Step-by-Step Guide to Rock & Roll Photography

Rock and roll isn’t just about music; it’s about attitude. It’s four-lettered and raw, maybe unhinged, definitely primal, and, frankly, it doesn’t give a damn what you think. Capturing that kind of spontaneous, devil-may-care spirit takes a lot of setup, though. In this video, photographer Eric Levin shares the secrets to one of his favorite successes—a shot of the band Ice Nine Kills featuring frontman Spencer Charnas flashing the old Johnny Cash two-fingered salute:

As with all things photography, having the right equipment for the job is key. To get that grungy hard rock feel, Levin pulls out some pretty fancy gear. He starts with his four foot wide HalfDome strobe, up on a boom and outfitted with a grid to limit the light it puts out. For greater lighting control, a black muslin is set up to eliminate any ambient light that won’t be from within the frame of the shot. Finally, there’s a smoke machine, because whatever, man. That stuff just looks cool.

Before he goes ahead with the official shoot, Levin takes several test shots to make sure he’s got the right exposure settings. In addition to working out the aperture to shutter speed relationship, he’s also made sure to sync the strobe with the beginning of the exposure, before the quick zoom in he makes with the lens. There’s just too much light if the flash pops near the end, when he’s fully zoomed in and the lit background window takes up a larger portion of the frame.

rock and roll band photography

Having worked out the flash sync timing, Levin sets the exposure for his Nikon D3S like so:

  • Aperture: 8.0
  • Shutter Speed: 1/8
  • ISO: 400

At this point he’s ready to do it for real. Because all the technical kinks have been worked out in advance, getting a final product goes pretty quickly. It’s just a matter of taking a few shots until he gets the right looks from his subjects. And since he’s tethered his camera to this Mac, his shot is instantly available for him to make some quick corrections in Lightroom for clarity and exposure. This lets him see whether he’s working with a good enough “negative” for post-processing (which will be done later, of course, long after the band has left the photo shoot and resumed rocking various socks and such).

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4 responses to “Step-by-Step Guide to Rock & Roll Photography”

  1. Elizabath Joseph says:

    Excuse me.. I want to b a photographer. Bt unfortunatelly i don’t have camera. I’m using my Nokia mobile which having 5 MP Camera. I want to learn more about photography

  2. Kinne Bassett says:

    Hey Dave,
    Good tutorial! But one thing I don’t understand – when you hand-hold and move the zoom at 1/4 sec, how do you avoid camera shake?

  3. Kinne Bassett says:

    Hey Dave,
    Even at 1/500 I can get camera shake. Do I just have an unsteady hand?

  4. Dave Eagle says:

    Thanks, Kinne!

    You should definitely not be getting camera shake at 1/500, unless you’re zoomed in super close (focal length up in the 100s or more). There’s ways to brace the camera against yourself to keep it steady, though – as simple as pull the camera back with light pressure against your face. But also keep in mind there are two other things at play:

    * There was a flash at the beginning of the exposure, but not at the end. Because the subject was otherwise in darkness, their images were sort of frozen into that moment of flash, and the rest of the exposure was short enough not record any additional light that would have revealed any shake.

    * The zoom effect itself masks any shake that might have occurred for the background – it becomes the overriding motion of the shot.


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