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Live Event Photography with Book of Souls

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Photographing a Heavy Metal Band Practice Session

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, for their upcoming public event, a debut gig 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 session.

The photos turned out to be a complete change of pace from the usual electronic dance music oriented event photography that I’ve been immersed in over 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!

long haired man plays electric bass guitar for a heavy metal band
Jason Berube, bassist for Book of Souls, a Tribute to Iron Maiden

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 my event photos, like the one of Jason above. To date, it has never failed me.

For starters, before deciding to add additional lighting to a scene, I always underexpose the ambient a bit. I want the main subject(s) to pop within the image. in order 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 it can be eliminated all together. You’ll see examples of what I mean, a little further down below.

The key to lighting any photo well is seeing and then controlling the light in a scene.

So, after a quick test exposure to get a feel for the room’s ambient light levels and then setting my 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.

blonde female with dark red lipstick in front of a red wooden door
Headshot of Liz Arruda — direct flash can look great!

So, bounce the flash, right?

Advanced flash photography technique 101: Bounce! The! Damned! Flash!

You! Noob!

Ahhhhhh, it helps, but just bouncing the flash also tends to throw light around haphazardly and you risk flash-punching the people around you (like people trying to practice for an upcoming heavy metal gig). It’s very annoying.

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

You can go as expensive as you really want with whatever you choose to attach to your flash. It’s your money to spend.

To be blunt, I don’t like the look of photos lit by the Lightsphere® or similar light-modifiers.

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.

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 decent soft box for speedlights (non-affiliate link) that can easily cost around $60 to begin with.

Flash and camera settings with The Black Foamie Thing are crazy easy:

  1. Set your aperture to vary depth of field as desired, set your shutter speed to expose the background ambient exposure up to its max flash sync speed (usually between 1/200 – 1/250 second depending on the camera model)
  2. Dial your ISO to base setting, first (100 or 200, depending on the camera). If you keep your aperture the same, dialing higher ISO and adjusting shutter speed to compensate can appear to give your flash a bit more reach. You can also keep things even simpler by changing to auto ISO
  3. Set the flash with the BFT attached to eTTL, and then point it to project the light onto the surface you want your “key light” to come from and use + or – Flash EV compensation as needed
  4. Make any necessary adjustments

That’s all.

So, 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 all the indoor images I took while at the newspaper:

older black man wearing glasses, shirt, and tie next to a flag of holyoke, massachusetts
DAILY HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE/ADRIAN FELICIANO – 2011 Portrait of Holyoke Police Chief, Anthony Scott (Ret) next to the City of Holyoke Massachusetts flag

It’s how I light a lot of the indoor event photos I take when I am in a smaller venue:

black female dj mizeyesis in front of blurry and colorful background
Mizeyesis performing her birthday set at elements, a weekly drum and bass night held at The Phoenix Landing in Cambridge, MA.
female bodied DJ wearing a tank top and headphones spinning music
Artemis on decks at New England Junglist Massive, a drum and bass event in Western Massachusetts
female dj spinning music with excited smile
Marianne / Glowworm on deck at elements, a weekly drum and bass event held at The Phoenix Landing in Cambridge, MA.

It’s how I’ve lit impromptu indoor portraits:

female performer wearing dark veil and headdress with an animal skull
Nicole, a dark tribal fusion performer, on stage at Wonder Bar in Allston, MA

It’s effective with boudoir photography:

woman on bed wearing lingerie corset and white stockings
Angil Love, attaching her stockings to her corset, from a boudoir photography session
woman wearing green corset and red panties standing next to night stand with alarm clock
Boudoir photography session with anonymous model

The Black Foamie Thing works well with nude art photography:

nude female model covered with white and black body paint
From a nude body painting portrait photography session

The directionality given by the BFT is perfect for still life fine art photography:

nude female leg painted with trees
Another photo from the same nude body painting portrait photography session

And it’s how I photographed a heavy metal band practicing in a studio space no bigger than a small bedroom:

In summary

Flash photography does not have to be a complicated or an unnecessarily expensive affair. $2.00 – $3.00 and a surface to bounce light off is all it should take to improve the look of your photography immediately and without resorting to trying to “fix it in post.”

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