Ian Soliva’s photography first came to my attention as a result of some comments he left on a few of our posts. I visited his blog and was impressed with his concert photography: his perspective and mastery of the light in these challenging venues was excellent, and I was surprised to learn that Ian is still an amateur photog! After some correspondence, I invited Ian to be a Featured Photographer on 2 Guys Photography. I think you’ll enjoy his photos and find his technique inspiring. Enjoy!
Please tell us a little about yourself Ian.
I work in an architectural firm in Singapore and am an Architect by profession. I was born & raised in the Philippines.
How and why did you became interested in concert photography?
As a start, I used to be a musician, well not professionally, but as a hobby, so music was already embedded inside me. Second, I love street photography but I do not have the patience & the courage to capture “the right moment”. I also love portraiture but having to learn the technical aspects of strobing, I gave up. Concert photography is rooting out the best things in street photography & portraiture. In street, you aim to capture “the moment”. But before you get that keeper, it takes a lot of patience & hard work. In portraiture, you seek the appropriate lighting & in order to achieve that, you need to haul in additional equipment to modify the existing scene. With concert photography, you strip out all the patience & technical aspects of lighting & you are left with capturing the moment drenched with beautiful lights surrounding your subjects all served in a silver platter. All you need to do is to frame it correctly.
Do you shoot professionally, as a hobby, or both? If not professionally – do you envision when that day may come?
Photography is purely a hobby. Currently, I’m still enjoying it as a past time activity & I really haven’t thought of doing it professionally. Maybe because I’m still struggling with it & it hasn’t subsided in my system yet.
What equipment do you use? Is there other equipment you wish you had that would improve your ability to make great concert photos?
I am a prime lens user & I’m still happy with my current set-up. I have a Nikon D700, which is an ISO beast. I have the Nikon 24mm 2.8D that I use for small clubs. It’s light & it doesn’t intrude when shooting from tight spaces. I have the Nikon 50mm 1.8D, which I pair with the 24mm for small clubs for tighter shots. I have the Nikon 135mm f2 which I use for larger venues. I also have the Nikon 70-300 which I don’t use for concerts due its smaller aperture. I would love to have a fisheye to break the monotony.
Please give us the technical aspects of how you expose your subjects — what mode and settings do you use for shooting?
Most of my concerts were shot using aperture priority mode while I limit my shutter speed at 1/125 minimum to prevent blurring. I always shoot wide open regardless of the lens in order to maximize the light coming in. That means I set my aperture at f2.8 for 24mm 2.8D, f1.8 for 50mm 1.8D, & f2 for 135mm F2 DC. As for the ISO, I always leave it at auto but limiting it to a maximum of 6400. This is where the Nikon D700 steps in as compared to my previous camera which is the Nikon D90. I can never produce usable concert shots with the D90’s ISO above 1600. I never use flash on concerts because it kills the ambient light. I think the performers would also prefer no flash photography.
As for my metering, I normally use spot & lock my focus on the performers’ faces. I always set my focus point at the upper right or upper left so that when I focus on the performers, they are automatically situated nearest to 1/3 of the frame to follow the rule of thirds. My initial aim is get the exposure of the faces right. That is also my direction during post processing stage; that’s why I rely so much on the highlight clipping indicator of the Adobe Raw Converter. I sometimes use the adjustment brush on the ACR to retrieve the clipped highlights on the faces before using the ‘Recovery’ tool. As for the clipped shadows, I normally leave them. I like the grain pattern of the D700 so I rarely use the noise reduction plug-in in Photoshop. I only reduce noise when noise banding occurs. This usually happens when there is a stream of excess light running horizontally across the frame.
What software do you use for editing your images?
I use Adobe Camera Raw converter for about 98% of my post processing stage (exposure, highlight & shadow retrieval, & white balance) . The remaining 2% is exporting it to Photoshop for sharpening & noise reduction (if needed) & jpeg conversion.
What is the most challenging part of concert photography?
Honestly, as a beginner, the most challenging part is sneaking in your DSLR inside the venue. Haha!
Lighting is an aspect of photography that challenges many of us, and you seem to have mastered the dim and unpredictable lighting found in concert venues. How do you approach lighting for your shots, what do you look for, what is your secret to success??
The first thing that I do when I arrive at the venue is to know the location of the red & blue lights & where they are casting. I try to avoid an angle where these lights cast 100% on the faces of the performers as much as possible since they are very hard to control during post processing stage. I try to orient myself such that they are hitting only a portion of the subjects, thus creating a gelled rim light. If the location is unavoidable, I envision the shot to be in black & white. I also observe how the lights move & I situate myself in an area where these lights interact with the performers or vice versa.
Do you encounter any restrictions about photographing concerts? Do artists or their management ever object? How do you handle that?
So far, I haven’t received any threats yet from any artist or management. I was only given a photo pass once & it was because the group that I belong to (Making Arts in Singapore through Photography) was a media partner. We were advised to embed a watermark of the organizer’s logo when posting & that’s it.
Where do you see yourself going with photography?
For now, I am still in a learning curve & trying to get hold of the concept of how photography works so there are so many things I need to explore. I am currently enjoying concert photography, so at least I know which direction I am heading. I’ll try to attend as many shows as I can to build up my portfolio & hope to shoot the big boys someday.
Is there any other information, thoughts, and advice you’d like to share with our 2 Guys audience Ian?
A lot of photo hobbyists love to shoot. For me, it’s best if you shoot what you love. You get to be intimate with your passion & it reflects on the outcome of your photographs.
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I love that last point Ian: “It’s best if you shoot what you love”, and you certainly do.
Thanks for sharing your work and your perspective with us Ian. To view more of Ian Soliva’s concert and other photography, please visit his blog here. Also, for his latest post on Singapore Formula One Racing with some amazing race car panning images, please take a look here.
And please feel free to comment and leave us your photography website address – we will take a look as we are always looking for emerging talent to share with our readers. Thanks for visiting 2 Guys Photo. Posted by Ed