change the feel of your images. In addition, if you're kind of right on top of the band and all their heads are kind of in the same plane, by getting a lower vantage point, those at the front are going to be higher in the frame. So here, lead singer Jonas, just creates a little hierarchy between the band members. And this shot, this is a shot of the bassist. And this is a shot that happened at the very end of the set. Where in contrast to how he was performing for the rest of the show, he kind of got a little saucier. He was putting his foot up on the wedge, and a little more just of a full up shot. This was shot with totally ambient lighting so it's not the most beautiful in terms of the color rendition. But for me, it has a nice feel for what would otherwise be a small club show. All right, just jumping into processing. So this shot, it's a little darker than a lot of the other photos. But what I love about this photo, for me, is that while it doesn't capture the whole brand it captures four members of this five piece. And you can see all them pretty clearly, and most importantly for me, they're all looking pretty good. Especially the Jonas, lead singer, and Mike the drummer. I especially love the drum sticks above his head. For me it just adds to the dynamism of the shot. And this is kind of a classic editorial shot that you want to run, because it showcases most of the band. So, again, looking at increasing the exposure here. Upping contrast, although it's contrasting now just because I'm bringing down the highlights and increasing the shadows. That's going to naturally decrease the contrast of the photo. And so, I'll automatically bump the contrast up first, even before making those adjustments. That's looking pretty good. So, because in this shot we're mixing both speed lights and the ambient stage lighting, there is some mixing of the color casts. For the ambient stage lighting, there was a little bit of magenta cast to those LED lights. And well, by contrast, the speed lights have a very neutral white light look to them. For me I don't mind mixing it in this sense because you might expect in a live performance for there to be color gels, for the lighting to be a little bit off white. So, for me this little warmer look on Jonas in contrast to the rest of the band still feels pretty natural, and it's not something I would really worry about to the extent of say converting to black and white. But, if you did for example convert to black and white, you could probably push the exposures and kind of the contrast even more to punch up that detail. But, I almost never convert to black and white, unless there are extenuating circumstances. I like to keep my files in color. So for this, it's looking pretty good. I think that the framing, nothing's cut off, so I probably wouldn't adjust framing, at least on export. If an editor wanted to crop into it, obviously totally fine. For this drummer shot, this is an instance where I was using speed lights. Again there's a speed light under Mike's drum kit here. But I did turn off the front lights on the right and left part of the stage. Just so that the band members in the front, the guitarist, lead singer Jonas, were more in shadow and had less exposure on them. This is an instance where with a five piece band the shooting angles are extremely tight. And getting a clean shot of Mike here was really difficult. And so this was one solution that I took by keeping him illuminated by speed light. Killing the lights that would be falling on the other two band members so that they're falling back in the frame and not distracting from them. Previous shots that I had with this before killing those two front lights, the other band members were much more illuminated, and a lot more distracting. While as in this shot, Mike is the hero here, and obviously don't forget the drummer. So again, little bit bump to exposure. Increasing contrast. Maybe dial the highlights back. You know, you have a little bit in the drum kit, the cymbals. Kind of highlights on Mike himself. Shadows, black point looks good. I'd call it good at this point. So for Wild Powwers, Lupe the drummer was just this kinetic force on stage, and I loved photographing her. A lot of my favorite photos from the set were of Lupe. This is a shot that was shot with just the ambient lighting. And looking, and this was shot at ISO 6400, 1/800 of a second, which is my preferred way of shooting drummers to freeze that motion, at f/2.8. As you can see it's a little dark, which is fine with me. It achieved my goals of freezing the motion and if it's a moodier shot, that's fine with me. Another shot, shot ambience. And another instance of freezing motion, shooting at 1/800 of a second here at ISO 3200. But you get really crisp frozen motion in Lupe's hair. I love the expression on her face. Here's a shot of Jordan, up front and center, and I love Jordan playing at the front of the stage. It was really fun for me to play with the perspective distortion, and putting him really close up, shooting at 14 millimeters with a Nikon 14 to 24, and playing with the depth in the frame. Here's a fisheye shot. Shot overhead of Lupe that shows all three band members and the crowd there. It's not my favorite shot in this set but I think it could be an interesting kind of editorial vantage point. Simply because it shows all three band members and the crowd themselves. Which is a more unique point of access. And if you had that access, it's something you're probably gonna want to show off if you have it. A pretty standard shot of Laura, singer and guitarist. And, one of my kind of second favorite shots of Lupe. Here I just love the kind of combination of calm that she shows, this effortless performance while still having energy of a drummer that you're naturally going to have. All right, so jumping into processing this photo. If I again start with the basic adjustments that I would generally do. Increase exposure, pump the contrast a little bit. Maybe increase the shadows. Here we're looking at a color cast. This is looking at the natural stage lighting which was very kind of, what, purple magenta here. Could dial that back a little bit. Increase that. As you adjust the tint and white balance you might introduce, well you might neutralize the color cast that you're looking at originally. Things still might start to get weird. So you have to kind of use your own judgment on what looks good to you. Magenta thankfully is one of the colors that's easier to correct for with LED lighting. It's pretty easy to dial that back, unlike some others. Simply because here in Adobe Lightroom we have the green magenta slider that can pretty easily take care of that cast. Now, Jordan's looking a little cool here. So just increase the kelvin. Here's an instance where I might increase the curves for the highlights a little bit. Again this is maybe slightly loose. You could see cropping in a little bit for a portfolio shot. If this was mine and something I wanted to include I might come in a little more. But, if you're delivering these files for an editor, they may want that extra negative space to play with in the composition, depending on what the placement's gonna be. But I like how Jordan's elbow is kind of mimicking the frame, the corner of the frame here. So, could crop there. Overall I'm gonna leave the light in on the right side of the frame. I don't like cutting lights off for the most part. So if there's an intact light I'm gonna leave it, and leave that negative space. It's something where, again if it's used in an editorial capacity, that negative space is something the art editor might want. Let's say this is running double truck in a magazine, having a headline there is something that you might want to compose for, and deliver the files for for the end result. Now in contrast to the last shot, this is a shot of Lupe, but lit primarily with speed lights. And I say primarily because there's still a little bit of the ambient stage lighting that's factoring into the exposure. But not to a massive degree. This is shot at ISO 400, which for a concert is kind of unheard of. And one of the benefits of shooting with speed lights. And, since this is a lower ISO shot you're going to be able to push the processing a little more if you wanted to. And still have plenty of latitude in the file, and image quality. And then, as you can see there's flare in the upper left of the frame. I don't think it's something that I'd necessarily want to crop out, but that's certainly a possibility. Overall, that's kind of up to your discussion. Again, if you're delivering the file for editorial, you're gonna wanna leave that room. It's gonna be up to the editor, the art editor's choice. But if you wanted to minimize that for example, you could do that. Crop in. If for example this little kind of hazing was bothering you, you could additionally apply a gradient layer that's gonna kind of kill that and like just tone it down just a hair if you wanted to. But, otherwise, this is about as much as I would do on an initial processing for this photo. All right, now lastly, at the very, very end of this set, just snapped two portraits. A few portraits of Wild Powwers. The two that I selected for the end are super similar. I mean the shoot took all of a couple minutes. Had the band post up against some of the signature yellow curtains of Barboza, and got two looks out of that. One, simply serious. Told them to sit down, this was the natural look they gave me. It's not often that I tell a band to smile. I kind of judge what energy they're bringing to a shoot. And if I sense that there's more levity, that they want to be a more goofy band, I might try to draw that out. But this is how they sat down, and it's a pretty natural, serious, more kind of like stoic look. And I think it complements their music which is this awesome kind of classic Seattle grunge. Really sludgy and just raw. So I kind of like this more serious look that you're getting from Laura in the middle. But in addition, just asking them because I had seen them display a little more goofy side, and be fine with a lighter look to their band image. Just asking them to smile. And here is a lighter look. And so being able to give a photo editor two different looks depending on what angle let's say, an article, or an editorial piece is going to take, are just good options. Serious, lighter, moodier, brighter, all these kind of things are things you would want to consider if you were shooting for an editorial client. Just giving them options. All right, we've covered the tips and tricks for shooting live music. The technique, dealing with harsh lighting, dealing with red lighting. The business side, getting your first photo pass. Hooking up with publications and getting paid. We've covered scouting locations for artist portraits, photographing those portraits, photographing the live shows for two separate bands in small challenging venues. And if you can shoot in these small venues you're gonna set yourself up for success in photographing the biggest venues with ease. Now we've given you all the tools you need to start your journey as a music photographer. I can't wait to see the images you create, and I'll see you in the photo pit.