Deal 10: A hot topic, at a hot price!
A Guest Post by Guy Prives.
Concert photography is one of the most challenging fields in photography, as opposed to posed photos; in this kind of photography we have no control of almost any parameter in the picture. We can’t direct the object being photographed, we do not have control over the lighting, which is constantly changing, and we do not have access to any angle.
On top of that we can’t forget that there are people around us who paid good money for enjoying the show and they don’t care that they are in our frame. Many times we are also limited to a certain time or amount of songs within we are allowed to take photos. Sounds like mission impossible? Although photographing a live show is not easy and intuitive, it is also less difficult than what most people might think, and I believe that at the end of this article, you will be amazed that it’s easier than it seems.
So how do we get started? For starters we want to lower as many of the variables that interrupt us, this is why I recommend to go to relatively intimate shows in places where you can get almost anywhere and take the frame from any angle you wish. If you have a band that you know personally, it will be a good place to start from. For example, my first show was in late 2007 – with Canon 350D and 18-55 mm kit lens. I went to a performance by a friend’s band, “The Carsitters”, who invited me to photograph the show, and I owe a lot of my experience to them.
Whether you are convinced by this saying or not there are still several fields in photography where our equipment is very important and one of these fields is the concert photography.
Due to the dim lighting at performances, we’ll prefer to use lenses with open aperture (f/2.8, f1.8, f/1.4) and using cameras that allows us to take photos at high ISO without noise.
In dynamic shows like rock bands, we will have to use a relatively high shutter speeds to freeze movement of wild drummer or jumping singer. These are the moments you will be thankful that you having good equipment in your hands. But do not be disappointed even if your equipment is not perfect. A lot of my concert shots were taken with Canon 350D that in terms of photography at high ISO is very noisy and does not allow to choose value over 1600, and also without any fast zoom lens.
Better to take a picture a bit noisy in my opinion, and reduce the noise later with some editing software (Lightroom 3 provides a very good option for reduce noises) or even stay with the noise, than getting an image without noise but all blurred because you had to compensate for the lower ISO with long exposure time.
Black & white can be a good option for noisy pictures like that.
One of the first difficulties we encounter in photography is the measurement of the light and selecting the correct exposure. In live shows we’ll measure light from a point which we want to expose by using the point metering (some will prefer using the evaluative).
In most of the shows there are several sets of repetitive light, so you should keep in mind the appropriate parameters for the different light and then for example as soon as spot will be on the singer we will know what the appropriate parameters for our frame. You should check your histogram and in addition check in the monitor for overexposed points, to ensure that the important objects in the frame are exposed properly. One of the most frustrating things is to get back home with a picture that looks good on the camera and then we find out in our computer screen that it’s overexposed or underexposed. Because it is difficult to find exactly our best exposure I recommend shooting in raw so that you can then compensate for the exposure if necessary and save images that was a bit overexposed or the opposite, got underexposed.
I am sure that you all know the following situation: You are in a concert, a few hundred feet from the stage, around of you hundreds of flashes of cameras from people who try to take pictures of the show.
I’m sorry to break the myth but your flash has no effect on lighting the singer. At best, the flash will do nothing, and at worst it will lit the cigarette’s smoke around you or the bald spot of those in front of you.
Another problem is that some use a camera on automatic or semi-automatic mode. The camera does not know that what interests us is the stage far away, and is not affected by the flash light, so it lets less light into the sensor – and we will get a dark stage.
So if you are far from the stage – turn off the flash.
If you are close to the stage and using the flash, the artist will be bright indeed – but any background will be dark and you’ll lose the whole atmosphere. What’s the solution? Measure the light by the environment until you get proper exposure in terms of atmosphere you want and just then add the flash, this way you get the ambient lighting showing the atmosphere, and the flash will lit the singer and freeze his movement. Thus, despite the slow shutter speed your object won’t become blurred. Of course you can bounce the flash and avoid harsh direct light which flatten the subject’s face, and can cause red eye, just like in any other situation that you take the photo with directed flash. If the ceiling is not low enough or is not white, like at most concerts, you can bounce the flash using a white card or just soften it by the use of any other diffusers. Another option using the flash that will have special results, but is less convenient, if you have access to the stage – put in advance flashes on the stage which will be activated remotely by triggers and will give you photos less ordinary.
The smoke can be our best friend or our worst enemy – when we take photos with flash, if the smoke is before the artist, then the flash will light the smoke and not the artist. In such situations we should avoid shooting with flash. However smoke behind the artist can improve the picture.
When it’s too dark and we are far from the stage and we cannot use the flash, we will wait until the spot light, the narrow, focused and strong light, will light the artist. You might be surprised to discover that those dark images that are lit just by the spot light on the singer will be much better than the frame where everything is lit. You have to remember: photographing a concert is not like documentary photography where it is important to see everything, but more of a photo that shows a certain atmosphere and lighting is our main method to pass it to the viewers. In concert, you will rarely have fixed light on the stage. Fixed light may make it easier for you to photograph, but also produces images that are more boring and banal.
Do not ignore the constraints. Compact cameras, old cameras or lenses with over 2.8 Aperture can cause problems when trying to capture the subject lit properly. This is because of the changing lights that are usually dark, which characterizes the majority of small performances. One of the recommended solutions is to shoot silhouettes. We prefer choosing a silhouette that is very clear so that the viewer can see and understand what the subject in the frame is even if it’s without light. This kind of photo we’ll shoot when there is no light on the subject and the only lights are behind the band / singer / dancer.
That way with a simple camera we can get special pictures. Please note that if we’ll not define in the camera that this is what we want, it will choose for us a long exposure or using the flash in order to light the stage. What we need is to set the camera manually to allow underexpose. Whether negative exposure compensation (EV) is defined for those of you using automatic or semi-automatic, or for those of you using the manual mode just increase the shutter speed or close the aperture until the image is completely dark when there is no backlight. In order to produce the silhouette we will measure the right exposure from the stage and then shoot with the parameters that were obtained. The back light will show as it should – and the figure will be completely dark. In these situations it will be hard to focus the camera, so focus on the character when there is light, or shoot with manual focus.
In most shows the dominant color is red. Lighting technicians like this colored lights that photographers usually hate. You should be careful that the red color will not “burn” and you will lose the data in those areas. Better take the photo a bit underexpose in raw and then add some brightness so no details will be lost in those areas. Another way to handle this is to make friends with the lighting technician and ask to use specific lights – you’ll be surprised, it works. If you didn’t had any success with these two methods and found yourself in front of the computer with picture that was exposed inaccurate, converting to black & white can save this image.
Until now we have talked only about the technical issues to photograph a concert, but we must not forget to address the composition as well. Also in concert it is not enough that the photo technically is perfect, you should also need a story and a good and interesting composition. Sometimes a close up image where you can only see the guitar for example will be enough and sometimes you will want to catch the whole band together. It all depends on your artistic taste and equipment’s constraints.
In concert photography there are no rules, you’ll have to see in each show the lighting effects in order to decide how you will photograph and display the same band. In conclusion, the concert photography is not an easy task, but with a little practice – you can get beautiful results.
Guy Prives is a concert & people photographer. Photography for Guy is another way to look and see the world from unique and different angles.
He discovered his love of photography during a long trip to South America and this passion to capture the moment with a click of the camera has been with him ever since. Ordinary things (sights) can become extraordinary when captured through the camera’s lens.
June 21, 2013 02:03 pm
Good tips and good choice of music (Dream Theater) :)
April 5, 2013 07:14 am
Thanks very much for the detailed usefull article.
Some of the ideas can be used on other photography fields also - not necessary concert photography :)
February 23, 2013 07:19 pm
Very good article. Thank you. I've been shooting concerts for some time but I always learn something new when I delve into someone else's perception.
April 5, 2012 03:33 pm
Took these as my first try at shooting a concert.
forgot how much I missed doing videos for events. Experimentation plays the best role in getting the shot you want. I spent a lot of time that night getting a good silhouette.
August 29, 2011 10:24 pm
I had chance of shooting some pictures in a concert. I used mainly 70-200 f2.8 and 50 f1.4 lenses and 1/500.
Few pictures from a Concert.
August 25, 2011 07:24 pm
Just 2 cents to using flashes: Normaly one is not allowed to use flash. So you have to know your equipment even better and get a feeling for light situations.
Use the spot meter.
Use RAW, so you can compensate if you over- or underexposed.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
August 24, 2011 05:39 pm
Thnx! That was my first time at a concert with a proper lens (f2.8).
August 24, 2011 06:15 am
@Vocko Beautiful Frames
August 23, 2011 10:04 pm
Here's two shoots from - The Famous Dulfer and Candy Dulfer in Belgrade
August 22, 2011 12:32 am
Sue - Thanks. Taking lots of photos at different settings was the only way for me to learn how each setting effects the photo and each other. I still do it when I'm learning something new. That's the great thing about digital. I would highly recommend a beginning photography class. Even though I didn't understand everything at the time at some point in my learning it began to make sense and it was great to have that foundation to build on. Oh and most of my friends who I consider good photographers will admit that "dumb luck" is responsible for some of their best photos.
August 20, 2011 01:40 pm
Ed - I went to look at the pictures you took of the concert - I loved them all. I completely understand the 600 to get the few you kept - it seems like the way I take pictures - I am anxious to take a photography class - really a camera education class for my Nikon d5000 this fall (when things settle down). I hope that once I learn more about my camera I will get better pictures and not just by "dumb luck".
August 19, 2011 11:44 pm
One more thing when people start to want some of your photos DO NOT give them away free because word gets out you will have a hard time making any money from your work or they will want them cheep.I do not give my photos free my times worth money.Do not sell yourself short and also tell them you want the credit for your work if they dont let it be known you took the photos dont sell them anymore its all about marketing thats how you get known.Again DO NOT sell yourself short.Peace Don.
August 19, 2011 11:28 pm
I am a freelance photographer and have been doing concert photography for the last 5 years and i have found i love it .Its not easy at times but i like that it keeps me on my tose and have learned a LOT it teaches you about lighting and comp and angles things are always changing from 1 min to the next.The most important thing to learn is how to use lighting without a flash a person can receive all the tips in the world use them but you have to expreienace the crowds of people and get the feel.If your just starting out take your time and shoot and shoot and shoot somemore try defferent angles like i said earler learn to use lighting without a flash start out in small bars and clubs talk to the bands and if you find out you can use flash for 2 or 3 shots be kind with it because it can blind the musicans and other people and make them mad and cause trouble NOT good for you or your camera .And when you can aford it use f1.4 or f 2.8 lens a good lens to START out with is a 50mm f 1.8 lens learn to use it good and than get the f1.4 50mm and 70-200mm f 2.8 and 85mm f 1.8 lens and 24-70mm f 2.8 these are great lens and befor i forget also14-24mm f2.8 and sigma 30mm f .14 thats when you get good at it but my advice untill then stay with 50mm f1.8 for awhile and then get 50mm f1.4 & 85mm f 1.8 and as you can aford it start getting the rest they are expersive BUT worth every penny with all of them you will not need anymore for a long while if at all.Go out shoot&shoot and shoot somemore and have fun Peace Don.
August 19, 2011 10:43 pm
i have a fuji s1000fd for shows. most dont allow my 30d and lenses etc so i must make due with a high end pns. im going to an outdoor show in a week that starts around 2:00 . so most of the bands will be playing in daylight. finishing off with 5finger deathpunch and korn in the dark. any tips/
August 19, 2011 07:01 pm
Have been into photographing the local band scene for just one month now and already I'm getting plenty of feedback re my images. Yes, it is tough working in a poorly lit environment, but the networking and the music is terrific and already I'm getting jobs to boot!
August 19, 2011 03:35 pm
Concert photography is something I really enjoy. While reading this article, I found many similarities. Well done Guy!
Even though some shots are not in the clear,
http://www.flickr.com/photos/87659272@N00/4616522735/in/photostream, you may find that many people liked more than than many clear shots.
For most of my shots, I look for expressions and actions that set things apart as in this of Paul DiAnno. http://www.flickr.com/photos/87659272@N00/4396565997/in/photostream and this of Eliott Moses in the group "Black Irish" http://www.flickr.com/photos/87659272@N00/5440793296/in/photostream
Don't forget to look around for that special photo as mentioned in the Composition section. Here is one when the trumpet was playing a solo durring a "power outage". http://www.flickr.com/photos/87659272@N00/5456274551/in/photostream (You never know when something shows up!)
Keep looking for things between sets that stand out, http://www.flickr.com/photos/87659272@N00/4633364703/in/photostream and http://www.flickr.com/photos/87659272@N00/4609256878/in/photostream
...and as we all have heard before, don't forget the drummer! http://www.flickr.com/photos/87659272@N00/5399482863/in/photostream
or at least the equipment http://www.flickr.com/photos/87659272@N00/5167721026/in/photostream
Once again, well done Guy!
August 19, 2011 02:13 pm
Not only is the article filled with great advice, but I'm also encouraged reading all the comments! I love photographing my favorite artists and songwriters; now just post photos to FB so friends can see what they weren't able to attend. I do believe my next step is a blog with my photos....followed closely by finding a way to get around so many 'no camera' rules at certain venues!
August 19, 2011 07:39 am
Absolutely agree! I shoot with a Canon 7D and crank the ISO up as low as I can, which is usually nothing less than 1600 if the house lights are on. If the lighting is way crazy, I'll just set my shutter speed and make the camera work for the fstop. If it comes out a little blurry or noisy, just say "hey it's rock-n-roll" and smile!
Thanks for the article! It's going up on my twitter account @RBshootMe!
August 19, 2011 03:15 am
When I read the word CONCERT I always think of a huge orchestra. But all the webs I explore give you tips on how to photograph rock concerts why not on how to take a good pic of an orchestra performing ? Any hints...?
August 19, 2011 02:40 am
I'm a long time silent reader here at dPS and have read lots of articles and tips, but I must get out of my silence to say that I'm also a concert photographer and what amazed me is that *every* tip you pointed about is correct and very corresponding to my own experience. And I really mean in all aspects, the search for the correct lighting on the stage, the need of correct exposure on the artist(s), the awful red lighting, converting to B&W if the image is too noisy and so on...
Excellent work as well on the images, they're nothing short of amazing, without exceptions.
August 19, 2011 01:11 am
Thanks for the suggestion... concert photography has always been a fave of mine but that is where I still have got a lot to learn...
By chance, are some of these pictures taken to Dream Theater shows? The bearded guitarist in the 2nd pic looks just like John Petrucci!
August 19, 2011 12:59 am
i have one of these too... and i leaved it without post or something..
again... appreciate all your advices....
August 18, 2011 08:01 pm
i went to a concert of a thai band and i had a hard time taking good photos even if iwas close to the stage. didnt have any idea on how to shoot then..luckily, after several times of trying, another concert goer asked me if he could do it. he took better photos than i did.. ;) after reading this, i need not give my camera to another person next time.. thanks for sharing..!!
August 18, 2011 09:12 am
I started with concert photography the moment I got my first camera and it's still my favorite... Personally I feel a lot more comfortable in these uncontrolled conditions then some beauty or fashion shooting with studio strobes, weeding photography, or sth.. which is also kind of obviously - there's basically nothing to screw up :) My Flickr sets
August 18, 2011 07:14 am
You are welcome. If it helps, you are more than welcome to use my sites name and say you are shooting for us, and then when you have your pictures, you can publish them under your own name on our site along with a small review? Im not sure whether that will help as our gig review website is mainly for British bands (not sure which country your from), but if it helps you get access, feel free.
My site is www.gigatude.co.uk - if this is something you want to do, make contact with me through the site and we can talk more about it.
August 18, 2011 04:55 am
Thanks for all the comments.
I'll check all the links with the photos that you put here.
@Susan - you just need to try again and again. if you aren't working for any newspaper so try find a website or a small newsletter that will agree to let you use their name when you are writing to the PR or the producer and ask them. usually when they have enough photo-pass they'll give you.
this is how I get into the Dream Theater show.
the only bad part of this is that no one publish it cause usually every newsletter has their won photographers.
August 18, 2011 03:35 am
to Andrew MacDonald:
Thank you so much!! I guess I could set up a blog page?? Anyways, I've emailed their management and no reply.. I guess I may try their record label. Thank you!
August 18, 2011 03:16 am
Its actually easier than you might think. For me, I wanted to get access to concerts and photograph them, but to do so, the artists need something in return, namely, publicity. So I created a website with the sole intention to publish my concert pictures along with a short review of the show.
Now I simply contact artists, their promotors or their record labels and ask for a photo pass in return for me publishing them online along with a review. I also offer them a copy of all my pictures for use on their website, solong as they give me a credit link.
I am genuinely surprised at how easy it is to get into these big concerts. I always thought they must get tons of these types of requests, but if you have something to offer them in return, 9 times out of 10, you'll get access.
August 18, 2011 03:07 am
BTW, please see my images of Opeth at http://www.facebook.com/soulssscapes . Thanks all!! Any comments, help appreciated!!
August 18, 2011 02:45 am
how do you acquire your photo pass?? Thanks! (I took some shots of Opeth back in 2009 with my old canon.. have recently upgraded and better learned no flash photography.. now I can't reach the bassist to get photo pass for upcoming show. they are international and I am getting nowhere trying to go through their mgmt..) Thanks again!
August 17, 2011 10:32 pm
LIke the others, I wish I had read these tips before seeing a favorite artist in concert, haha! Thank you so much for this!
August 17, 2011 10:28 pm
"In concert photography there are no rules, "
Oh yes there are. There are very specific rules you MUST follow and change from venue to venue and security company to security company. Having been a Concert photographer for a few concerts (15) I'll tell you that if you step up on the stage, even if you are PAID by the band or promoter, the bouncers will remove you in a big way I have seen a prima donna ignore security and step up on stage to get thrown off the stage and his 1DS and nice L series lens smashed.. Metallica has insane security. You talk to the bouncers and security and ask them what they find acceptable. Also you need to honor to the second their request that you stop shooting after song X. you usually will be allowed to shoot through the first 3 songs, get all your shots done and get out of their way.
Finally, take shots of the band and not just the lead singer. I have some awesome shots of the backup band for Travis Tritt that are absolutely incredible. So good that his keyboardist asked to buy some prints from me for his portfolio.
Finally during the concert is not the only time to shoot. the best crowd shots I have ever taken were 30 minutes before the concert when security let me go up on stage (after proving that I listen to them and asking the right guy really nicely) and shoot towards the crowd. I was up there for 12 seconds and checked my shots after I got down.
August 17, 2011 10:20 pm
I have done loads and loads of concerts over the years.
The first think I would say is LEAVE THE FLASH OFF.
It's really really rare that you would be allowed to use a flash. I have seen people been removed from venues for using flash. So drop it and use that high iso.
If you are there with your pocket camera no one will think about it, though you will still not get good shots. Pull out a dslr and you might be on your way home.
August 17, 2011 10:06 pm
Great tips! Although I have nowhere near the experience, I also find that if I am familiar with the band's music, it makes "following the light" a lot easier - bright bold chorus or single spot intimate. Tha nks again for the great info!
August 17, 2011 06:13 pm
Ups forgot to copy the link to my photo :)
August 17, 2011 06:12 pm
I loved photographing concerts ever since I started going to concerts, whether with a point and shoot or my phone when the camera's battery is dead/memory is full or lately with my Nikon D90. I also love taking videos which would make me feel likte I'm there when watching a few months later. But photographs are special.
Ever since I got myself a 50mm f1.8 I try to take my camera to show where photographying is allowed and when it's not that stupid to carry a bulky camera on your shoulder :)
Good article, I surely agree with "it's not the camera", yet I must admit that having a privilege to shoot from in front of the stage is what makes most photos more worth looking at :) Last month I went to Jamie Cullum's show and for the last 10-15 min. of the show we were able to get close to the stage (thanks to him inviting everyone to the front!) and I had the chance to catch some closer photos of him. Of course it's not that easy to try to hold still a camera and shoot at the desired sec with the frame you want not changed when a bunch of people are trying to push you to see the singer or are jumping with you. So not all the photos were that good. Even if they are you may need some post processing because of the lights changing so quickly and creating stuff you did not imagine you'd get as in the one below (didn't know how to remove that flare on his arm), however I like that shot a lot even though his face is not recognized.
August 17, 2011 05:58 pm
Recommend page http://fotografia-koncertowa.pl with photos of the concerts in Poland 990px ??- good quality photos are worth seeing.
August 17, 2011 05:49 pm
Superb article, being a huge metal fan and photographer it's something that has always intrigued me, getting a press pass and going along to a show with my kit to catch some moments of the concert. I have alway held off as I only had an f/4 lens at best, I recently got a f/2.8 so it's becoming more tempting!
"I’m sorry to break the myth but your flash has no effect on lighting the singer."
Slight change of subject but I remember shooting long exposures off the top of the Empire State building back in 1999 and the number of people who had no tripod ( I had a little mini 6" pocket tripod ) and firing off their flashes did make chuckle. I told a couple of them to switch off the flash and rest on the stonework, if they wanted some decent pics of the city streets.
August 17, 2011 10:22 am
A bit difficult to follow at times, but the points made and tips given in this article are good stuff and the great photos speak volumes about concert photography. This one is book marked.
I've only tried one concert, and it was outdoors with a lot of daylight remaining, but many of the points made here still apply.
August 17, 2011 09:01 am
I do concert photography for a living, and I must say, I absolutely love it. With regards to flash, in 95% of the concerts I shoot at, flash Is not allowed, and you only have the first three songs with which to obtain your pictures.
Granted, thats if you are in the press pit, which most people will not be, but often times for people such as myself, flash is not an option even if I wanted it to be. And to be fair, the author is right when he says it completely ruins the atmosphere of the picture. It's quite a challenging environment in which to work, but in terms of 'work', I can't think of a better way to make a living.
Getting into concerts for free, getting the best 'seats' in the house, getting paid to be there doing something you already love (photography + music). I honestly could not be happier. And it's all thanks to sites like this, dPS, if it weren't for you, I wouldn't have the skills I do today, so Darren, thank you!!
August 17, 2011 06:34 am
I agree with the author: much rather have noise and a sharp shot than no noise and a blurry shot as noise can be reduced, but nothing can be done about blur. Waiting for spotlights or for a member of a band to walk behind a fixed light is another key thing to making concert photos pop.
The most famous band I have photographed was The Commodores:
August 17, 2011 05:46 am
Hey, it's Dream Theater. Sweet.
August 17, 2011 02:37 am
Thanks for the great Dream Theater images (and words).
August 17, 2011 02:21 am
Another strategy for handling "The Red" is to back off the total saturation a bit...to 85% or so. If it's really bad on the red channel I'll back that off even more. You have to watch the balance, but it's surprising how much latitude you have...people already look a little off because of the stage lights, so you can afford quite a bit more tinkering than you would with a studio portrait.
Concert photography is probably one of the more challenging disciplines...I learn something new every time I go out and I still never feel like I'm quite on top of it. Thanks for some new tools to add to my kit :-)
Oh, about using flash: as a performer as well as photographer, I disagree somewhat with the author's claim...true, it's not going to cause anyone to fall off of the stage, but in an otherwise dark space, it's very distracting and rather annoying...not only to those on stage, but to audience members around. If the show already has lots of blinky effects, strobes, etc., probably no one will care or even know, but if it's a dark/quiet space, I would really think twice or maybe three times about using flash.
August 17, 2011 01:51 am
Fantastic suggestions. I recently started a position as a staff photographer at a college newspaper and was tossed to the sharks after being sent to an annual music festival. I must say however, that if you have the time to just experiment, you won't need too many tips. Thanks again!
August 17, 2011 01:41 am
I went to see my favorite band the day after getting my RebelXT. I think the shots turned out ok but I know I could have done better today.
August 17, 2011 01:08 am
Great article around his challenging situation! The action, variable lighting, white balance, composition boggles the mind! Here is a hot of an electric guitar for some compositional inspiration!
August 17, 2011 12:54 am
Where were you last year when I was trying to figure this all out? I took these photos a month after I got my camera and was still pretty clueless as to what the settings all do. While I came up with these that I like I took over 600 to get them. You've given us some great tips and ideas and I can't wait for the chance to try them out.
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