Get your priorities right
A photographer’s first priority when shooting a gig is to get sharp, blur free images, with image noise a close second. Using a camera flash is subjective: some people use it, but in most gigs these days it’s not allowed. So to get the best result, I will set my aperture as large as possible (around f2.8 on a DSLR) with my ISO as low as possible. I will then try and get as high a shutter speed as I can, with 1/60th of a second being the absolute lowest.
The biggest challenges
The biggest challenges shooting gig photos with a smartphone camera is that you don’t have the ability to control these settings manually. The camera’s making a different decision for every shot, based upon the light that it is metering for. Happily with the Nokia Lumia 920, there are a couple of ways of getting around this. Basically, you’re tricking the camera’s in built camera modes. There were three different modes built into the camera, which all had their own plus and minus points. The only setting regarding exposure that you can fix is the ISO, so I left that at 800.
How to get the best from Auto Mode
Auto Mode is the one that the phone comes pre-set to. It does a pretty decent job of trying to get a usable image out of the very demanding conditions present at a gig. However, Auto Mode tries to create an evenly lit, bright image. It looks at the entire content of the image, sees the large, dark areas around your subject on stage, and tries to balance the bright subject and the dark background. The result is a compromise between the two, with an over-exposed blurry subject, and a not quite dark but not brightly lit background.
To get around this issue, you need to adjust the exposure value setting. This will allow you to bring down the camera’s exposure by 2 stops, or -2 in the camera settings. This does a pretty good job of removing the overexposed subjects, although the Auto Mode means it still has a tendency to go for a slower shutter speed than would be ideal.
How to get the best from Sports Mode
Sports Mode is designed to capture high-speed action, and tries to remove as much blur as possible from each shot. In doing this, it relies on you being in an area with plenty of light and doesn’t mind sacrificing brightness for a blur free image. This is a step in the right direction, as all we need to do is get the phone to up the brightness and compensate by lowering the shutter speed slightly. To do this, we go back to the camera exposure value setting, and up the exposure this time. It’s best to do it in steps, until you get the desired level of brightness. The main issue with this mode, though, is that while it usually gets the highlights exposed properly, it leaves everything else looking washed out and flat.
How to get the best from Night Mode
The purpose of this mode is to try and give you a nice bright exposure when the lights are dark. It is effectively doing the opposite of the Sports Mode, in that it’s trying to get a decent exposure by sacrificing the levels of blur in the image. We can make this mode work for us though, by using the exposure value to bring down the exposure. Left to its own devices, the camera will bring the shutter speed down way too low, creating a bright but blurry image. Since we have control of the ISO, and have it set to 800 or 400, all we have to do is bring down the exposure value to say -2, depending on the lighting, and the camera will up the shutter speed, reducing the brightness, but also upping the shutter speed.
As you can see from Malachi’s cool photos, despite the incredibly challenging conditions faced at gigs, with some clever tweaking, the Lumia 920 comes up trumps.
If you’ve got any other top Lumia 920 photography tips, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below.