One of the greatest challenges of photographing live music is that very often, the lighting is rather colourful. It's great to watch as a member of the audience but as a photographer it can distract from your images with performers looking strangely coloured! Sometimes this works really well but I almost always find that I have to colour-correct my music photography images. Alternatively, there is always the option to convert the image to black and white which is why I always keep an eye out for images that I know will work well in monochrome. One way to do this is to get in close (normally with a zoom lens) and make sure there is as little clutter in the frame as possible. Below is a step-by-step guide to describe how I approach the editing of these types of image in Adobe Lightroom.
I chose this image because it is uncluttered and has a dark background - below is how the image looked straight out of camera. It's ok but I know that it can be edited to make it look a lot better. The colour cast annoys me (we'll deal with that later) but I like the simplicity and I know it can be tweaked to make a much stronger image.
The first thing I do to all of my images is to sharpen them slightly and also remove a bit of the noise. This is achieved by using the "Detail" panel. I also ensure that the lens correction is selected correctly to ensure that the image is as accurate as possible.
Returning to the "Basic" panel my go-to tweaks involve boosting the blacks to provide a bit of impact, increasing the exposure to brighten up the image and then reducing the highlights and raising the shadows slightly to even out the tones across the whole image.
At this point I start to look at any discrepancies in the image. For this image I decided that there were a few too many shadows on the musicians face so using the radial filter I brightened up the shadows and also increased the exposure a small amount. It's a subtle difference but one that I think lifts the image that extra little bit.
Next it's time to convert the image to black and white. Returning to the "Basic" panel I completely removed the saturation. At this point I also tend to increase the contrast to give the image even more impact and tweak the exposure as required. I also add a little bit of clarity - only a tiny bit mind you - using too much will make the image look very over-processed!
The image is starting to look pretty impressive I hope you'll agree, but we're not finished yet! Even though I tried my best to capture an uncluttered image at the start, there are a few items that distract the eye. Using the clone tool set on "heal", I have painted over the guitar head in the bottom right of the image and have also removed a stray light at the top right of the image.
Cropping an image can be a dramatic improvement. With this shot all I have done is straighten it ever so slightly, remove some of the extra space around the musician and ensure that the musician is central within the frame. It's another small tweak but it makes the composition of the image more pleasing to the eye.
To create additional focus I sometime like to add a vignette using the "Effects" panel. Again, it's a very subtle tweak but really helps to focus in on the main subject. For this image, I have also decided to add a linear filter from the left side of the image just to ensure that it is completely dark around the musician.
And there you have it, a black and white live music portrait with impact. Let me know if this has been helpful and also whether you would have edited the image differently.