Commack High School Winter Concert III
If you're looking for some tips on photographing high school concerts have a look at the Winter Concert II post. If you're just here for the photos click on any thumbnail below to open the gallery.
Just to prove some severely underexposed photos can be resurrected from the dead, have a look at the last three photos in the gallery. The last two are the orchestra performing and standing for applause. On the far left side of each photo you may or may not make out two musicians who, unfortunately, were sitting at the edge of the stage with no light. You can probably make them out a little better in the photo of the orchestra standing.
Now have a look at the third photo from the end. That's them. So why can you see them in that photo and not in the photo of the entire orchestra? Well, first, the photo of the two of them was taken using the same aperture and ISO as the other two but this one had a shutter speed at 1/10 sec. vs. 1/100 sec. for the others. While that was sort of a "hail mary" shot, the image stabilization on my 100-400mm lens pulled it off. Also the fact that they were only moving their hands helped a lot. Even so, the unedited photo looked like this straight out of the camera -
In order to be able to drastically improve a photo like this you need to shoot in raw image format, not jpeg. Raw image format gives you much more latitude to correct the exposure without creating an incredible amount of noise.
First, before making any exposure adjustments, I do noise removal using Noiseware by Imagenomic. This product seems to work best for noise removal with my Fuji XT-2 and, believe me, I've tried them all. Next, I export the photo into Luminar. Luminar is a relatively new photo editor that's inexpensive, easy to use and extremely powerful at certain tasks. You can run it as a standalone app or as a plugin from Lightroom or Photoshop. I used three sliders to increase the exposure and contrast - Accent AI Filter, Smart Tone and Shadows. That's it.
As you can see, the finished photo is not going to win any awards. The colors and contrast still leave a lot to be desired and the photo lost a lot of detail all due to the drastic exposure shift. But given that a correct exposure would have required an effective ISO of 25,600 I would say it came our pretty fair. If I would have used that exposure on the two shots of the entire orchestra everyone but our two musicians in the dark would have been completely blown out white.
The moral of the story is, if you have an extremely unevenly lit photo, isolate the subjects in the dark from the ones in the light. Take separate photos of each, if possible, so you can post-process them independently. And don't be afraid to take the shot even if you think it's too dark. You might be surprised at how much detail is in an undereposed photo.