A Brazilian colleague was in town... and the last time he was here he'd discovered "Karaoke from Hell". The concept is simple enough -- it's like regular karaoke, but with a live band. So instead of drunkenly swaying and singing along to "I will survive" (or whatever your favoured tune of choice is) you get to rock out to one of 150 or so tracks backed up by 3 chaps on lead guitar, bass, and drums respectively.
For example, here's the man himself, from late last year.
So, he's back in town, and what do you know, it coincides with the last night of Karaoke from Hell before it goes on a summer hiatus, so it seemed only right and proper that we went along.
Now I like to consider myself to be an encourager of karaoke in others, rather than a committer of it, so I wasn't about to get up there and sing. Oh no. But it did afford me the opportunity to pretend to be shooting a rock concert, and get some practice in.
This is trickier than it sounds. In particular, trying to get a combination of shutter speed and aperture size plagued me throughout the evening. As you would expect the lighting was all over the shop -- very irregular, and frequently changing. Matters were not made any easier by singers who displayed an apparently preternatural talent for standing just outside the small circle of light from the (fixed) follow spot.
I was shooting with my venerable Canon 20D (must get around to buying a Canon 50D) with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens, which with the crop factor behaves like 80mm. I'd lugged my 580EX II flash along with me too, but a few test shots quickly showed that any hopes I had of being able to bounce the flash off something and get some benefit that way were forlorn, what with the walls and ceiling being predominantly black.
It quickly became apparent that a shutter speed any slower than 1/60s wasn't going to cut it, the singers were just moving too quickly for that to result in anything other than a blurry mess. So with that decided I was left with aperture and ISO to adjust.
I'd expected that I'd be shooting the whole night at the lens' widest aperture, f/1.8, but proved to be too wide, with too shallow a depth of field. Focus became very hit and miss; the singers were moving too fast, and, critically, a relative large distance to and from the lens for me to just manually focus on a single point, and the narrow depth of field meant that the autofocus had trouble too. At f/1.8 having someone's ear in focus meant that their eyes weren't.
So again, a process of trial and error meant that I settled on f/2.8 for much of the night, being the best compromise between depth of field and letting as much light in as possible. Those two constraints being set I didn't have much choice over the ISO setting. Anything less than ISO 400 resulted in unusable images, and I needed to push to ISO 800 for many shots.
I always shoot RAW rather than JPEG images, and this is a good example of why -- the extra colour depth afforded by the RAW format maximises the chance that detail will be retained that would otherwise be lost when shooting JPEGs.
The results are are at this Flickr set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nikclayton/sets/72157619124715603/. I filled up a 2GB card with these, which translates to approximately 250 photos, which I weeded down to 90 or so. They required a fair amount of post-processing, and even then many of them are only suitable for web use, as 1/60 and f/2.8 still resulted in some noticeable out of focus areas in a number of them.
Here are a few excerpts, with commentary.
This chap was singing "Jumpin' Jack Flash", and doing a very credible Mick Jagger impersonation, bouncing around the stage and moving his arms every which way. This shot is more or less straight off the camera, converted from RAW, with a little sharpening and correction for the red/cyan chromatic abberation that was particularly obvious around the top of his head. Zooming in it looks as though it's his right shoulder that's most in focus, but it still works at this sort of size.
Taken during the bridge in "Basket Case", which afforded the singer an opportunity to look moody and reflective by the mic. This has been quite heavily cropped from the original, to move the singer to the left hand third of the image, and make both him and the guitarist more prominent.
The original was lit very strongly with a purple/blue combination that didn't do it any favours, so I pushed the exposure a bit, strongly increased the colour temperature, and then desaturated the image somewhat to get back colours that are, if not more realistic, at least a bit nearer reality. This had the unexpected bonus of drawing attention to the different colour washes from the lighting on the singer and guitarist that divide the picture in two, which I find quite pleasing.
Again, this one is quite close to how it came off the camera, although cropped quite severely to focus on the singer. She had a habit of flicking her head to send her hair swinging from side to side, and I probably rattled off 20 or 30 shots trying to capture it before eventually getting this one that's acceptably sharp.
I like this one a lot. For a start, it's acceptably sharp (at least to me), and the lighting picking out the edge of Leonardo's face, forearm, and fingers around the mic work nicely. It's also clearly an action shot, as he's mid-song, and quite possibly mid-note.
And to top it all off, there's the arm of an anonymous audience member in shot throwing the goat. It doesn't get more metal than that :-)
I have no recollection of seeing that through the viewfinder, it was only apparent when I was weeding through the photos afterwards.
So, that was Karaoke from Hell. It starts up again later in the year, September or October I believe. So if you fancy yourself as a budding rock star just looking for a band then I suggest you get down there.