Miss ELM

I LOVE music.

Home, work, car or train there's usually some beats in my ears. You could be forgiven for thinking that would mean I know something about it. Nope. About all I know is that there's music I like, and music I don't. But that doesn't stop me enjoying it, and it sure won't stop me photographing it in action.

I first heard Miss ELM play when I lived in Queensland a few years back, so when I heard they were making the trip from Brisbane to Sydney to play at Oxford Arts Factory's Gallery Bar supported by two local acts I couldn't help heading into the city to enjoy some tunes and snap a few photos.

I've a long way to go with gig photography but I enjoy the challenge, so have a read, pick up some tips on camera ISO settings, and then pick up your camera! I'll focus on the photography, but if you're into indie music follow the links and support some good aussie talent, or better yet get out there and enjoy a show.

Little Hart

The opening act of the night was Sydney six-piece; Little Hart. Check them out on Facebook. So many talented singers & musicians for one small group.

Gig photography can be incredibly challenging, the venue is often dark, lighting where present is usually brightly coloured and constantly changing. I think though, that this is what makes it so enjoyable. 

Huckleberry Hastings

Next up was another Sydney local, solo artist Huckleberry Hastings.

This is the second time I've seen young Chris perform, and he didn't fail to amaze. Quickly flicking from the soft and sweet to teen angst at its most powerful. Check him out on Facebook or SoundCloud.

The lighting in Oxford Art Factory's Gallery Bar was static on the night, with strong red overhead lights and nothing to fill or backlight. This left me a little limited creatively, so I tried to concentrate on just catching the emoton. And if all else fails, there's always monochrome! 

Using Colour

Miss ELM, a four-piece from Brisbane, Queensland with a psycho pixie sound were the headline act of the night. Bringing some weird and wonderful instruments to a very fun sound. I thoroughly enjoyed the set and recommend checking out some of their free tracks on Triple J Unearthed or Facebook and if you like the sound, there's more available on iTunes or order the EP from their official website.

By the time Miss ELM was set to take the stage, I was a little more comfortable with the venue lighting. And to do that fabulous red hair justice I wanted to get some colour shots in the bag.


To catch the energy of a band on-stage, you need to capture the movement and emotion. Even with a nice fast lens (Most of these were taken with a 70-200mm @ F2.8) that often means increasing the ISO.

ISO is a bit tricky to explain clearly when it comes to digital SLR sensors. It used to refer to the light sensitivity of the film negatives. These days, technically, it's an exposure index, or the signal gain of the sensor.

Basically a trade-off is made between the amount of light information the sensor can process, and the quality of that light. A lower ISO will always produce a higher quality image than a higher ISO, so the general rule is to keep it as low as possible while still maintaining the shutter speed needed to get your shot.

Thankfully, ISO performance on modern DSLRs has come a long way since film. The Canon 700D has a native ISO range of up to 12800 (extendable to 25600, which doesn't increase the sensitivity of the sensor, but artificially boosts the exposure values by a stop after taking the shot), greatly opening up your options when shooting in low light. 

The above image (along with most others on this post) was taken at ISO 12800. On a better lit stage you can usually get away with ISOs of around 1600. For this shot, using 1600 would mean an shutter speed of 1/5th of a second. Far too slow for hand shooting a moving subject.

Thankfully, calculating which ISO to use is easier than adjusting shutter or aperture values. Doubling your ISO speed will mean you must double the shutter length, or widen aperture by one stop (one full F stop lower). For example, the following shots will produce equally exposed images (depending on lens characteristics):

1 sec @ F/5.6 - ISO 3200

1 sec @ F/4.0 - ISO 1600

1 sec @ F/2.0 - ISO 400

0.5 sec @ F/5.6 - ISO 6400

0.5 sec @ F/4.0 - ISO 3200

0.5 sec @ F/2.0 - ISO 800

As you can see as the light fails, you'll have to widen that aperture or up the ISO to get your shot. This is where photography gear can start to get expensive. Lenses with low F-stop numbers get pricey, as do DSLR bodies with good high ISO performance.

My recommendation (especially for crop sensor bodies that don't perform so well at high ISO values) is to get your hands on a F/1.8 or F/1.4 50mm lens. Cheap fast glass that's a great focal length to get started with.

Then when you're shooting, start with a low ISO and work your way up until you can get reliably sharp images free of motion blur.

Depth of Field

In the darkness of the Gallery Bar I had no choice but to shoot wide open (F/2.8), which we end up with quite a narrow depth of field.

While this is great for shots like the above, to isolate the subject. Given a bit more light however, it would have been great to frame two or more of the band members in a shot and have both in focus.

I guess this is what keeps us coming back as photographers, there's always a challenge and no end to the ways light can be captured. If you haven't tried gig photography yet, track down a local band in your area, and head along.

Most indie bands perform at venues without a cover charge, and would love a few shots of their performance, you might just make both your nights.


  • Nev O'Brien

    on June 22, 2014

    The first and the last are beautiful - love the colour!

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