discovery | going manual for concert lighting

This past Thursday night, I went to a southside Chicago bar to watch my brother play (he's a drummer) with a couple of guys that lead an open jam night. It was great to see my brother play. He and the guys he was playing with seemed to have a great time. I thought it'd be a prime opportunity to shoot in a lighting situation that I have no familiarity with... concert lighting. The stage overall was pretty dimly lit and there were about 3 or 4 overhead colored lights that filled the stage area. I was able to get a sense of the setup prior to picking out which gear I was going to bring, thanks to the help of the business' Google Places page. So that was definitely helpful. Here were some decisions I made along the way.

Digital vs. Film

Since I'm still getting acquainted with film, and more specifically, the appropriate film speed for different lighting situations, I figured I better not push it (no pun intended). I decided shooting digital would allow for the greatest margin of error and adaptability on the fly. Whether or not that's true, is certainly debatable. 

Lenses and Focal Lengths

I settled on a mix of lenses. I figured I wouldn't need anything super wide, since I didn't want to have to be on top of the stage, in their faces, in order to get good shots. I brought:

  • Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN Art - This proved to be okay. The focal length was good for getting shots of the whole group on stage. I was about 15 feet from the stage. The place was smaller so moving around a lot and getting close wasn't really an option without annoying people. So, I shot most my photos from my immediate seating area. 
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm 1:4-5.6 R - The intent was to be able to use the zoom for close up, detail and action shots. However, the lighting being as dark as it was, this kit lens was basically useless due to the much smaller aperture. I would have had to push the ISO beyond it's breaking point (about 3000 ISO) to get a serviceable shutter speed. I ditched using it early on. 
  • Olympus 50mm f/1.8 OM F.Zuiko - Goddamn does this lens never cease to prove its usefulness. I wound up using this lens 80% of the time. The focal length, 100mm on the 2x crop sensor, was perfect for framing up individual portraits and even pairs of band members. I kept the aperture at f1.8 in order to get the most out of the light in the room with this decently fast lens. Even though this is a manual focus lens, I had no problem pixel peeping on the LCD real quick to get focus and zoom back out to compose. I used focus peaking a bit too. No problem focusing this lens, since I'm pretty familiar with the throw of the focus ring now. 

Camera Settings

Normally, I shoot aperture priority with my Olympus E-PL7, and the camera usually does a great job of picking a good shutter speed in most lighting conditions. However, I was finding that because there was such a drastic dynamic range in this setting, that it kept choosing much too slow of a shutter speed - usually about 1/30 of a second with an ISO of 2000 (this is the max ISO I have the Olympus set to, I don't like going over 2000). This was causing the highlights to blow out pretty badly, especially on peoples' faces where the colored lights were hitting. This was also causing a lot of motion blur, since rarely do musicians play motionless. So, I went full manual, keeping my ISO at 2000, and after some trial and error, found that 1/50th or 1/60th of a second wouldn't blow out the highlights and would still retain enough detail in the shadows. It also cleared up 90% of the motion blur I was getting previously. Once I figured out this recipe, I barely had to tinker with exposure settings the rest of the night and I was free to focus on focusing, timing and composition. I was really glad I didn't just rely on aperture priority for this scenario, I would have been much more frustrated with my shooting experience. 

Here are my results. I am quite pleased with them. Feedback welcome!