Tips – Why To Shoot RAW (and edit in Lightroom)


Very often, people say to me, “the skin tone in your shots is so great, isn’t that difficult to do with concert lighting?”  And the answer is: yes.  1000 times yes.  However, in the digital age, there are some tricks that can be used to get everything looking “as it should”.  However, it is only possible if you take a deep breath, and realize, you’re going to have to shoot camera RAW

Why Not Just Go B&W?:

Many photographers these days will just convert a photo to black and white and call it a day.  I hate doing that.

Why you ask?  Simply because many headlining (and some opening) bands have lighting carefully designed around their set.  Converting to black and white takes away from that lighting and what makes the show unique and special.  There are some great uses for black and white, but I will cover that in a different post.

Why Not Just Set the White Balance?:

When shooting live music, you’re typically going to set the white balance to the whatever the temperature of the clean white lighting is.  The problem is, musicians aren’t going to stop doing cool things while the lights are red or blue.

The goal is to get their skin tone looking human, or as close to what it is in natural white light as possible.  This can prove to be difficult, or completely impossible at times, even if the white balance is set dead on perfect.

All the samples provided in this posting could not be fixed with tweaking the white balance alone.

Why Am I Shooting RAW?  The files are HUUUUUUGE!:

You’re shooting raw not because you need huge files, but because you need to adjust how the camera sensor saw the color information.

If you shoot in jpeg, sure, you can shoot more and faster, but you can’t change the color calibration of the photo.  Also, any changes you make in RAW and in Lightroom are non-destructive.  Meaning, if you start with a photo, you can add and tweak whatever you want, and it isn’t going to harm that base file.  The file that was created when you clicked the shutter will always be there.  Unless you delete it of course.

Why Not Just Leave it the color it is?:

Honestly, you should, sometimes.  It is up to your discretion as a photographer to decide when those times call for it.  If you’re shooting a headlining band in a large arena for instance, you should probably leave it the color it is.  Reason being: the light provided is provided by an actual individual (or even team of people) who’s job it is to create the lighting for the band during their performance.

However, if you’re in a small club, or a venue of say, 1200 capacity or less, its not typical that the band and their manage wanted bright pink on their brutal death metal band.

The Camera Calibration Menu:

Camera Calibration

For starters, don’t be afraid of it.  It will take some playing with but this menu can be your best friend for getting skin tones are colors that are human.

The options are the following:

Process: 2012 (current), 2010, 2003

I just leave this at 2012 (current).  The reason is that Adobe updated their RAW editing options with Lightroom 4.  Changing this will most noticeably change the Basic options (Exposure, Contrast, Clarity, etc.).

Profile: ACR 4.4, Adobe Standard, Camera Landscape, Camera Portrait, Camera Neutral, Camera Standard, Camera Vivid, and more

Depending on what camera you shot with, there may be more/less options available here.  On my Nikon D3, there are options such as Camera D2x Mode 1, 2, 3 and more.  Canon cameras may have more options.

I typically use Camera Portrait for live music, Camera Standard for sports, and Adobe Standard for other types of photography.  Really, this option is personal preference  and what looks best to you.

Shadows: Tint

Here, you can add more green or more magenta to the color of the shadows in the image.  Typically, I leave this at 0, but there have been times where I had to add a little bit more green/magenta.

Red Primary, Blue Primary, Green Primary

These are you bread and butter.  You can literally spend hours tweaking these around to get things looking just right.

Now, for some samples:


In this first shot here, you can see the shot looks almost un-salvageable.  However, with a lot of tweaking, I was able to bring it back to life.  It’s important to note, I heavily adjusted the white balance and saturation to achieve this look.  This was shot a bit overexposed as well, at Iso 6400, 1/160/s, and f 1/.6 with a 50 1.4 lens.



As you can see in this sample as apposed to the one above, I changed the blue hue all the way to -100.  Yet, they were both purple casts.  This depends on the lights the venue uses.  Sample 1 was taken at Irving Plaza in New York City, and sample 2 was taken at Revolution Long Island in Amityville, NY.  This was taken at 1/160/s, at ISO 6400, f 2.8 with an 80-200 2.8 lens.



In this last sample, the blue cast is just overwhelming.  No matter how much I play with the sliders, the subject will remain one solid color.  In this cast, if the shot was good, I would desaturate slightly, so that no details are lost.  This would keep the pure blue, but that is just something you have to deal with.  This sample was taken at The Paramount in Huntington, NY.

In Closing:

Typically, purple, light blue, and light green are color casts that can be fixed.  Green can be tweaked but will never look perfect.  Blue and Red are your enemies   Sometimes, if it can be avoided, just don’t bother shooting when there are red and blue casts.

Last but not least, remember this: if its not the headlining band, typically, lighting designers just don’t care about you.  Unless the band is Steel Panther.  Then they love you.

Comments or Feedback?

If you just want to say you like what I wrote up, want to ask me a quick question, or think I should add more samples, feel free to leave a message in the comments at the bottom of the post.

One Response to “Tips – Why To Shoot RAW (and edit in Lightroom)”

  1. Petr Mika says:

    Very helpful post, thanks for it! I’ve been struggling with colors from concerts for a long time and I think it’s important to learn how to and if at all handle with temperature and tint sliders.

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