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How To Photograph Rock Concerts – Beyond Basics

In my last post I explained some of the basics of photographing a rock concert.  Aspects like watching your ISO, using spot metering for tricky lighting situations and switching to manual exposure mode.  In this post I’d like to explore the more creative side of rock concert photography.  After you’ve read through these examples, please feel free to post your own experiences in the comments section below.

Set The Mood

Photo by marfis75

Photo by marfis75

Setting the mood can take many forms.  As the image at left shows, you don’t even need to see the band to successfully set the mood.  These shots usually do better when there is no main subject in the picture.  Look for unusual lighting and stage effects to present themselves.  If the band is dynamic it’ll be easy to find this element, as they will be putting in effort to set a certain mood with the concert.  Make sure you’ve listened to some of their music before you go to the concert, if this is a band you’ve never heard before.

Go Wide

Photo by Peter West Carey

Alyse Black Benefit Concert - Photo by Peter West Carey

If you have the option to use a few different lenses make sure one of them is a wide angle lens.  It won’t be used that often as most people like to have shots of individual band members close up, but a number of wide angle shots are vital to conveying a whole ensemble on stage.  Wide angle shots can also allow you to capture some of the crowd in the shot as well as the band as well as the ever important huge video screen behind the stage for interesting effects.  It probably won’t be on your camera long, but it will help to have the variety a wide lens can provide.

Don’t Forget The Crowd

Photo by Anirudh Koul

Bon Jovi Crowd - Photo by Anirudh Koul

Concert Photographer Anirudh Koul does a wonderful job of catching the massiveness of a Bon Jovi concert by turning his camera away from the stage.  For me, this gives a great feel to just how chaotic, electric and exciting the concert really was.  While a completely dark audience wouldn’t convey the same feel, a hall with the house lights all the way up would not work as well either.

Look for a time when the crowd is partially lit as in this photo at right.  Try to get above the crowd as well, not too hard to do if you’re allowed into the fringe around the stage, but a bit more difficult if you’re amongst the crowd.  The crowd is an integral part of the show because remember, without a crowd, it’s just a rehearsal.

Look For The Unusual

Photo by Anirudh Koul

Blimp At Van Halen Concert - Photo by Anirudh Koul

Big name concerts tend to have some wild things going on during the concert, making them more like stage shows than a concert.  From spinning drum risers to mechanical robots to the blimp Van Halen used, you will probably have something unusual going on.  As most bands with theatrics in their concert tend to repeat gimmicks from city to city, get on the band’s website/blog/fan club mailing list to get an idea of what goes on at their concert.  Get hold of others who have been to concerts during the same tour to know what and when to expect it.  Anirudh’s shot of the blimp shows excellent positioning and timing.  it may have been luck or he may have known what to expect from past concerts.

Zoom In/Get Close

Photo by Peter West Carey

Juke Wyatt On A 5-String Bass - Photo by Peter West Carey

It’s time to swap out the wide angle lens for a zoom to get up close and personal.  Get as close to the stage as you can or even better, obtain a press pass for a larger concert.  With a decent zoom (70-210mm is a favorite for most) you will be able to isolate individual band members and their activity.  At this point I’ll also reemphasize a point I made in my last post, don’t forget the drummer!  They’re back there, all alone most of the time, isolated by the mass of equipment and pickups (microphones) around them.  The only way to get good shots without a pass to get on or backstage is with a decent zoom lens.

These are just a few ideas to help get the creativity juices flowing before you shoot a concert.  If you’ve shot a concert before and have other great tidbits and photos to share, please post a comment in the section below to pass along your knowledge in DPS’s spirit of learning!  Thanks!

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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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