What are the best concert photography settings, and how can you use them for great results?
Settings are a key part of getting awesome concert photos, especially in low-light situations. If you get your settings right, the results will be spectacular. But if you get them wrong? Your shots will be blurry, unpleasant, and just all-around bad.
That’s why, in this article, I’m going to share 10 settings for concert photography. These are the exact camera settings I use in my own concert shooting, so you know they work. (And I promise: They’ll help you immediately boost your career!)
Let’s dive right in.
1. Use Manual mode or Aperture Priority
And in general, Aperture Priority works well. It’s great for beginners because it partially automates the exposure process, giving you one less thing to worry about.
But after shooting for a while, I recognized that only Manual mode would give me the flexibility I was after. I wanted to set the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO – and then change each setting on the fly based on my requirements.
So depending on your level of experience and comfort, pick one of these two options.
(Also, if you do choose Manual mode, make sure to frequently check your LCD preview and your histogram to ensure your exposure is correct!)
2. Use your lens’s widest aperture setting
Struggling to decide which lens to use for concert photography? I always give the same advice: use fast lenses and shoot them wide open.
Set your aperture to the smallest f-number your lens allows, which will give you the biggest aperture opening. That way, the most possible light hits your sensor.
A wide aperture is especially important in low-light concert photography. If possible, shoot with an f/2.8, f/1.8, f/1.4, or f/1.2 lens.
If you’re a beginner on a budget, I’d recommend grabbing a 50mm f/1.8 lens, which is cheap, features a wide maximum aperture, and offers surprisingly nice image quality.
3. Use a fast shutter speed
Have you ever been to a concert where the artist was running and jumping from one side of the stage to the other?
This type of action makes for some great photography – but to freeze such movement, you must use a fast shutter speed.
In general, I set my shutter speed to 1/200s or faster (and depending on the level of action, you may want to push this even higher.)
4. Boost your ISO
The higher your ISO, the less light you need for a proper exposure – and in concert photography, where light is generally limited, this is a key setting to get right.
Your camera’s ISO range likely starts at 100. But if you’re shooting a low-light concert, I’d recommend kicking this up to 1600, 3200, or even 6400. Otherwise, your shots will end up far too dark (or you’ll be forced to drop your shutter speed, which will introduce blur).
Unfortunately, a high ISO does come with a significant tradeoff:
As you push your ISO from 400 to 800 to 1600, you start to get little flecks of color and light that look pretty bad. The specifics will depend on your camera (modern sensors do a very good job of minimizing high-ISO noise!), but you should always be cautious when boosting the ISO. Only raise it when absolutely necessary, and be mindful of your particular camera’s high-ISO capabilities.
5. Use spot metering
Spot metering limits your camera’s exposure readings to the center of the scene – which allows you to determine the exposure based on a small subject (e.g., a face). It works especially well when your subject and background are differently lit.
And when shooting concerts, the artist will often be lit by a spotlight while the rest of the stage remains dark.
So here’s what you do:
First, switch your camera to spot metering mode.
Then place the artist’s face in the middle of your viewfinder and memorize the recommended exposure settings.
Finally, if you’re using Manual mode, you can dial in the settings, then compose without worrying about fluctuating meter readings. If you’re using Aperture Priority, you’ll need to lock in the exposure; that way, you don’t end up with varied exposures as the performers jump around your viewfinder.
If you don’t like spot metering and it’s giving you bad results, you can try the matrix/evaluative metering mode. The camera will take a light reading at several points in the scene, and this can work – but you’ll want to be on the lookout for overexposed faces, especially when the background is dark.
6. Use the middle autofocus point
Did you know that different autofocus points feature different levels of accuracy?
It’s true. Peripheral autofocus points tend to work fine in good light, but the performance weakens as the light drops.
Whereas the center autofocus point remains effective in both good light and bad.
That’s why I recommend you use the central focus point in low-light situations. It’ll be the most accurate, and it’ll ensure you get the sharpest results, no matter what the artist is doing on stage.
If you don’t want the artist to sit smack-dab in the center of the frame, you’ll need to use a focus-and-recompose technique; simply push your shutter button halfway down to focus on the artist’s face – this will lock focus – then adjust your composition until you get the desired framing. Once you’ve nailed both focus and composition, press the shutter button the rest of the way.
Note: To use this focus-and-recompose technique, you’ll need to set your camera to One-Shot AF, also known as AF-S. Otherwise, the camera will focus continuously while you reframe your picture.
(You can also set up back-button focus, which many shooters – myself included! – love. With back-button AF, you use a button on the rear of your camera to lock focus, then use the shutter button to take the shot.)
7. Use Auto White Balance
White balance combats unwanted color casts in your scene, and it’s important to use if you want good-looking photos.
However, I highly recommend you deal with white balance after taking your photos, during post-processing. So set your camera to Auto White Balance, then ignore the WB setting until you’re back at home.
You see, if you shoot in RAW, the white balance is completely flexible. Whether you determine the white balance setting at the time of capture or whether you wait until you’ve opened up Lightroom days later makes zero difference.
Except that setting the white balance during a concert is difficult to do, especially when you have different lights flashing all around the stage. So do yourself a favor and leave the white balance setting for another time.
8. Use burst mode
Your camera’s burst mode setting, also referred to as continuous shooting, lets you do rapid-fire photography.
With burst mode activated, you can shoot five, ten, or even sixty frames per second, depending on your camera.
And this is hugely helpful in concert photography, for two reasons:
- If you take several shots in a row, at least one of them will probably turn out sharp even if the others aren’t in focus.
- Multiple photos increase your chances of nailing the perfect frame.
Now, I don’t recommend you set your camera to its high-speed continuous shooting mode and use it nonstop. You’ll run out of storage space pretty quickly, plus you’ll just end up with thousands of unnecessary photos.
But I do recommend analyzing the situation, then – when you’re ready to capture split-second action shots – turn on burst mode and use it judiciously.
9. Never use flash
This is a quick tip:
Don’t use flash at a concert.
For one, you’re not allowed; imagine ten photographers bursting their flashes all at the same time.
And straight flash pictures don’t look great. For good flash photography, you’ll need to position your flash off to the side of the artist (i.e., you’ll need an off-camera flash), which isn’t really feasible in a concert setting.
10. Shoot in RAW format
Here’s your final concert photography setting, and it’s a big one:
Always, always, always shoot in RAW.
If you shoot in JPEG, your camera will automatically add processing, such as contrast, saturation, and sharpness. And while it might look nice, it’ll limit your post-production freedom, so you won’t be able to further enhance your concert photos.
On the other hand, if you shoot in RAW, the camera won’t process your photo at all. That way, you can change parameters such as exposure, white balance, saturation, contrast, and clarity long after you hit the shutter button.
(In other words: If you’re careful and deliberate with your editing, you can make your photos look a lot better!)
Must-know concert photography settings: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re well-equipped to capture some stunning concert photos. And for quick reference, here are the concert settings I recommend:
- Manual mode
- Your lens’s widest aperture
- A fast shutter speed
- A high ISO
- Spot metering
- The middle autofocus point
- Auto White Balance
- Burst mode
- No flash
- RAW format
So the next time you’re out shooting a concert, make sure to dial in those settings. Your photos will instantly improve!
Now over to you:
Which of my recommended settings do you use for concert photography? Do you have any additional settings you love to use for concerts? Share your thoughts in the comments below!