By Nicholas Stalford
The guitars reverberate and the microphone screeches on the ground after being dropped. The stage is empty and the crowd has dispersed, leaving behind a sticky mess of alcohol and beer cans. Roadies walk stage to take apart the instruments, and one lucky girl gets that night’s set list. The show is over now—but not for you. For you, it’s time to go back home and look through those 1,200 pictures to choose just a few dozen to edit for publication.
Although not as glamorous as the actual process of shooting a show, editing your photos is a crucial and equally important step in the photography process. Post-editing software and the skills behind the process can often be a major determining factor in the quality of your final pictures. It can be a savior for both new and highly experienced photographers in an endless variety of situations, whether you forgot to adjust your settings, the venue was too dark, or something else. And even if you were able to capture some fantastic shots, they can almost always be further improved through editing.
Although there are many different editing software services available, the indisputably best software service is Adobe Photoshop. Since its development in 1988, Photoshop has become the world’s most commonly used, recognized, and acclaimed editing software. Unfortunately, Photoshop is not cheap, creating a barrier entry for new concert photographers. But many similar editing software services can be found for free online, including a thirty-day trial of Photoshop.
But before you begin to edit your photographs, or even shoot the show in the first place, it’s important to ensure that your camera’s image quality is set to the raw file. Shooting in raw format is especially important for concert photographers, as it saves a more detailed file image, making the editing process much easier. Once you’ve made this adjustment (along with the many other important adjustments) you’re ready to shoot a show.
For the purpose of this article, Photoshop will be used as the example editing software service, but much of the following can be applied to other software as well.
When the show is over, download your raw images onto your computer, but don’t open up Photoshop quite yet. Before even beginning to edit your pictures, you must first choose which pictures to edit. While this can be exciting, it can also be an arduous and intimidating step when you have several gigabytes worth of images. Often, breaking up the pictures into chunks is a good way to begin, and it can make the process a little less daunting. If you photographed multiple bands and artists, make a new folder for each and drag and drop each band or artist’s pictures into their respective folders.
The next step—choosing images to edit—is often the most taxing. When deciding which pictures will make the cut, it’s important to view them in or near full screen on your computer. While you may have been able to delete some of the obviously dark, blurry, or otherwise bad and unusable images during the show through your camera’s viewfinder screen, there are many image quality factors that are difficult (if not impossible) to view on a small screen. Open up the folder with one of the band’s images and make the window full screen. Viewing and sorting your images in a list with the largest possible picture preview—such as the “cover flow” view for Mac computers—is ideal. One of the most useful sorting methods is “tags,” a Mac-exclusive feature that allows you to mark an image with a certain colored tag. This feature makes it easy to flip through a folder of images, marking each image with a color-coded tag to later edit. Unfortunately, PC computers do not have this function, but you can instead drag each picture that you want to edit into another folder. Another Mac-exclusive feature is the ability to press the space bar to enlarge an image when viewing in a list.
While you may have many great images, it’s important to be very specific when choosing which to edit. Be sure to choose images that capture each band member or artist, as well as group shots, crowd shots, shots from different periods throughout the show to demonstrate progression, and detail shots (like close-ups). And while editing can improve the quality of your image, keep in mind that an image with extreme distortion or other negative aspects is unlikely to be salvageable.
Editing (A Good Image):
Once you’ve selected which images to edit, go ahead and open up Photoshop and one of your images. When opening a raw image in Photoshop, you will see a screen with your image on the left, and a selection of different sliders on the right. For an image that was taken well in the first place, you should only need to make minor adjustments with these sliders.
These sliders have some of the most basic but also most important features for editing photographs, such as white balance and exposure. Following the list from top to bottom, while balance is the first slider, which is broken down into temperature and tint. But unlike most editing situations, when editing concert photography, the white balance must also account for the colored lights of the stage rather than natural lighting. Adjust the white balance in a way that is both realistic (make adjustments while looking at something in the picture, such as skin tone or hair color) and dramatic, making use of the interesting colors of the stage lighting. Exposure is the next slider, and often the most important adjustment to be made, as it changes the amount of light shown in the photograph. For the remaining sliders, make adjustments when necessary, but try to keep the original and natural look of the photograph intact as much as possible, meaning that only small adjustments should be made.
Editing (A Blurry Image):
Often, one of the most challenging and frustrating parts of concert photography is the lack of lighting. Lighting is crucial to photography, especially when there is a lot of movement, as movement requires a faster shutter speed. This in turn lowers the amount of light let into the camera. Of course, certain camera bodies and lenses can often improve upon these areas with wider apertures, larger light sensors, and other technology. But for new and amateur concert photographers, this hardware is often too expensive. Because of this, editing becomes that much more important, as it can sometimes compensate for a lack of expensive and professional camera gear. By using editing software, an image with great content but of poor quality can sometimes be salvaged.
One tip to editing a blurry image, or any image with major distortion, is to edit in black and white. By editing in black and white, you are able to make adjustments to the photograph without worrying about color. Without color, you can instead focus on adjusting a photograph to be as clear and crisp as possible, making adjustments that would otherwise just lead to greater distortion to the image.
Editing (Other Advice and Situations):
While there are a limitless number of situations that require different adjustments to be made, there are several other commonly made edits. If you were able to use flash while shooting a concert, then there is a high possibility that the band members or artist has what is commonly known as “red eye.” Red eye isn’t a disease or ailment; it’s simply a reflection on the eyeball that causes the retina to change to red from a camera’s flash. In order to quickly correct this, click on the icon of an eye with a plus sign in the tool bar at the top left side of the editing page. Then, simply drag a box around the effected area to remove the red color and instead replace it with a darker and more natural looking shade. This tool bar at the top left holds a number of other helpful adjustment features, such as the crop and straightening tools. Cropping an image can be helpful to better frame it, but be careful not to crop something too tightly unless you have a very high quality image. The straightening tool is helpful if your original image is askew, as it allows you to turn the image in a way that is straight and level, and therefore less disorienting for the viewer.
Another important part of the editing process is saving your files. In order to save your newly edited image, click on the “Save Image…” button on the bottom left side of the screen. You will then be brought to a menu with choices of how to save your image. First of all, you want to save it in the correct folder, so click on “Select Folder…” and choose the folder containing those images (or even better, separate the raw images and the edited images into separate folders, all contained in another folder). Next, choose the name of the image, such as the band or artist’s name, and as you continue to save more images, Photoshop will automatically number them starting from zero. Once this is chosen, decide on a file format. For most purposes a .JPEG file is suitable. Then choose an image quality, which ranges from one to twelve, with one being the lowest quality and smallest file size, and twelve being the highest quality, and therefore a much larger file size. When all of these decisions have been made, simply click “Save.” It can also be helpful to save your adjustments to the raw file by simply clicking the “Done” button at the bottom right side of the screen, which will then automatically create a .XMP file that will remember your slider adjustments if you choose to open the raw file again.
While the discussed adjustments are helpful ways of improving your concert photography images, Photoshop and other software editing services are capable of much more. Yet even those who are highly skilled with editing software services understand that the best photographs are a result of an image that was well taken in the first place. Using Photoshop doesn’t make you a better photographer; it’s just another tool and another important skill to hone and master in order to become a better photographer.