Heavy Metal Photography: Band Practice
A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by an old high-school friend of mine, Jason, about photographing his new heavy metal band, Book of Souls, an Iron Maiden tribute band during their upcoming public debut at the Strange Brew Pub in Norwich, CT. During our conversation, we discussed my coming down to photograph one of their band practice sessions, in order to get some usable promo photos with the promise that I would be as unobtrusive as possible in order to avoid disrupting their practice.
The photos that came about as a result turned out to be a complete change of pace from the usual electronic dance music event oriented photography I’ve been immersed in for the past few years. Heavy metal has always been my musical home, so to speak, and it was refreshing to hear the first power chords as they plugged in!
Event photography with the Black Foamie Thing
I wanted to share a little bit of the flash photography technique that I frequently use to light photos like the one of Jason, above. To date, it has never failed me.
For starters, before photographing any scene with additional lighting, I always underexpose the ambient a bit. I want the main subject(s) to pop within the image. To do that, the main, or key, light needs to dominate the scene. Ambient, or background lighting, can become fill-light, back-light, rim-light, or eliminated all together. The key to lighting (Haha!) a photo well is seeing and then controlling the light in a scene.
So, after a quick test exposure to get a measure of the room’s ambient light levels and setting the camera to under-expose the photo, it’s time to add my light to the scene. It’s always best to get light off the camera and from a higher angle, cuz “natural light” is always above-axis to your lens.
Flash photography 101, right?
But what if you’re in a small studio space, how are you supposed to get a speedlight raised and angled well when there is already barely enough room for you to stand?
The simplest solution is to attach the speedlight to your camera’s hotshoe, but direct flash on-camera flash can look rough unless, of course, you know how to use direct flash effectively.
So, bounce the flash, right? Advanced flash photography technique 101. Bounce. The. Flash.
Sure, it helps, but it also tends to throw light around haphazardly and you risk flash-punching and annoying the people around you (like people trying to practice for an upcoming heavy metal gig).
You can improve bounced-flash in a variety of ways (non-affiliate links):
- ExpoImaging sells their Rogue Flashbenders for about $45 for use as a flag or snoot,
- you can go completely Gary Fong chaotic and use his Lightsphere® — which throws light everywhere, uncontrollably, for around $70,
- or pay more with the MagSphere for about $50 plus the required MagGrip for $25
Enter The Black Foamie Thing.
It’s a simple piece of black art foam cut to size and then held in place on the speedlight with a hair tie, or rubber band, or a ball-bungee cord, or a Velcro speed strap. Go as expensive as you really want with whatever you use to attach it to your flash. It’s your money to spend.
If you use hair ties, all told, you’d probably be using what amounts to maybe $2.00 to simulate a larger flash modifier like a good soft box that can easily cost around $60 to begin with.
Flash settings are crazy easy. Set your flash to eTTL, and point it to project the light onto the surface you want your “key light” to come from while dialing your ISO to higher than base settings (100-200, depending on the camera) or setting it to auto ISO.
Yes, really — you can get soft, simple, directional light with just an on-camera speedlight, a piece of cheap art foam, and a hair tie!
It’s how I lit nearly all the indoor and some outdoor images I took while at the newspaper:
It’s how I light a lot of the event photos I take when I am in a smaller venue:
It’s how I’ve lit impromptu portraits:
Even some still life fine art photos:
And it’s how I lit a heavy metal band practicing in a studio space no bigger than a small bedroom:
Flash photography does not have to be a complicated or unnecessarily expensive affair. $2.00 – $3.00 and a surface to bounce light off is all it should take to vastly improve the look of your photography without resorting to trying to “fix it in post.”
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