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10 Must-Have Camera Settings for Concert Photography

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The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones: Nikon D800, 185mm at f4, 1/320, ISO 1600

The correct camera settings are key to getting awesome concert photos in low light situations. Maybe you were in this situation before. You used the full automatic mode in front of the stage and – BAM- the little flash monster sitting on top of your camera pops up and throws the ugliest light you can think of onto the singer’s face. At this point, a lot of frustrated concert photography beginners just take their cameras home and never shoot a concert again. But wait, in this article I’ll share the camera settings I use all the time during concert shoots and I promise they’ll help you to immediately boost your career as concert photographer. Let’s start.

1) Aperture Priority Versus Manual Exposure Mode

I started off using aperture priority mode; you tell your camera the aperture you want to use and the camera sets the shutter speed accordingly. This is a great option for a beginner to use, because you’ll be stressed enough with all the other things going on around you. However, I soon recognized that only manual mode would give me the flexibility I was looking for. I set aperture, shutter speed, and ISO and then change them on the fly using the internal exposure bar in the viewfinder. I am constantly checking my LCD screen and have a look at the histogram to see if my exposure is correct.

Fink

Fink: Nikon D700, 14mm at f/2.8, 1/200, ISO 3200

2) Use the Lowest Aperture Number

When deciding which lenses will work best for concert photography, you’ll always come to the same conclusion: use fast lenses and shoot them wide open. Set your aperture to the smallest number on your lens e.g. f/1.8 (which reflects a big aperture). This allows the most possible light to enter your sensor and is a must-have setting in ultra low-light stage conditions. The best zoom lenses have an aperture of f/2.8, the best prime lenses f/1.4 or f/1.8. For Beginners on a budget I suggest to get a 50mm f/1.8, which is cheap and therefore a no-brainer for concert photography.

3) Use a Fast Shutter Speed

Have you ever been on a concert where the artist was hyperactive jumping from one side of the stage to the other? To freeze these movements you have to use a fast shutter speed. In general, I set my shutter speed at 1/200sec and faster. Otherwise you risk blurred photos.

Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus: Nikon D800, 340mm at f/4.8, 1/320, ISO 1600

4) High ISO Values

ISO or film speed refers to the sensitivity of an analog film. Today the term is used for the sensitivity of your digital sensor. The higher the ISO setting the less light is needed for a proper exposure, but the more noise you will encounter in your pictures. Depending on the ability of your camera a good starting point for ISO is a setting of 1600. If my shutter speed is too low, I will crank up the ISO setting to 3200 or 6400.

5) Spot Metering

Set your camera’s internal light meter to spot metering. This takes a light reading limited to the center of your viewfinder (a very small percentage, and some cameras allow you to choose where to meter – check your manual). When shooting concerts, you will often find yourself in a situation where the artist is lit by a spotlight and the rest of the stage is almost dark. When using spot metering mode, place the artist’s face in the middle of your viewfinder and you’ll get the right exposure for it. When using the Matrix (or evaluative) metering setting, the camera will take a light reading at several points in the scene and you’ll probably get overexposed faces if the background is dark.

Atari Teenage Riot

Atari Teenage Riot: Nikon D700, 50mm at f/1.8, 1/2500, ISO 1600

6) Use the Middle Autofocus Point

On your camera, only use the central focus point in low light situations. This will be the most accurate one. If you don’t always want to have the artist in the middle of the frame, you have to recompose. Simply push your shutter button halfway down to focus on the artist’s face. By holding the shutter button halfway down you lock focus. Now move your viewfinder until you get the desired framing and push the shutter button fully down.

To use this technique, you have to set your camera to Autofocus single (AF-S for Nikon, One Shot for Canon) mode, otherwise the camera focuses continuously while you’re reframing your picture. You can also set the AF-ON button to focus, which I prefer.

7) Use Auto White Balance

I use the auto white balance setting on my camera. The reason being is that I shoot in RAW format and can therefore adjust the white balance setting in post-production anyway.

Skunk Anansie

Skunk Anansie: Nikon D700, 85mm at f/3.5, 1/500, ISO 1600

8) Multiple Shot (Burst) Mode

Set your camera to multi-shot mode (may be called High Speed shooting mode). It allows you to rapidly shoot three to four photos in a row (depending on the frames per second of your camera model. It’s more likely that at least one of the four photos is tack sharp whereas the others might not be in focus.

9) Never Use Flash

First, you are not allowed to use a flash in concert photography. Imagine ten photographers burst their flashes at the same time. This would be quite annoying for the artist. Second, straight flash pictures don’t look awesome.

Korn

Korn: Nikon D700, 130mm at f/2.8, 1/250, ISO 3200

10) Shoot in Raw Format

Always shoot concerts in RAW format. If you shoot in JPEG mode, the internal camera computer adds contrast, saturation and sharpness to your photos. These files look great when you open them on your computer, but don’t leave much freedom in post-production. If you shoot in RAW format, the camera does not process the photo at all. The advantage is that you can change parameters like exposure, white balance, saturation, contrast, clarity and so on afterwards.

Here is a summary of my ten must have camera settings:

  1. Use manual exposure mode
  2. Use your lowest aperture number
  3. Use fast shutter speeds
  4. Use high ISO values
  5. Use spot metering
  6. Use your middle autofocus point
  7. Use the auto white balance setting
  8. Use burst mode
  9. Never use flash
  10. Shoot in RAW format

With these camera settings you will be able to get great results when shooting in low light conditions such as concerts.

The Prodigy

The Prodigy: Nikon D800, 85mm at f/1.8, 1/320, ISO 1600

Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus: Nikon D700, 50mm at f/1.8, 1/200, ISO 1600

Being a concert photographer can be tough. There are a lot of industry secrets that nobody is talking about and it took me almost six years to reveal them.

So I decided to write the Guide to Rockstar Concert Photography which is a step-by-step guide which will provide you with all the information necessary from shooting your first concert, learning which camera gear and settings you need, how to build an awesome portfolio, understanding the rules of the photo pit, getting signed by magazines, shooting exclusively for your favorite bands, and making money with your work.

This guide is available for the first and only time at SnapnDeals at a 50% off discount to help you getting started to become a Rockstar Photographer too.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Matthias Hombauer is a self-taught music photographer. He has a Ph.D. in molecular biology, but has quickly realized that he wanted to combine his two passions, music and photography, instead. Currently, Matthias is based in Vienna/Austria and  works for national and international music magazines as well as record labels and bands in order to capture the amazing moments during a rock stage performance. Check out his new blog on How to Become a Rockstar Photographer

  • moonriver0712

    soooooo informative for all beginners on photography like me…million thanks to this author got my dslr nikon 3100 and surely got some confidence once ive practice this one. again, gracie mila

  • Johan Bauwens

    I always use 2/3 to 1 stop underexposure and spotmetering. when the artist is backlit I use overexposure

  • fikri santoso

    Its great dude thx for this info

  • thanks @moonriver0712. You can find more about concert photography on my blog: http://howtobecomearockstarphotographer.com/

  • you´re welcome!

  • afrophonics_craig

    On point, as always, Matthais. I love reading and viewing your work. You’re a treasure to this community.

  • Hi afrophonics_craig, thanks so much for your comment. Really appreciate it.

  • Hi Emeliagroves11, the best way is to start in small club and shooting as a paying listener in the crowd. It´s not always easy, but you´ll be able to enter with your DSLR camera and you can learn the basics. Later on, when you have a portfolio, you can apply at magazines to shoot the bigger shows. Hope that helps, rock on Matthias

  • Thanks Mark for your comment. what tips are you looking for? best matthias

  • Mark Gorski

    Hello Matthias thanks for your email. I have to go to concerts between August and March next year. It will be Fleetwood Mac venue Allphones Arena, AC/DC outside venue Stadium Australia, Madonna Allphones Arena inside the venue. Our disabled seats for the wheelchairs are always starting at the first level up for emergency purposes so will need to have my zoom lens. I have a Canon 500 D and distended twin pack 18-55, 55-250. So will be using the 55-250 mm lens. I was wondering about modes because I went to a wrestling event in August and last time it was at the other Arena and I was a bit further away and I thought I would use a sports mode. There was some reasonable pictures but really need to be faster. I used the same mode again in August and the floodlighting was too bright as I was a lot closer as it was a different venue.

    With regard to the other is any suggestion you can give me on modes and lighting metering as I was thinking about using TV mode at 1st to freeze a motion and then I thought about AV mode and using spotlight for the lighting metering.

    Can you give me any idea what your thoughts are shutter speed and ISO. I have a similar concert/event October 1 where they will be using a fair bit of lighting as it is a televised event a grand final football show and it will be having some kind of similar lighting because there will be some stage performances so no doubt using similar lighting techniques. I know it’s a big ask but something is better than nothing as I won’t be able to change these things once inside any of these events because some of them do not allow cameras especially DSLR with lenses like this. I don’t understand why you cannot use them for monetary gain as they are so far away there only for personal use anyway I do use the camera quite a bit. I will also have my go pro camera as well. I have put the spotlight meter lighting on that already.

    Any assistance appreciated regards Mark

  • fikri santoso

    What is your account on instagram bro.. so i can follow u?

  • @matthiashombauer , thanks Fikri

  • fikri santoso

    Ur welcome ?

  • quickly take a photo of something white under the red lighting and use that for white balance correction in post, if you want to eliminate the color from your photos or reduce it if you want some red left in. I carry a white card in my back pocket, even if it is out of focus when shoot it, I get a color reference I can use later.

  • graphixspot

    Hi Matthias. Any tips regarding concert photography in broad daylight? I’ll be at a concert with the artists facing the sun.

  • kentoney

    Back button focus too (I may have missed that in article).

  • Hi! In bright sunlight you can use a higher f number such f5.6-8, Iso settings of 100-200 and faster shutter speeds as well. Let me know how it worked out

  • yes, good point Kentoney! I using back button focus as well.

  • Mark Gorski

    Hi Matthias just any tips on shooting mode and any other little tipsL I know I’ll be using spotlighting that’s for sure. Thank you for your reply back regards Mark

  • Hi Mark, please find an article about my camera settings here: http://www.howtobecomearockstarphotographer.com/concert-photography-settings-for-beginners/

  • Mark Gorski

    hello Matthias thank you for the link.as I will be a fair way away depending on our seating I will be using the zoom lens 55-250 mm cannot use manual mode as it will be so hard to use at the moment so need a automatic modesuch as AV or TV I know my manual mode would be good but in my situation I have to use something straightaway and not be able to make changes as I go what I posted the below message last year I did not get to go to those concerts I had multiple fractures in September unfortunately so I would like to get going again and using my 750 D which I obtained just recently.so the guides a rough estimate of what I can use in your article.really appreciate your help with all these matters.was really upset I couldn’t go to those concerts especially Fleetwood Mac I got to see Madonna in March I wish I had my 750 d at that concert the difference between frame rates is unbelievable 3.5 as opposed to 5 frames per secondI also bought everyday use all day lens 16- 300 tam very impressed with it .but but need to Canon for those concerts Lower Aperture only 4.5 2.8 lenses were too heavy to hold .thanks again for your help regards Mark

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