Concert Photography

There are many difficult lighting situations that a photographer will run into in his/her career. Probably the most difficult of those is concert shooting. My passion and dream for the future is to make a career out of concert/band photography, or at least make it a huge side job. Anyways, I thought I would write a little article giving an overview of the basics that I’ve learned while shooting concerts.

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The Band/Venue

I like to find a band I can get into. I also like to find a band that I know some of their songs and lyrics. It makes it easier to get the singer screaming or doing other things if you know the music.


This is my favorite band, so I know when the big scream is coming

If you plan on doing anything major with the photos you take at concerts, it’s a good idea to get model release forms from the band members, especially if you are going to try to sell prints or get them published.

It’s important to know your subject, and the venue is as much as a subject as the band itself. I recommend checking the place out first, before shooting. Try to take some test shots with the house stage lighting. If they have horribly low light/no stage lights, it would be smart to go find another show that night. I’ve had to follow a band three nights in a row until they finally played in a venue worth shooting.

Equipment

As with most things in life, the proper tools are important, especially in concert photography. It’s important to have an SLR, whether it be film or digital, so to have the control that an SLR provides.

As far as lenses go, you will need something that opens up to a pretty large aperture. Its almost impossible to use anything that doesn’t get down to f2.8. For most newbies at concert photography, I would recommend a 50mm f1.8. The 50mm f1.8 is pretty cheap and will provide you a good start. I have a 70-200mm f2.8 that works amazing.

Aperture

Its important to get a lens that opens up far, because when shooing concerts you will have to deal with low light. Also, it will help capture stage light well. Once again, anything above 2.8 will probably not work well.

Shutter speed

Here is where some people will argue with me. The rule usually goes to shoot at double of your zoom length (if you have a 50mm lens, that’s 125th of a second shutter speed). Some times you will not be able to shoot that fast. I never go below a 1/60th. If you use a monopod or some kind of support, you should be ok. Sometimes you got to shoot a ton of photos of the subject just to make sure you got one right on.

ISO

Your ISO will play a big part in all of this craziness. I like to shoot at 400; it provides good speed and very little noise or grain. I wouldn’t suggest going over 800 or you will get some major noise problems and your prints wont turn out as well as they look on the back of your camera.

The Exposure

Here is my method:
* Manual Mode
* Start at around 2.8, even if you can go lower then that
* Start at 1/125th
* ISO 200-400

DON’T LISTEN TO YOUR CAMERAS METER, IT’S LYING!
Not really, but it doesn’t understand exactly what your going for.


My camera told me that 1/125 at f2.8 would be unexposed, but look how the shot is properly exposed

Tips and Tricks

  • I like to get down low and get some backlights behind my subject.
  • Don’t get angry if you don’t get what you want at first, keep at it.
  • Blend into the crowd, but also make sure you don’t get stuck in a mosh pit.

Common mistakes

  • One thing I constantly find myself doing is focusing on the microphone and not the singers face. With an open aperture like 2.8, you will have a low Depth of Field, and by focusing on the mic, you may lose the face. I use the mic as kind of a guide and I always lose the singers face. Get use to focusing manually.


Notice how the mic is nice and sharp, but I lose the singers face
Click on image to see full picture

  • Flash. Flashes are awful at shows. You will most likely get kicked out of the venue for blinding the musicians. It’s rude and plus you generally get horrible results. If, for some crazy reason, you can use a flash, try to turn it down low and slow sync it, so you can still capture the ambient light.

Now, go out, enjoy the shows, and snap some great photos!