Some bands are better than others, and some are so bad I’d quite happily remove them. Of course, I’m talking about banding in your concert images, not the actual bands themselves on stage, although…nope, scratch that thought! I’m strictly talking about photography here, not musical taste.
So what causes this undesirable effect, and if you do encounter it, how do you avoid it or remove it after the fact? In this video, photographer David Bergman tells you how to tackle this frequent problem.
What causes the appearance of banding in concert photographs?
Let’s get this straight, it doesn’t only occur in concert photography. However, it is more common in that sort of environment. You’re most likely to encounter this issue when you’re shooting in environments lit by LED lights.
Surely that’s most indoor environments these days, you ask? Yes, that is true. However, in most indoor environments, you will encounter a mixture of different sorts of lighting, from LED to tungsten, to fluorescent to daylight. It’s also at much lower intensities of light, so the effect generally is less pronounced.
In an indoor event or show, the lighting is painstakingly designed with the final effect in mind. This means that the lights are generally going to be deliberately all one type or another. Now in older theatres, you probably don’t have a total LED takeover quite yet. However, huge rock concerts in arenas with show lighting on huge rigs designed specifically for the show? That’s a different story.
LED lighting is far more sustainable and stable in terms of light fixtures. That is, they don’t spontaneously explode in the middle of a show. That’s a huge bonus for the lighting team. But, has its downside in terms of photography.
LEDs look like a constant light source. However, Bergman says that they work by sending out pulses of light. These aren’t visible to the naked human eye, but they are visible to your camera because of how your camera works. The human eye and brain is able to take in an entire scene in one go and make sense of it. The camera sensor records the scene one line of pixels at a time.
Bergman says this banding is most obvious when shooting backlit images into LED lights or when there is smoke or black lights being used.
How do you eliminate banding?
Unfortunately, this is something that you can’t remove in post-processing. Bergman says there are two things you can do in camera to reduce banding in your images.
The first is to shoot using a mechanical shutter, not electronic. Most mirrorless cameras have the option of both these days, and you might be tempted to go in favour of the silent electronic shutter. However, the mechanical shutter is your friend here. Generally, the electronic shutter is slower, hence why you’re more likely to see banding if you use that.
The other way to eliminate banding is a little counterintuitive, and that is to slow down your shutter speed. By exposing the sensor for a longer period of time, you can overlap the pulses of light. This way, the light appears as a solid beam as opposed to bands. Bergman says that he has had luck shooting at 1/125 for his shows, although it will vary depending on the lighting used.
If you’re worried about camera shake, you can usually bring a monopod into the camera pit with you. Additionally, if you’re shooting with any kind of in-body or lens stabilisation, that will also help you shoot at slower speeds. Of course, if the musicians are buzzing about the stage, you will risk catching motion blur at these speeds. But like everything in photography, you have to weigh the pros and cons.
It’s a really interesting subject and something that, as photographers, we need to be aware of if shooting anything indoors, particularly concerts or other events.
Have you ever experienced banding issues in your images? How did you tackle it?