Shooting in the Dark

On Saturday, I faced a new challenge in gig photography. I was at the D’n’R bar on Arundel Gate, shooting Sukmunki, Into the Souls and Little Miss Machete. And it was pitch black. Well, I exaggerate, but only slightly. For the first two bands there was no lighting on the stage, or anywhere near. The only lights in the room were at the bar (about 25 feet away and around a corner) and at the mixing desk (right at the far end of the room, about 50 feet away). I could barely see the band, let alone photograph them.

Normally I relish low-light challenges, but this time I had to accept defeat and dig out my flash: even at f/1.4 and 3200ISO, it was pretty hard to produce any kind of result without flash (and even when I did, the “lighting” was too flat for it to be very interesting). But there were further challenges: it was so dark I could rarely see what the band was doing, hence I had to fire off shots pretty much at random and hope that I caught a few good ones. But, even worse, I could not focus: it was way too dark for auto-focus to work (the lens couldn’t pick out any contrasting areas), and it was also too dark to see anything but the most basic of forms through the viewfinder, I certainly couldn’t tell whether I had things in focus (and definitely couldn’t tell whether I had things anything like near enough in focus to work at f/1.4 or anything close). In the end I set my aperture to around f/9, to give me a good latitude for error, and I guessed the distance and focused manually. This seemed to work OK, eventually, although it took me about a set-and-a-half to perfect this approach. Even then, most of the band photos I took were pretty dull, it’s only the audience ones which I found very interesting. But, as with all such challenges, it’s another hurdle I’ve crossed at at least next time I arrive in a similar situation, I won’t feel quite so intimidated.

(Oh yeah, I’m also not sure whether it helped that, by the time the second act came on, I was pretty much blind drunk. Still, I always find that some of my best photos come from flailing the camera around wildly while slam-dancing and then pressing the trigger at what seem like opportune moments. Zen is my best friend!)