The dark art of concert photography.

By Sarah Arnold, QA

I’ve been surrounded by music my entire life. I grew up in a family of musicians, one of whom toured the world in the sixties. Being drawn to concert photography was only natural for me as music was such a vital part of our family. I loved feeling the music through my feet and eventually through my fingertips while photographing the musicians on stage. Starting at the age of 14, concert photography has become a large part of my photography business. I’ve learned a lot over the past 10 years through huge amounts of trial and error. Here are some of the things I’ve learned that can be useful to anyone just getting started in concert photography.

Getting in

Don’t be shy. The majority of the concerts I’ve shot, I’ve walked straight up to the band and asked them directly, “Would you mind if I take photos?” 99% of the time, they are excited a photographer is interested and have absolutely no problem saying yes. You have to be a bit of reporter when trying to track down the band. I usually find where they’re located backstage or wait until they are on stage setting up and simply approach them. In many cases, I’ve ended up becoming friends with the band members and am given stage passes as well as put on the guest list for future shows. Stage passes are key for great shots of the crowd and band interaction. These shots are usually the ones bands use for marketing purposes, which in turn can bring a lot of traffic to your site when the band gives you proper credit. This brings up a very important rule: ALWAYS make sure the band is giving you credit when they post your photos. ALWAYS. This can be a verbal or written agreement via email. You can also draft a quick and simple photo session agreement before releasing photos to the band.


Want this shot? You’re gonna need a stage pass!

Plan ahead. Some concert venues require permission from the venue as well as the band, sometimes as much as three weeks prior to the event. In such cases, reaching out to the location on social media is a good way to start. Mention that you’re a photographer, share some previous concert galleries you’ve photographed, and tell them you would love their permission to photograph at their venue. Persistence is key in this case. Follow up with them if you don’t hear back. Not hearing back from the band manager? Try reaching out to individual members of the band. Still not hearing anything? Reach out to other bands in the line-up. Ask if they would like your photography services. Even if you don’t get approval from the headliner, you can still shoot for the opening bands. They can report their experience back to the headliner and, in the future, you’re more likely to get approval once they’ve seen what you’re made of!
Get official. When shooting for festivals, the best approach is to start at their official website. They usually have a “media” section where you can request to be part of their media team. This process can be a bit more picky. You must have a concert portfolio and usually they require a list of all the gear you own and plan to bring. Most of the time you’re signing a contract saying they have full rights or “own” your work, but you’ll get attribution for the shots you’ve taken. The bigger the band, the more likely they are to take full rights from you — meaning you can’t sell the photos. If this is the case, make sure you’re being compensated properly. Keep in mind you won’t be making money selling prints and digital downloads. Calculate this into your final price so you’re walking away happy and not feeling taken advantage of.

Gear up, Buttercup

The bare necessities.

Concert halls by nature are dark, making low-light lenses a necessity. The lower the aperture, the better (f/2.8 and below) because the lens opens up wider, allowing more light to reach the sensor. This means you can get away with using lower ISOs, minimizing the graininess of your photos. You’ll still need a faster ISO setting given the lighting, approximately 1000 to 2000 in order to not get too much movement. A shutter speed of 1/50 of a second is the lowest you should set your camera to when shooting drummers and other band members who are likely moving very quickly.

IMG_1218 (1)

Don’t let graininess overshadow the emotion you’re capturing.

Don’t get flashy, kid.

Whether it’s natural spot lighting or a colorful light show, concerts have unique lighting systems. Usually the stage lighting used produces a much more natural capture, while flash can distract the musicians during their performance and can interfere with the experience for those involved. A good rule of thumb is to refrain from using a flash. It won’t add anything to your photos that the stage lighting isn’t already providing for you.


Say yes to starbursts and no to flash.

Beware the spots.

When relying on stage lighting, you have to be careful that your shutter speed isn’t TOO fast. Lights pulsate in a way that the eye can’t see, but the camera can. So you don’t end up with spotted lighting, a slightly longer exposure will allow the sensor to have full light on the entire band. When I shoot concerts, I tend to have my camera set to aperture priority. This way I ensure I stay at the lowest aperture and don’t miss capturing key moments while adjusting the manual settings thanks to constantly changing light.


Streaking is only fun in college, not in concert photography.

Get the shot!


Details, details, details. Bands love getting close-up shots of each member working their craft and playing their instrument like a pro. One shot I love to capture is where you can see every single band member’s face. This can be tough given all the equipment on stage, the placement of the drums, band member movements, etc. But getting a full shot of the entire band is a money maker. Some of my favorite shots are when the band members interact with each other. It shows a bit of fun and the relationship that the band has with each other.


Forget cowbell, 2016 is the year of the tambourine.


I’m ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille.


Moving around is key. You want to get entire venue shots showing the band and the concert attendees from behind, as well as those awesome detail shots taken from the front of the stage. The bigger the band, the more likely the front of the stage will be crowded and difficult to navigate. Staying in one place is easier, but you’ll miss some great shots. Usually if you show concert-goers your camera, they’ll move out of your way to allow you to change location. This is another example where having a stage pass comes in handy. You can skip the crowds by being directly on the stage.


Sold-out crowd = visual bragging rights.

Nail that action!

Overshooting is better than undershooting. Capturing those hair tossing, spit-screaming moments can be tough, so I have my camera on multi-shot mode when I anticipate some action is about to happen. Within four or five shots, there’s usually that golden moment that results in a perfect action shot. Watch the musicians and their mannerisms. Is the singer highly animated? Does the bassist toss their hair around? Capture that! They make for great photos. I love watching drummers because they usually have great facial expressions and use every muscle in their body to keep beat. Watch for band members jumping around. Air shots are fun to capture and fans love buying them.


All about that bass.


Capturing character and the beat.

When the curtain closes.

Fix it in post!

Since you’ll be using higher ISOs, graininess will be inevitable. When editing with Lightroom, I use a tad bit of “Noise Reduction” > “Luminance.” This makes a surprisingly huge difference in the amount of grain that appears within your images without making the image look too doctored.


The only noise in the photo should be the band.

Don’t sell yourself short.

I get paid for my work in a variety of ways. Sometimes the band and I have agreed to a price before the concert (which is usually an hourly rate since one set is typically an hour). However, a lot of the time, I’m showing up to a concert where the band doesn’t know me and I’m trying to get my foot in the door and need to show them what I’m made of. In this case, I bring business cards and let them know their photos will be available for purchase on my website.

Share the wealth!

This is where the beauty of SmugMug comes into play. With SmugMug, I can set up a gallery to show up on a map. Band members can use this map to locate their event and view their galleries. It’s also where they can purchase downloads or prints, and share the gallery on social media for their fans to purchase from as well. Using watermarks and a right-click message, I make sure my work is protected from theft. These features have helped my business grow in such an unexpected way. Thanks to SmugMug, I can shoot for strangers and sell my work without having to meet them or get any of their information in advance.


No “Where’s Waldo” here!


The dark art of concert photography can truly be a vividly beautiful experience. Whether you’re photographing a large festival or just checking out your local band, you can learn so much about your camera, how to interact with big clients, and how to market your business. Follow my tips and you’ll drastically improve your results and how you connect with the artists on stage. What are some of your experiences in concert photography? What bands would you like to shoot? I would love to hear in the comments below!

Check out more concert photos by Sarah Arnold here.


Play us out, Sam.




SmugMug’s 2015 survival guide for holiday photos and gift giving.

The holidays are fast approaching, and soon we’ll all be deep into the holiday shopping madness. Here’s SmugMug’s 2015 Survival Guide for Holiday Photos and Gift Giving! Do all your shopping from the comfort of your SmugMug account. Upload once—and send joy around the world.

Get ready to make a lasting impression. Whether you’re creating photo gifts for yourself, or a pro photographer looking to wow your clients, prints make perfect—and lasting—gifts. They’re personal, they stop time and make lasting memories, and they can be larger than life.

So, how do you go about making prints with all the great photos you’re displaying on SmugMug?

Start by selecting the photos you want to print. Once you’ve got your photos uploaded to SmugMug, it’s easy to add any image to the cart. One-stop shopping at its finest—just click that BUY button to get started. You don’t have to decide on the size of print or quantities just yet. There’s opportunity to adjust the items added to your cart later.

Once you select a photo, click the BUY button and choose a product category.
Ordering is a breeze on desktop or mobile.

Tip: If the photos you want to print or turn into gifts are scattered throughout several galleries on your SmugMug site, you can gather them all together into a single gallery using the Collect tool or by setting a Smart Gallery ruleThat way, when it’s time to place your order, you can work from inside a single gallery on your site.

Consider the type of print you want to give. You’ve got four different paper types to choose from: Glossy, Matte, Lustre (the choice for portraits), and Metallic (particularly suitable to high-contrast scenes). You’ve got multiple standard, square, and panoramic print sizes at your fingertips. And, for that extra special someone, there are ready-to hang items such as box framed prints and mounted canvases.

Make sure your photos are ready for the spotlight. For you high-tech types, we’ve got all the nitty-gritty details you could ask for to prepare your photos for printing. BUT, rest assured that if you’re a low-/no-tech person, our great print labs will do the heavy lifting for you. All our labs offer a color correction service so your photos will be the best print that they can be.

Go beyond paper prints and wall art. There are great personalized gifts available from your SmugMug account as well. We’ve got mugs, puzzles, magnets, buttons, and much more.

Turn your photos into holiday cards. Send end-of-year wishes to family and friends by creating original cards right from your SmugMug photos. Choose between 5×7 folded and 4×8 flat varieties on beautiful heavyweight card stocks.

Make sure you order in time so your gift arrives on time. Check our shipping dates calendarand don’t forget that your prints and photo gifts need time to process as well as ship.

Perhaps our best gift suggestion (and we’re probably a little biased here)… Why not share your love of SmugMug with the people you love by Giving the Gift of SmugMugThis one’s great for last-minute gifts, and it’s guaranteed not to be re-gifted.

Happy Holidays from your friends at Smugmug.

Show Us Your SmugMug Smile at Photoshop World 2015

Join SmugMug for three days of creative adventures at KelbyOne’s Photoshop World Conference and Expo, the world’s largest Photoshop, Lightroom, and Photography conference of the year, August 11–13, 2015, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Come out and be inspired by world-class educators, network with your fellow photographers, and show off your smile in the SmugMug booth for a special gift!

Take our class

Be sure to add SmugMug’s platform class, “Showcase, Share, and Backup: Why Your Photos Need a Website,” to your itinerary. Learn everything there is to know about building a beautiful photography website from award-winning landscape photographer Aaron Meyers.  Aaron is an expert at creating stunning photographs and, as a SmugMug Product Manager, beautiful websites to display them. He’s a former aerospace engineer but now limits his explorations to chasing light in remote locations on planet Earth. Join us August 12 at 9:30 a.m. in Tradewinds C/D. Don’t have your Photoshop World ticket yet? Grab a full conference pass here.

Visit our booth

You’ll find us at booth 217 in the expo hall.

Drop by for one of our SmugMug demonstrations or to talk with Nick (Beardly), Seth, Ann, and Aaron to find the answers to all your burning SmugMug questions.

Get cool stuff

We’ll have some special show swag for any visitor that shows us their “Smuggy.” Take a selfie with Smuggy, our logo, post it to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with the hashtag #SmuggyPSW, and then bring that selfie to our booth. We’ll reward you! If you’d like to visit the expo only, please do so on SmugMug. Just print this expo pass and present it at the door. Need more convincing? Watch our SmugMug Film on our friend Scott Kelby, the man behind KelbyOne and Photoshop World, to see why he’s an inspiration to photographers everywhere.

See you there!

Cold Snap! Tips for Staying Warm While Taking Winter Photos

Planning on hitting the snowscapes with your camera? There’s plenty of cold-weather advice on the web, but our in-house landscape adventurers offered to share some of the more practical tips to help you stay focused on having a good time.  From one photo lover to another, it’s about getting the shot and having fun – not freezing your fingers off. Here’s what they said.

1) Keep Those Hands Warm

Snow can turn an otherwise mundane scene into something starkly exotic. Photo by Ivan Makarov.

Your hands are the second-most important part of you in photography (after your eyes), so treat them well. There are many kinds of gloves that keep your appendages toasty while still giving you tactical function: traditional, fingerless, convertible mitten/glove, or just regular gloves that you remove to hit the shutter. Go to the store, try them out, find what works best for you and your shooting style. As a bonus, get a couple of chemical hand-warmer packets and throw them into your pockets.

2) Hold Your Breath

Be ready and spend more time exploring the beauty of winter. Photo by Welling Photography.

 It’s pretty neat to exhale plumes of smoke like a dragon in winter, but you probably don’t want this getting into your shot. If it’s frosty out and you’re trying to capture clear, pristine views, hold your breath when you hit the shutter to be sure you’re not polluting the pic.

3) Bag It! (Your camera, that is)

Landscape photographers are familiar with harsh conditions, but being prepared is a good tip for all kinds of photographers. Photo by Schmootography.

Your house is significantly warmer (and damper) than the naked outdoors, and this can wreak havoc on your camera when you come inside. When you’re finished shooting, try sealing your camera in a Ziploc bag, pack it away, and wait for it to come to ambient temp after you get inside. Why? A cold camera in a warm room can cause moisture in the air to condense into water droplets, which is a risk your inner electronics probably don’t want to take.

4) Beware the Tripod

Just because the water’s still flowing doesn’t mean it’s warm. Photo by Mike Diaz Photography.

Given how tripods are a bit of an investment, we don’t recommend that you go out and buy a new one just to shoot in the cold. But if you are shopping for one and plan on doing a lot of winter landscapes, certain materials like carbon fiber don’t get as cold when you grab them. The last thing you need are sweaty palms that get you stuck when you’re packing up! If you do have a traditional metal tripod, try wrapping the legs with insulating fabric where you grab them, or cover the parts closest to the ground in plastic to prevent salt, water, and other damage. You know those long, rectangular plastic baggies you find at incense shops? Those are perfect.

Way-over-the-top tip: If you’re super hardcore, wood tripods are a great compromise between cold resistance and vibration stabilization. It’s not likely you’ll be spending your winter standing in icy rivers, but if you were, we hear wood’s the way to go. 

5) Plan Ahead

Winter portraits can be tons of fun for both you and your clients. Keep warm and plan ahead so the attitudes stay positive! Photo by Black Cat Photography.

If you know what you’re doing, you’re less likely to scramble. And this is especially important in uncomfortable situations like bone-freezing cold, so plan your shoot as best you can. Scout the location, check the weather and sunrise/sunset times, keep cables and cards within reach, and have an idea of the final image so you bring just the gear you need. The less time you spend switching lenses or moving around, the more time you can spend focusing on your shot. (Plus, it’ll probably be dark.) 

6) Thaw Properly

Snow can add emotional warmth to your engagement portraits, even if it’s ten below zero. Photo by Black Cat Photography.

When you’re done, don’t forget to come indoors and sip a hot chocolate while you edit, upload, and share your photos. We’ll argue that this is the most important step of all. Because chocolate.😉

Stay warm and creative this season! If you’re feeling ready for snow and need more inspiration, don’t forget to check out our short film about Arctic surf photographer, Chris Burkhard. 

Related Links:


6 Low-Light Photography Ideas Every Shutterbug Should Try

So far this season we’ve shared a few basic dark-friendly photo tips, but winter’s not over yet. Here’s a few more ways you can stay creative with the camera even when the nights are long and there’s never a lot of light.

1) Use Your Bokeh

The shallow depth-of-field (low f-stop numbers) turned city lights into a dreamy blur, while the candle stayed super sharp. Photo by Ana Pogačar.

Bokeh is the blurring of the out-of-focus areas you’ll see when you’re taking pictures with your lens opened all the way (low f-stop numbers). It’s a great way to draw the viewer’s eye to a part of the scene, since everything else fades into a creamy blur.

Bonus tip: Lights (like Christmas lights) usually appear as circles, but did you know that you could make them any shape you want?  Simply cut out a shape in dark paper and tape it over your lens like a lens cap, then take your picture through the hole at your lowest aperture value. Voila! Your background lights will automagically be hearts, stars, snowflakes, or whatever else you’ve cut into your 10-cent bokeh-maker.

2) Make Twinkling Stars

Bump your aperture to f/11 (or higher) and use a tripod to turn each individual light into a tiny star. Photo by Welling Photography.

Grab your tripods and make it a starry holiday night even if it’s snowing up a storm. The opposite of creamy bokeh, taking pictures with your lenses stopped all the way down (highest aperture values) will turn bright points of light into little stars. Since this means little light goes through your lens, you’ll need to set your camera on a tripod, set a timer, and let it go for a while. The coolest thing? Every lens creates its own signature star shape, so have fun experimenting with all the lenses in your kit to see which one you like best.

3) Use Creative (and Available) Light Sources

The fire pit and patio lights provided enough illumination to capture the subjects of this evening scene. Photo by Schmootography.

Don’t be limited to your strobe if you’re out with your friends and want to catch the mood! Sure it’s dark, but there’s tons of ways to snap your shot even if you don’t have your whole kit bag. Street lamps, strings of holiday lights, open doors, fire pits, and even the flashlight function on your cell phone are all  potential lighting sources for your next happy holiday shoot. Experiment with the kind of effect each one creates and think outside the box – maybe your best shot of the season is a simple silhouette?

4) Paint with Light

This dilapidated building would have been pitch black if a flashlight hadn’t been waved over the scene. Photo by Welling Photography.

Paint the town… with light! If you’d rather not move your friends over to the light source, bring it to them. Flashlights are all you need to stand your subjects where you want them most, and help them stand out in the dark. Be sure to set your camera on a tripod, set a longer exposure, and cover them with photons. It’s especially great if you’re outdoors and want to pair a sharp subject in the foreground and warm house lights (or even stars) behind them.

You may need to try a few times to get it right, and to be sure that you get everything covered before your shutter snaps closed.

5) Make Happy (Light) Trails

Heavy traffic in London is distilled into beautiful streaks with a tripod and a few seconds of your time. Photo by AMJ Visuals.

While you’ve already got your tripod out, why not play with moving subjects? Light trails are a cool way to capture things the eyes don’t see, and to get super creative in the dark. Moving bright objects – like cars and friends waving flashlights – turn into lines during a long exposure, so try photographing a busy street in your favorite snowy location. Or have a friend practice his Picasso techniques by drawing pictures in the air.

6) Bring a Friend

Photographers gather after dusk to capture the scene, trade tips, and admire each others’ gear. Photo by Schmootography.

If you’re afraid of the dark or just don’t want to learn alone, winter’s the perfect opportunity to warm up with a photowalk. You can experiment with all the techniques described above, or teach someone new who’s looking to learn. We’ve previously shared some tips about organizing social shoots from expert photowalk and community favorite, Scott Jarvie, so you can plan the best photowalk your town has ever seen… then pool them all in SmugMug so you can share the experience.

Stay warm, stay clicking, and stay creative!

Benjamin Von Wong: How to Make Everyday People Look Badass

When you combine the imagination of Benjamin Von Wong with the photographic enthusiasm of SmugMug and the MacGyver-esque ingenuity of SmugMug’s facilities genius, Daniel Petrosian, you end up with a lot of chaos and cool photos. Von Wong’s persistence to coax the best out of his everyday models resulted in portraits that awed the models. Many had no idea a “beast mode” existed within themselves.

Learn more about the magic behind creating athletes out of SmugMug employees with the right lighting, motivation, and a bit of rain.

Step 1. Lights, Location, and Rain Rig

How did the idea for this shoot come about?

Von Wong: SmugMug President and Co-Founder Chris MacAskill, aka “Baldy,” wanted to fill up the SmugMug gym with awesome photos, and I happened to be in town, so he commissioned me. He wanted simple black-and-white shots, but I had to put that special Von Wong spin on it.

The day began quite normally: setting up lights, backdrop, and rain. Things started getting exciting a good hour and a half later when—I don’t know what happened! I think word spread that the photos were turning out great, so Baldy ended up coming out himself to see the photos and start filming.

It started off really small, and it expanded from there into full-out awesome.

Photo by Benjamin Von Wong


What made you think rain would be perfect for this shoot?

Von Wong: I think rain, in a sense, symbolizes hardship. We wanted to make people look like they’re working out and putting forth an effort, and everything’s harder when it rains outside. You don’t want to go out. It’s just crummy and grimy. From a metaphorical sense, the rain adds a really nice dimension.

Then, from a photography standpoint, it suddenly adds all these nice beads of water dripping down skin, which looks really nice.

It’s one thing to have this idea, and it’s quite another to control weather.

Von Wong: Yeah. In my mind it was pretty easy to make a rain rig, which is essentially a glorified sprinkler system distributed along a longer cross section. I talked to people who were smarter than me—Daniel and Brent—and explained what I was looking for. We basically had one day, and they just pulled it together with about $20.

Photo by Kerry Ellis


How did you go about making it rain?

Petrosian: We brainstormed a little bit, trying to think simple and low-tech. Things were happening so fast, we didn’t have time to rig up something sophisticated. Think simple, and things usually work out. And we thought PVC pipe and sprinkler heads might do the trick. So we went to Home Depot.

We bought different kinds of sprinkler heads to test them out and see what the flow was like, how fast the water would come out, and how we could control it. After some experimenting, we ended up using brass/copper old-school sprinkler heads.

We connected them together using PVC pipe and plumber’s glue, and then we just connected a hose to it and made it rain!

Photo by Kerry Ellis


So now that you had rain, how did you go about photographing it?

Von Wong: With water, just like smoke, you photograph its reflections by backlighting it. Water looks really good when it’s backlit. We needed two hard bare-bulb lights to light the droplets, and a black background so the drops would show up. For the foreground, I used two big parabolic umbrellas. Any large, directional light source would work to bring in our characters so they’re nicely lit without rough shadows.

It’s a basic four-light set up. With the subject in the middle, you have two lights coming in from the back and two bigger, softer lights coming in from the front.

Photo by Benjamin Von Wong


How did you get rid of the ambient light?

Von Wong: We initially wanted to do this indoors because, ideally, if you want to freeze water droplets, you need a short flash duration. If you want a short flash duration, the flashes have to be at lower power. And that’s usually done in a darker environment.

We thought about shooting inside the gymnasium by putting down a big tarp and pumping out the water with a shop vac, then we kind of stared at each other and said that’s going to be way too much trouble. So we went with Plan B: a shaded area outside underneath a tree.

I ended up shooting at 1/1500th of a second at F/5.6 or F/4.

Step 2. Motivate Your Models

What was the biggest challenge during the shoot?

Von Wong: This wasn’t a professional athlete photoshoot. We were taking average people who hardly have any photoshoot experience and trying to make them into something more. To show them like they’ve never been shown before. The true magic of the shots comes from people doing something they had never imagined they would before.

And that wasn’t achieved just by taking a single shot. It was achieved with this very persistent pushing of people and getting them to try different things until they were comfortable in front of the camera. Pushing people to get the best out of them. That’s where most of the work happened. If you look at the video, you see me trying to encourage people, pushing them, making them feel good about themselves.

Photo by Benjamin Von Wong


Tell me a little bit about trying to coax the best out of people.

Von Wong: You don’t always know what a person’s capable of doing. In my experience, the best way to find out what they can or can’t do is to simply ask them to do a variety of different things. It doesn’t matter what they actually do, whether it looks good or not, you just keep throwing ideas at them.

Along the way, as things are getting better, you say, “Wait, I really like that. It’s looking great over there. Put your arm a little higher. Let’s try another angle.”

Getting out from behind the desk to look fierce are (from left) Michael Shostack, head of online marketing; Katherine Cheng, head of community; and Pablo Ceron, product manager. Normally nice, approachable, and with sunny dispositions, these portraits reveal it’s probably better not to cross any of them, just in case. Photos by Alexandra Zielinski

It’s a continuous conversation to keep people busy. If you let them think too much about what they’re doing, sometimes it feels ridiculous. What looks good in camera might not feel natural in position. Not every pose I came up with worked. Actually, a lot of them failed. We took about 2,000 photos that day. But that process of working through things, people start to trust you.

A photoshoot is one thing, but the other aspect to it is the experience. All those who participated really felt like they pushed themselves and found a side of themselves they had never showcased before. That’s very important.

Photo by Michael Shostack
Photo by Benjamin Von Wong


Step 3. Process and Print—BIG

Can we talk a bit about your post process?

Von Wong: It was relatively simple because all we wanted to do was convert the images from color to black and white. There’s a beautiful little button in Lightroom called “B&W” that does most of the work for you. That got the shots 90% done. Because we had taken the time to set up great lighting and good location, we got the photo right straight out of camera.

What did you do for the other 10%?

Von Wong: There was a little tweaking of highlights, shadows, and clarity to make the image pop a bit more. The rest was cleaning up water droplets that were too dense in certain areas, like on the face, using healing and cloning to get rid of distractions. There was a little dodging and burning using curves to highlight different muscles and carve things out.

It was very simple—about 20 minutes per image for the post-production.

We love HUGE prints here at SmugMug. Were these tricky to print larger than life for a gym environment?

MacAskill: Our gym lives inside an old machine shop, and the available wall space—above the mirrors and equipment—curves. Even the ceiling is curved. So we needed a material we could print on that would, most importantly, look amazing, but also bend to fit the curved walls and stand up to the gym’s environment. And be large enough, of course.

We ended up printing each image with an Oce Lightjet at 68” tall on Kodak Endura semi-gloss bonded onto 1/4″ sintra, which is a lightweight PVC foamboard. We thought about adding a thin polycarbonate laminate over the prints to ruggedize them, but the prints ended up being hung so high we didn’t think they’d get exposed to sweat or medicine balls. So we didn’t laminate them. But it was a perfect option had we hung the photos any lower.

Photo by Alexandra Zielinski

What did you love most about this shoot?

Von Wong: The greatest compliment was all those who didn’t participate were upset. I thought that was great. A lot of them felt like it wasn’t really their thing, but when they saw how the others’ photos turned out, they were amazed and sad they hadn’t done it themselves. That’s the best compliment you can get.

Check out an extra tip from Von Wong on how to achieve a similar look with a bucket of water and two speedlights!

Find Benjamin online:

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Tips for Taking Pictures in Low Light

As we roll into the season of longer nights, we don’t think the extra darkness this should cut down on the amount of time you spend with your camera.

Low-light photography can be intimidating if you’re new to photography, but it’s easier than you think…. and you can take some amazing photos that take much more patience to capture when the days are bright and long.

Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind to keep you shooting (and sharing) photos through the darkest time of the year.

Know Your Gear

Photo by Schmootography

Photography is all about physics, but even if you weren’t a science major you can take a few minutes to learn the only tip you ever need to learn.

Photography is about capturing light, so low-light shooting means maximizing the amount of light hitting your sensor. There are three ways to do that:

  1. Allow more light through the lens
  2. Keep the shutter open longer
  3. Boost the sensitivity of your sensor

How? Widen the aperture of your lens, slow down your shutter speed, or raise your ISO, respectively. If you’ve never done any of this before, dig up your camera’s manual (or Google for the PDF version) and get to know these three things now. Shooting in your camera’s Manual mode is the most tricky – but most surefire – way to learn these principles, but you can also try Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes to fix one of the settings and let your camera automatically calculate the rest.

Knowing which buttons to push and which dials to turn is a priceless skill to have, and you should commit it to muscle memory now so you don’t end up panicking in the dark.

Additionally, your camera and lenses often have specific limitations. If you have an older camera, for example, you may not want to push the ISO above 1600. And some lenses simply don’t open up wider than f/5.6. If you’ve been thinking about trying new equipment but aren’t sure it’s the right gear for you, check out our own, in-house gear reviews to get an idea of what’s out there before you drop thousands of dollars.

Embrace Your Grain

Photo by Black Cat Photography

Even if your images come out a bit grainy from pushing your ISO, that’s OK. Think about all the film photos you’ve probably seen from 30 to 50 years ago and you’ll notice the grain adds a lot of character to the image. It makes sense to embrace it and get to know it a little better.

Grain itself can contain quite a bit of color that may not be found otherwise in your scene. To minimize it, try third-party noise-reduction software, or experiment with the noise-reduction feature in programs that you’re already using, like Lightroom and Photoshop. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Alternatively, try converting your image to black and white and playing around with the contrast. Photos that look weird at first look rock ‘n’ roll once the color’s stripped out. To do this, give it a quick conversion using SmugMug’s Image Editor, PicMonkey, or (our favorite) Lightroom.

Make More Light with Lightroom

Modern digital cameras give you quite a bit of leeway with the exposure, so if your image came out a bit dark (which happens because your camera’s LCD often gives a brighter impression of your image than you actually took), it’s OK to bump the exposure in post.

For most, pushing the “Exposure” slider is sufficient, but some pixel peepers may suggest using the more specific sliders you can find below that: highlights, whites, and shadows. These boost only the pixels you need without harming the rest. Experiment with what works best for you to get the look you want.

Once that’s done, don’t forget to publish your goodies to SmugMug and show the world what you’re capturing after the sun goes down.

Seek the Moment, Not Perfection

Photo by Schmootography

Above all, don’t stress about getting the perfect shot every time. Blurred motion, being too dark (or too bright) are all details that take your photo beyond basic shape and color. So be sure to capture the action, the intensity, and the joy of what you and your friends are doing. Even if it’s not textbook perfect, we guarantee that as soon as you share your photos, they won’t be thinking of anything except how much fun they had.

We’ll be sharing a few more low-light tips in the weeks coming, so stay tuned for more creative ideas to keep shooting in the dark!


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