How to Photograph a Concert From the Cheap Seats [With a Point & Shoot]

How to Photograph a Concert From the Cheap Seats [With a Point & Shoot]

Have you ever sat in a stadium at a concert or sporting event and wanted to capture the moment?

You pull out your point and shoot camera out of your pocket and line up the shot, check it’s on Auto and – FLASH!!! – you got it…. or did you?

Image by lloydi - Panasonic DMC-LX2

You look at the back of the camera expecting a wonderful shot that just captures the atmosphere perfectly and are surprised to see a shot that has the 3 rows in front of you perfectly exposed – but complete darkness after that.

What’s wrong? Well to put it simply – you should have turned off your flash.

Don’t worry though – you’re not alone. In fact if you look around the stadium you’ll notice hundreds of other flashes going off – followed by people looking at their cameras with confusion and disappointment.

The problem is that your camera’s in built flash is simply not built to light up a stadium. In fact most in built flashes are going to struggle beyond 10 or so meters – so leaving it on is not going to help much (unless you’re lucky enough to be in the front row). To make maters worse if your flash is on – your camera is going to choose settings expecting that the flash will have an impact – so it’ll choose a short shutter speed, lower ISO and smaller aperture – further darkening your shot.

So what’s a photographer to do?

Firstly – you might want to lower your expectations a little. Large dark venues can be tricky to get great shots with point and shoot cameras. You can certainly improve your shot from those you’ll get in Auto mode with the flash on – but there is probably going to be a ceiling in terms of quality.

Keep in mind that most of the great close up shots you see in magazines of concerts are taken by Pros with top gear and most of all – they get access up very close to the stage (in the pit).

Image by Herma - Digital IXUS 960 IS

Having said that, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of a shot that captures something of the event you’re at – even if you’re way up back in the last row. Here are a few things to experiment with:

1. Turn off that Flash

This should be your first step. Most point and shoot cameras have a setting where you can override the automatic flash and turn it off. This will give your camera a hint as to what to do – it’ll hopefully compensate by adjusting the settings it chooses with a combination of increased ISO, longer shutter speed and larger aperture. It won’t be perfect – but you’re moving in the right direction.

Image by stumayhew - Casio EX-Z750

2. Shoot when the lights are up Bright

If you’re shooting at a concert where there is a light show you should experiment with shooting when the lights are at different levels. One of the main problems that you’ll be facing is that in most instances there simply won’t be enough light – so if there is a moment in the concert where the lights are brighter than normal – this could be a good time to shoot.

Keep in mind though that depending upon your camera’s metering that the bright moments, particularly when lights are shining out into the audience, might also lead to over exposed shots – so you might also want to experiment with shooting when they’re a little lower too. In time you’ll work out when the best timing is.

Note: this tip varies a little depending the color of the light. Many concert photographers particularly struggle with lots of red lights.

Image by SBishop - Fujifilm FinePix A350.

3. Stabilise It

One of the issues you’re going to run into in a dark environment is that you’ll likely need to shoot with a longer shutter speed than normal – this means you’re going to face the problem of camera shake. Usually we’d overcome that with a tripod – but it’s unlikely that you’ll have one of those handy – so look for other ways to keep your camera still.

This might mean finding a wall to lean up against, or a barrier in front of you to place it on…. or just avoiding the guy next to you doing 80’s break dancing moves!

Image by M??K - Sony DSC-W35

4. Play with Your Settings

OK – so it’s unlikely that you’ll want to spend the whole concert playing around in your camera’s menu to find the right setting…. but if you do want to experiment (ie: your wife’s dragged you along to a George Michael concert and you’re looking for for a way to pass the time…. hypothetically of course) – there will be a few settings that you’ll want to play around (if your point and shoot has the ability to give you some manual control). The ones you’ll mainly want to play with are the three main ones in the Exposure Triangle:

  • ISO – increase it and you’ll not need to use as slow a shutter speed. Of course the higher it goes the more ‘noise’ you’ll get in your shots
  • Shutter Speed – there is no single shutter speed that you’ll want to choose – but play around with some slower speeds if you can find a way to stabilise your camera. Of course as you slow down you’ll introduce the increased chance of camera shake but also could start to capture movement on the stage (this may be an effect that adds some interest – but you probably wouldn’t want it in every shot). If your concert is one with little movement (I’m thinking of choirs, orchestras etc) you might be able to slow things right down without too much blur.
  • Aperture – aperture is the hole inside your lens – the larger it is, the more light comes in. This is good in a low light situation – however has an impact on the way your picture looks – particularly depth of field which narrows.

Another setting that one friend always plays with in camera is White Balance. I’d tend to leave this til I get home to sort out – but it could be something for George Michael’s second set where you’re really looking for something to do…. hypothetically of course!

Image by thornj - Nokia N95

5. Zoom

You’re in the back row…. so you’ll be tempted to zoom that little lens as far as it goes to magnify what ever’s happening on the stage as much as possible. However there are some implications of doing this too.

For starters the longer your zoom the more likely you’ll get camera shake impacting your images. The zoom doesn’t just magnify the scene but any shake.

Also you’ll want to avoid letting your zoom go into ‘Digital Zoom’ range. Most point and shoot cameras have what is known as an optical zoom and a digital zoom. The optical zoom doesn’t decrease image quality (apart from the camera shake mentioned above) but a digital zoom is really just enlarging your shot which means your image becomes more pixelated. You would be better to just wait til you get home and do the same thing on your computer.

Also on this note – if you’re a long way back there might be a way to make the most of that and go for some wide shots and take in the crowd, stadium/arena and show the scale of the event.

What Would You Add?

I’m sure in the dPS community there is plenty more great advice – what would you add?

Related reading on the topic of live music event photography (most of it if you’ve got access to being close to the stage with your DSLR):

Read more from our category

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • jay January 26, 2013 02:12 am

    I take a LOT of concert pictures with a point and shoot and have never used the flash and use auto settings with rapid burst or the last going off with the manual settings on rapid burst. I never by floor seats, I always try to be in the lower bowl but you are still a far distance away. I have always had great success taking pictures and I never disturb the people around me because not only is the flash out but so is the LCD screen use the viewfinder people it helps stabilize the camera!! and no one else has to look through the screen!! The best thing is I have amazing pictures to remember the concert by

  • Rob F February 25, 2011 04:59 am

    I am in agreement on the frustration of seeing the continuous pop of P&S flashes (that dont improve their picture quality). Despite that, some of my personal favorite images after an event are the ones that reveal the pops from across the stadium as the dozen or so flashes add depth and interest to my image.

  • John Duval February 24, 2011 06:27 pm

    The tip on optical zoom isn't quite true. Few photography teachers have tried the experiment themselves before telling their students not to use digital zoom.

    Take two photos of the same subject, preferably using self timer on a tripod or table. The first take at maximum digital zoom. The secod take at maximum optical zoom, then crop it in the computer to the same size. Which is better quality? Which file is larger, sugesting more information recorded in the image?

    The digital zoom almost always looks vastly superior. The reason is that the camera crops the image while at full bit depth, often 14 or more bits, and then compresses the file to 8 bit JPG. When you crop a JPG, you are exagerating all the flaws already introduced by JPG compression. The resulting files are not the same.

    The effect is most noticeable when the JPG quality setting is less than the maximum setting, as is the default in most cameras. It is hard to make a good photo at low resolution, but if you are going to crop it anyway, you are better off doing it in camera.

  • Marcus February 23, 2011 06:15 am

    Good article. I agree on the lowering expectations point. If you're way back and don't have the right gear (I've been to venues that don't allow DSLRs) you're not going to get technically amazing photos. There will be grain, there will bel blur and the white balance will be all wrong. But, that doesn't stop you from taking interesting photos. I took this with my phone's camera:

    Sitting in the cheap seats (or standing back from the stage) also gives you a chance to get the crowd in to help capture the atmosphere.

  • Paula February 22, 2011 02:52 pm

    If you shoot the players on stage talking to the crowd between songs, it can be hard to distinguish they were not performing and allows for longer time to adjust your camera. Plus with less movement, it's easier to stabalize.

  • Celena February 22, 2011 07:54 am

    I have gone to plenty of concerts in the last couple of years. Day time concerts night concerts outside or in a venue (which are practically the same)
    I've kept on my camera on auto and majority of the time, flash wouldn't go off or it was off. It makes your pictures SO BLURRY. It was really bothering. So recently, November 2010, at an indoor concert, I was leaning against the gate and we where allow to use flash photography so I turned it off. I was watching the photographers in the pit, and started to think why my pictures are usually blurry at indoor concerts. first bands goes by, I thought to my self, I'm going to put it on night scene no flash, you know what? Like you said with properly lighting, it WORKS. I got some killer pictures all because I thought to play with my settings and what better off to put it on night scene. After all it was a dark place.
    It really worked, no more blurry pictures. Next concert I'm going to in April, I'll do the same thing. Why didn't I think of this years ago?!

  • SilverPhoenix February 22, 2011 01:12 am

    [eimg url='' title='silverphoenix-albums-assignments-picture53612-u2-cape-town-2011.jpg']

    Thank you for giving this "How to..." tips just at the right time. We had an awesome evening and the perfect pictures to remember it!

  • chaz February 20, 2011 07:38 pm

    I love taking photographs, but I never bother at concerts. I find it much easier to be "in the moment", and I figure that without a photographer's pass, you're just not going to get anything you'll be proud of. If you want photos of the event, look 'em up in someone else's photostream...

  • Mweekly February 20, 2011 09:28 am

    Great shots! Thanks for the advice. Going to a concert in march, I'll use this, thank you!

  • Kyle carter February 19, 2011 08:14 am

    Point and shoot.. What luxury. I shot u2 with my iPhone. The results were actually pretty good.

    Mind you, we had a great position only anfew meters from the stage.

  • John February 19, 2011 03:57 am

    Maybe one flash does not make a difference, but when you have hundreds of flashes going off as you take your photo it must help :-)

  • Clarissa Debenham February 19, 2011 01:19 am

    Unless I've missed it, I can't believe no-one has mentioned EV. I have taken loads of photos at concerts and only ever take the compact for convenience. Reducing the EV (-2) if necessary reduces glare from the lights and means you'll get more details, especially if you are far from the stage. Check out this example on my Flickr page

  • Singapore wedding photography February 18, 2011 05:53 pm those flashes...i find them bothering my enjoyment of the concert..or fireworks for taht matter.
    I usually carry a one legged tripod, i find it almost impossible to shoot in these lightings without one, and to be frank, even with that, quite a few image comes out blur. Maybe i should jsut get more steady hands.

  • Eck February 18, 2011 05:28 pm

    I've found that when your'e not up close to the stage, spot metering on the performers face or other bright part of the scene helps. Using a wider metering pattern usually results in an increase in exposure times, thus more motion blurring and/or over-exposure of the performers. Canon G7 used for most of my concert shots.

  • Daniel February 18, 2011 02:34 pm

    It think watching a concert though other people's LCD screens can make for some interesting shots with your own camera. You need to be a bit closer to the stage for this (maybe the outer edge of the pit), but with a bit of luck you can get a shot with several LCD screens repeating whatever is onstage.

    When I travel, after getting photos of an attraction, I usually try to take photos of other tourists taking photos of the attraction

  • Kylie H. February 18, 2011 01:35 pm

    I thing i would like to add would be to use the "Available Light" setting if your camera has it. Mine is found when i use the camera in Scene mode.

    Knowing how the band/musicians move around and use the stage is also very helpful as this will help you anticipate the moment they are going to do something out of the ordinary, or if there is a solo coming up and you might be able to concentrate on a particular band member arther than having to constantly scour the stage wondering where the next good shot might be coming from.

    And like most others have said, i also cringe when i see so many people using their flash...

  • Wayne February 18, 2011 12:28 pm

    Great tips! Like others, I agree about the flash. I remember years ago shaking my head at the people using flash to shoot the fireworks at Disney World. As the Wicked Witch from the West (East?) said: "What a waste, what a terrible waste!"

  • Maggie February 18, 2011 12:02 pm

    With all the dark surrounding areas around a stage, I usually put my camera on spot metering. Take my reading off the stage itself, then recompose with the shutter partially pressed. Most stage lightings are close to daylight.

    If your readings are still below handholding possibilities, brace your camera on the seat in front of you, or a railing or even your arm rest.

    Have fun!

  • Paul February 18, 2011 10:04 am

    Used my shiny new Olympus Pen at the Elton John concert on monday. The 17mm lens worked so much better than the 14-42 lens. It was fun to compare. Getting a steady shot was certainly challenging in the cheap seats with everyone jumping up and down.
    [eimg url='' title='183162_10150142045077095_630332094_8734209_7117956_n.jpg']
    [eimg url='' title='182773_10150143924242095_630332094_8755516_5891756_n.jpg']

  • Trep Ford February 18, 2011 08:50 am

    This is a great article and a wonderful bit of info to run. A lot of good and useful tips here. What would I add? If your point and shoot camera has it, use manual mode to "set and forget" the exposure for the best lighting the stage has to offer.

    I've never gone to a lot of concerts, but when I did, I frequently found myself very frustrated with the results, despite many years of doing other kinds of photography. Then my wife "dragged" me (willingly :) ) to a Bryan Adams concert a few years back, and I got a brainstorm. My Fuji point and shoot had manual mode. I measured the light on the performer during a moment when the star was well lit, set my camera to one combination of shutter and aperture that created great results, and stuck with that setting for the whole evening. I got a lot of great shots, even with the small camera. There two two big advantages to this approach. First, sticking with one manual setting and shooting only when the star was well lit allowed me to focus on capturing great moments and not on trying to manage exposure settings. Second, since I KNEW the exposure setting for the performer was right on when he was best lit, 100% of my shots were correctly exposed, instead of the hit and miss results I got when I was constantly fiddling with the exposure.

    Rock On, DPS ... great stuff.

  • david cooper February 18, 2011 08:29 am

    Personally I usually have a Frontstage pass

    Main tip:

    Watch for the COLOUR of the lights

    if there is a lot of red you'll get nothing(even with a frontstage pass)(I SHOOT in b/w then)

  • Mike February 18, 2011 07:53 am

    Great advice. Especially these day when They aren't allowing long lenses or video cameras, anything remotely professional. Hey they gotta make every dollar they can. One thing I've done is used a jacket or my girlfriend's sweater (hypothetically of course) as a cushion or "nest" between the camera and whatever I am bracing it against.

    Also I try and go to outdoor festivals. Lot less restrictions sometimes on the equipment you can bring in.

  • philwjones February 18, 2011 07:07 am

    I can't believe the number of people who use flash at concerts. All they're doing is getting a nice photo of the heads in front of them. Not only that, they risk getting chucked out by security.

    I've taken several pics of gigs over the years (pre-digital) - got some nice shots using a 200mm telephoto with a kodak ektar film (I think it was 1600 iso) - going for the bright lights is a good plan - the varied light settings also add some variety to the set.

    One thing I did discover by accident was, turning the camera upside-down gave some much needed height when I was sat in an area which didn't have tiered seating - it raised the lens around an inch or two which gave a much better view over the head of the person in front - as I said, this was in the film days, so no preview screen, just a manual viewfinder, but the advice is probably still valid.

  • Ian Cross February 18, 2011 06:38 am

    Summer Sundae concert, 2009 in Leicester UK. Two pictures of bands, using Canon 5D with 100-400 zoom.

  • Elodie February 18, 2011 05:55 am

    I am quite short and at concerts sometimes I get a lot of people's heads and hands in the air in my shots! I used some kind of telescopic monopod called XShot and I can attach my camera or iPhone to it and get cool shots above the crowd. And yes taking out the falsh is a must and wait for a bright light coming from the show.

  • Tom Leparskas February 18, 2011 05:15 am

    Lately I've been lucky enough to get real close with my DSLR and into the pit at a few recent shows like B.B. King. In the past I have been able to get some decent shots with a point and shoot. Best tip - crank up that ISO if you can. Try and get close - though that's hard at many venues.

    These were with a cheap Samsung at 1600 ISO of Jackson Brown and Chicago:


  • karen February 18, 2011 04:54 am

    wish i could have got a few tips before i went to a Bryan Ferry concert recently,but here's the one's i took with my DSLR

  • Kevin February 18, 2011 04:34 am

    Yes... Definitely use the burst mode. Usa all the aformentioned settings, get that camera as still as possible, and hold that shoot button down, and try and get 5-10 shots within seconds. This especially helps if there is no chance to stablilize your camera,

  • Travis Millward February 18, 2011 04:20 am

    Put the camera on or against something that you can put pressure on. Like a rail or the top of a seat. This helps with shaky hands.

  • Yossid February 18, 2011 04:15 am

    Most point and shoot cameras have a shutter delay making it difficult to get the shot you want.

    On many cameras, pressing the shutter release button half way sets focus and other settings, and then the camera will be much quicker to take the shot when the button is pressed the rest of the way. Of course, this can mean holding the button halfway down for quite a while, and that can drain batteries (and tire your finger).

    I also like front row balcony seats (still much cheaper than downstairs) so I can use the railing to stabilize the camera. Attached is a shot from a Joe Bonamassa concert I took that way using a humble Canon A720IS. Of course for every decent shot there are dozens of poor ones, and the the ones I want the most never come out as well.[eimg url='D:\My Documents\ Personal\ Pictures\Joe Bonamassa Concert (2 Nov 10)\Good ones\IMG_4449a (reduced).jpg' title='D:\My Documents\ Personal\ Pictures\Joe Bonamassa Concert (2 Nov 10)\Good ones\IMG_4449a (reduced).jpg']

  • Chandira February 18, 2011 03:37 am

    I got some interesting shots on my iPhone camera at an Ozzy show recently. Not your standard 'good photo' but the results were artistically pretty interesting!
    Rob, I hear you, I suffered that at the show, watching through people's phone screens is irritating.

    One tip I'd add, enjoy the show, and look for the pro shots on line the next day? People always post a million of their photos, and there are usually some great shots that other people took who missed the show, busy worrying about their cameras. ;)
    Probably silly advice to a bunch of people interested in photography, but if you're that interested, don't take your point and shoot, take a better camera.

  • Emiliano February 18, 2011 02:18 am

    One thing I found is that when using high ISO (400 or 800 for my Canon A590) shooting in B&W really improves the photo and the noise camouflates into the picture.

  • Lain February 17, 2011 06:08 pm

    I was surprised, five or six years ago, when a photography professor told me not to use the flash during concerts, festivals or in big stadiums. I thought it was bullshit but, boy, was I wrong. I've learned, of course, and I'm glad someone told me that. Point and shoot flashes are awful (so are SLR's, but you have more options with those to make an acceptable photo even with flash), and I wish I could bring my Olympus e-500 to concerts but sometimes they don't let you bring them in.

    Anyway, those were good tips! I need to take more photographs at concerts, they bring back good memories. A recent one from Placebo here.

    It's black and white because the colors were hard to get right...

  • Rob February 17, 2011 02:50 pm

    My main tip is ENJOY THE SHOW!
    Sure, grab a few shots or even a bunch during a song you might not care for but then put it in your pocket. Don't be that doofus holding his/her camera/cellphone up the entire show. Be considerate of those behind you who don't want to watch the show through your LCD.

  • Casandra Rubio February 17, 2011 07:57 am

    imo, its quite obvious that if you'r in the dark and you are considerably far not to use flash, Though I went to Coldplay's concert and was on the VIP zone, a couple of persons away from the stage! ... but still I always prefer not to use flash, unless i need it. here are some shots :)

  • Trevor Eagles February 17, 2011 05:37 am

    Certainly, the flash is mostly useless in these shooting scenarios. That said, if you take the time to turn your attention away from the stage and look at the crowd, it does look really cool with all of the people shooting with their flash on and firing at different intervals..

  • marc February 17, 2011 03:48 am

    Good tips. The one thing to remember that trying to stabilize the camera while leaning against a wall or a rail isn't going to work to well. Those things will be vibrating from the music and the cheers. Try to use one of the string/ washer tripods that you see made on the DIY blogs. Your shoes will act as a shock absorber and you'll get fairly stable results. Of course, nothing beats a blur when trying to show how loud the concert was!

  • Patrick Larson February 17, 2011 03:19 am

    Some taken at ACL Live in Austin. I was 3 rows back with my trusty Canon G9. I got lucky! Willie!. No flash, 800 iso, zoomed max in RAW setting. No digital zoom.

  • ScottC February 17, 2011 03:05 am

    Key words: "lower your expectations a bit", but the included photos are great considering position and equipment.

    Great advice about waiting in the lights.

    With a DSLR, break out the longer telephoto for the cheap seats.

  • Liz February 17, 2011 02:53 am

    Thank you for this - makes me crazy to see the flashbulbs popping all over the venue at a show! I just want to tell each one of them to read this. I got lucky and had some great advice from an excellent concert photographer when I first started taking concert pictures, and avoided this, but not everyone else gets that lucky.

  • John February 17, 2011 02:36 am

    Using an optical zoom can make the photo darker , though maybe you will be lucky, anyway it`s a digital camera take lots of photo`s :)

  • Marie February 17, 2011 02:22 am

    Hey, thanks for this. I recently used my point and shoot for a concert a while back was hit and miss. One thing people could try (and worked for me really well) is to focus on the big screen if they have one. I got some really good close-up shots by shooting for that instead of the stage.

  • Brian February 17, 2011 01:48 am

    These are great tips, I have used them, but also use burst mode to get lots of are couple of my favorites, the first using zoom, and burst, the other standing back., also using burstmode..not the cheap seats I know, but...

    (from my old page)

  • David Starks February 17, 2011 01:43 am

    I would also make a point of mentioning how the aperture closes down while zooming, further exacerbating the problem with small apertures / slow shutter speeds.

  • GradyPhilpott February 17, 2011 01:41 am

    I have my doubts about this.

  • Carlos Thomas February 17, 2011 01:38 am

    Someone finally needed to inform the masses about this kind of photography using a point and shoot. Too often I cringe and shake my head when I see thousands of useless flashes from way up in the stands. It's just better to turn it off, folks.

  • Allen February 17, 2011 01:34 am

    I'll add one more reason not to use much, if any zoom: in many cameras, the more you zoom to magnify the image, the less light that is available to the image sensor, meaning that you need to have a slower shutter speed. This translates to an even greater need to have something to stabilize your camera, and in a good show, the railings and walls will be rocking, so it's tough.

    Consider a wide angle image then crop it when you are home.

  • Andrew February 17, 2011 01:26 am

    Great tips. The shots made are pretty awesome. Get a tirpod if possible.

  • Chang Yang Yew February 17, 2011 01:10 am

    IMHO if one goes to a concert with a very basic gear with a crap seating position, it's better off just shooting a few wide shots to capture the atmosphere as suggested above, then keep the camera in the bag and bask himself in the atmosphere. There's nothing worse than wasting money capturing tons of blurred blobs for an occasion you paid for with the intention of enjoying it.

    One of my suggestions would be to get yourself in the picture by using the long exposure + flash mode (there should be some "night portrait" or equivalent mode in most P&S cameras). If done properly this should capture both yourself and the crowd and the stage reasonably well. A semi-decent example I found online:

    [eimg link='' title='Ann and me at Bon Jovi concert' url='']

  • Patrick Larson February 17, 2011 01:00 am

    For a tripod, use the top of your head and try to point the camera to stage.

  • Mihai February 17, 2011 01:00 am

    Not so on topic comment, but hey, first picture is from Madonna's Sticky and Sweet Tour :D Yey :P