Challenging Light and Great Music: A Night at Neumo’s in Seattle

“Cool” I thought to myself. I get to photograph some bands. For fun.

Fan Fiction keyboardist William Bernhard.

The music was thumping against the wall. My ears were ringing, but the sound was pleasing.

Pillow Army bassist Tim McClanahan

Local Seattle bands Smile Bridge, Fan Fiction, Pillow Army, and Exohxo were playing at Neumos on Capitol Hill. Fun times. The tunes and tones brought me back to my youth and when I listened to the new type of music called alternative.

Smile Brigade guitarist Jesse Boggs

Local bands have always rocked.

Though the stage was lit like a dungeon from the Middle Ages, I still had a great time shooting. It’s challenges like this that get my blood going.

How far can I push my digital camera? How slow of a shutter can I use and still get sharp images?

The lights behind the band were extremely bright and created a bright rim light, whereas the main lights in front were dim by comparison. I measured the light with my handheld light meter and it showed the stage to be poorly and unevenly lit.

Set at ISO 1600, the readings for an aperture of f/2.8, the bright spots were at 1/250th, and the dimmer areas, at 1/30th. A 3-stop range. And to top it off, the singers were not situated in the bright spots.

Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.

Fan Fiction/Pillow Army drummer Paul Culala

So I set my camera on manual. After metering the ambient light, I knew about how to expose the bands. When I went to darker areas, I set my shutter speed lower. Vice verse when the band member was in the light.

Pillow Army violinist Rachel Sage

Learn to override your in-camera meter (which meters reflected light) and expose correctly. Usually, you should underexpose by 2 stops. All that black, the flashing lights, the high contrast, fools your camera’s meter.

If you can’t change the light, work with it. Move, adjust exposure, change lenses. Whatever it takes.

Pillow Army frontman Tim Franklin

Then set your white balance to tungsten. Manually set it, then forget it. All the colored gels will trick your camera and it will give you the wrong white balance anyway.

If you don’t know what type of lights are being used, ask a stage hand prior to the show. They’ll help.

Setting the correct white balance on your camera is important as your meter takes into account what the white balance is when determining the exposure.

So many times I tell people to learn to hold your camera by steadying yourself and making yourself into a tripod. To pre-compose and then wait for the moment.

To not just look for photos, but to “see” and “feel” the image.

Pillow Army violinists play to the crowd

It’s better to shoot 100 good photos than 1000 O.K. pictures. Pre-visualizing helps keep you on track and focused, so to speak.

Aim for the Photograph with a capital “P,” rather than picture with a small “p.”

Thanks for stopping by and reading. Happy shooting.

Paul Conrad

Pablo Conrad Photography


  1. you got the drummer .. no one ever gets the drummer … i just wanna say i love the “up close and personal” feel of all these shots .. great job Pablo !! wow just WOW !! time and time again you take the worst light situations and make them your friends .. you make this look easy when we all know ITS SOOO HARD !!


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