Rock Concert Photography – 9 Tips on How to Get The Shot

Rock Concert Photography – 9 Tips on How to Get The Shot


In this post Nyani Quarmyne talks about getting the shot – catching that moment in a show that captures the essence of a performer and the emotion they’re expressing.


Much of what I’ve seen written on concert photography centers on gear and the technical aspects of shooting (there are a number of good tips on this site). Of course, gear and technical know-how are important, and I’ll touch on a couple of salient points. But there are other equally important, more esoteric concepts at the heart of stage photography.

1. Get the Exposure Right

Stage lighting can be tricky, so you have to get your exposure right or you’ll wind up with beautifully composed, crap shots.

Evaluative metering can’t be relied on in the high-contrast and variable lighting conditions that are typically found on a concert stage. Spot metering off your subject or a mid-tone can be useful, but when you have bright lights in the background it can result in a correctly exposed subject and ugly blown highlights in the background. The optimal exposure is often something of a compromise, so I personally prefer to leave the camera set to evaluative/ matrix metering and then get a feel for how much over- or under-exposure is needed for different parts of the stage through estimation and some trial and error. With practice you’ll begin to guesstimate the right settings.


You’ll generally be shooting wide open, except when you may need to stop down to get multiple subjects at different distances from the camera in focus, so often it’s your shutter speed and ISO that you’ll be playing with. Once you have a sense of how much over- or under-exposure is needed, you can vary your aperture/ ISO/ shutter speed relationship while keeping the optimal exposure in mind. For example, say you’re getting sharp, correctly exposed images of a guitarist at 125th/s, f/2.8 @ ISO200. Then a singer joins him in the frame. You need a little more depth of field to keep them both in focus, so you leave the shutter speed as it is to keep your shots sharp, stop down two stops to f/5.6 to increase the depth of field, and raise the ISO two stops from ISO200 to ISO800. Your exposure is identical, but now you have the depth of field you need. Just remember to revaluate your exposure when shooting a different area of the stage, or when the lighting conditions change.

A camera that allows for clean high-ISO images is a huge advantage as higher ISO settings allow you to keep your shutter speed relatively high, reducing camera shake and better allowing you to freeze action.

2. Use your Histogram!

The viewfinder preview is too small to give you a sufficiently detailed view of over- and under-exposed areas of your image. The highlights view will show you where you’ve lost highlight detail, but it doesn’t show you what you may have inadvertently sacrificed in the shadows. So if you don’t already, learn to use your histogram – it’s an invaluable tool for evaluating exposure, particularly in tricky lighting conditions. I have my camera set up so that pressing the centre button on the 4-way navigator flashes up a full screen histogram. That way I can use my preview to check sharpness and focus, and then push the centre button to do a quick histogram check before I go back to shooting.


Don’t obsess over checking your shots – if you’re looking at your screen you’re missing what’s happening on stage. Do enough checks to fine tune your settings for a given set of lighting conditions, and then focus on shooting.

3. Watch the Performers

Now that you’ve got your exposure sorted, watch the performers. No, I mean really watch the performers. Analyse their performance. How do they move on the stage? Where are their favourite places to stand? What are their idiosyncrasies? Facial expressions? Favourite postures? Signature moves? How do they express emotion? It doesn’t take a long – just watch for a while once a band has hit its stride and you’ll begin to see that each performer has little habitual movements, facial expressions, individual quirks, that are unique. Identifying these is key to capturing the individuality and expressiveness of a singer or player. If you have the opportunity to watch several performances by the same artist you may also find that there are events that happen at particular points in a set – pyrotechnics, a leap off a speaker stack, entry of a stage prop – and you can plan for these, too.

4. Anticipate

Once you know what you’re looking for, anticipate it. If you’ve noticed that a guitarist bends a certain way during emotional moments in his solos, anticipate it, compose for it, and be ready when the moment comes. If a singer leans away from the mike a certain way during soulful pauses between song lines, pre-visualise your shot, get set up for it, and execute it when the elements come together. Of course, you also have to be ready to react instantly to capture a spontaneous moment.


5. Compose for Form

People, instruments, objects on stage and even the glow of stage lights create shapes and lines in the frame. The beautiful lines of a guitar, for example, generally look better from some angles than others, as do the combined lines of the guitar and its player. Try and see the shapes that the elements in your viewfinder create and use them in your compositions. Take into account things like whether a singer holds the mike in their right hand or left, whether a guitarist is playing a right- or left-handed guitar, and then move around to position yourself to get the right angles for your shots.

Work with the stage lights – move around and use them to rim light, sidelight or silhouette your subject. If there’s a background light flaring into your lens, see if you can make the flare work for you.


6. Watch for Foreground Clutter

One of the challenges of concert photography is the clutter that is generally found on a concert stage – microphones and their stands, monitor speakers, amplifiers, cables, and even roving videographers. Clutter detracts from your shots. Try and position yourself to get shots that are as clear of such distractions as possible. In particular, watch for microphones that obscure a singer’s face (their mouth in particular), and watch for the shadows microphones cast too. In general, avoid standing directly in front of a singer as more often than not you’ll end up with a microphone where their mouth should be. Drummers are particularly tricky to get clean shots of, as they are surrounded by all kinds of ‘hardware’ and are usually also far back on the stage. Try and get shots of them from the side if you can.


7. Watch for Background Clutter Too!

Perth photographer Rob Miller likes to say, “Forget about the subject, it’s the background that makes your photo.” Of course he doesn’t mean that literally, but a fantastic moment captured against a messy background will ultimately be a messy shot, while a fantastic moment captured against a fantastic background will be a fantastic shot. Watch out for elements of the background that you want to avoid, like stage scaffolds, lighting rigs and even other performers, and try to compose for those that you can use to your advantage. Remember that on a well lit stage you can use the glow of stage lights, or even the lights themselves, as your background. If there’s nothing going on in the background, if possible, try and set your exposure so that your subject is correctly exposed but the background collapses to black.

Fast lenses help with background clutter, too, as not only do they allow you to make the most of what light you have available, but the shallow depth of field produced by a wide aperture helps to blur out background distractions. Accordingly, I rely primarily on a 70-200 f/2.8, a 50mm f/1.4 for very low light and for close shots in small venues or to take in more of the stage, and occasionally a 17-35mm f/2.8 for close work and for stage, crowd and venue shots.


8. Be Nice

Remember that while you are trying to get a job done, everyone else is trying to enjoy a show that they have paid to see. Be nice. Think about the people behind you – get your shots, but try not to block anyone’s view for too long. If you’re in a crowd and need to get right in someone’s face for a moment to get a shot, do so politely. I often find that if you’re nice to people they’ll actually help you get the shots you need by encouraging other people to let you get to where you need to be.

I try to avoid the use of flash as it’s distracting for performers and annoying for the people around you (and often also not allowed). Flash can also look unnatural, as it typically casts light of a different colour to the stage lights onto your subject. The exception to the no flash rule is when I need to lift shadows over a performer’s eyes, for example when someone is wearing a hat.

I also ensure that the autofocus assist beam on my camera is off so that it’s not poking performers in the eye, and I turn my viewfinder preview off so it’s not a blinking distraction to people around me. (This also stops people craning over your shoulders to check out your business.) It’s a simple matter to press “Play” every now and then when you need to check a shot. If your camera allows, create a custom settings profile so you can set your camera the way you want it with a couple of button pushes, rather than having to go wandering through the menus every time you need to get set up.


9. Show Your Appreciation

Anyone on a stage likes to know they’re being appreciated. Show your appreciation. You don’t have to jump up and down and scream (it’s difficult to take steady shots while jumping and screaming…), but make eye contact, show your appreciation with a smile, give a nod of thanks when a performer looks down your lens. Sometimes you’ll find a little appreciation earns you your own little mini performance, when a performer heads over to where you’re standing, looks down the barrel of your lens and pulls some moves just for you.

Nyani is a Ghanaian/ Filipino/ Australian photographer spending 2009 travelling around North America with his family working on a personal project. Find his work on his website and blog at, and follow the family’s travels at

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Some Older Comments

  • Emily Pearson May 31, 2013 02:48 am

    Hello! Great article that I read before I went to do my first gig. I then wrote my own blog on gig photography with point and shoot or camera phones,
    see my pictures of Paloma Faith and Ellie Goulding here too! x

  • Ian Hall October 3, 2012 06:37 pm

    I'm going to try these tips at a gig tonight. Previously my concert photography has been very "hit and miss", so we'll see how much you have improved my pictures :-)

  • Tyler March 29, 2012 08:42 am

    I just wanted to note one thing from the performer's perspective:

    I have never once been bothered by flashes going off in the crowd. BUT!!! I definitely do notice them, and I am always wanting to SEE those photos, and I have not yet seen one photo of me or my band! I know there have been some really intense moments with flashes going off everywhere, but those memories are just in my head now.

    Just something for you all to consider.

  • Tim Maguire February 1, 2012 06:18 am

    This was a great article. Could you do a follow up where:

    1) You talk about obtaining media passes

    2) You go through more rules of the media pit, though I love the comments you have in the "Be nice" section.


  • Mark Lewit June 20, 2011 10:25 am

    This is really great article! Does anyone here know other Los Angeles based concert photographers other than Scott Dudelson: I want to know

  • Abayomi May 14, 2011 05:19 am

    i will say the brain behind these shots is a bank of creativity in photography.

  • Mike Anderson May 10, 2011 01:08 am

    Just wanted to say "thank you" for such an in-depth post. I found it very informative and inspiring - your work is simply amazing.

  • Samantha April 14, 2011 09:05 am

    I never thought about a lot of these things...definitely had an "Aha!" moment a few times while reading this.

  • Mark April 5, 2011 08:18 pm

    Sorry about the double post there :)

  • Layal April 5, 2011 11:33 am

    i took this a while back

  • Linus April 4, 2011 09:25 pm

    A small effort from me:

  • Mark April 3, 2011 01:48 am

    Don't worry about lenses too much, I do have a decent DSLR (Nikon D2x) but it isn't known for its high ISO performance and I use a Sigma 28-200 lens that at its widest is f3.5 so yes you can take photos with your kit lenses. What I do is set my ISO at from 400 to 800 depending on how low I think I can go with the lighting rig, switch into Shutter priority and set that at around 1/125th its fast enough to stop most of the movement but can leave a hit of the energy generated by a good act.

    Watch the lights they will usually run to a repeating pattern so you can follow who is going to be lit when (or buy the lighting engineer a pint and ask him nicely if in the second song you could have a bit more white in there or just a bit brighter so you can get your shots off). Get close in and get individual band members then look for shots of them interacting with each other, look for movement and action from the performers. Show your appreciation to the bands and the venue personnel who have let you in, be professional and you might get asked back. Most important of all NEVER EVER forget to photograph the drummer (they can get a bit grumpy! LOL).
    [eimg url='' title='blues_2010-8096_DCE_DCE.jpg']
    [eimg url='' title='Solfest_2010__2010-2084_DCE.jpg']

  • Rashid Mukoon April 2, 2011 09:12 pm

    Hi,am adding two images recently taken on the 43rd anniversary of independence of Mauritius, 12/03/2011.There was a cultural show.Thanks for the tips,we never stop learning.

  • Mark April 2, 2011 09:04 pm

    @Seakrest I am using a Sigma 28-200mm Lens wide open its at f3.5 which is kit lens area, I just love the range of shot I can get with it. If I am shooting without flash and a good stage lighting rig then what I usually do is set ISO between 400 and 800 and put the camera into Shutter priority and set it to 1/125th (at least) I tend to get good shots, the camera won't meter the stage lighting anywhere near correctly so I find this works well, with the shutter fast enough to freeze or almost freeze the action and provide enough light to get a decent shot. Depending on the size of the gig I never have problems with access or takign pics, but I do allow the venue and the band access to use my pics for publicity so we all get something out of the deal. If you can use flash, use it but if you have time test your setings without, try and see what you can get at what ISO I don't trust the internal metering. I do alway use 'auto' white balance as with the lighting changes and different colour lights its as good as anything. Other than that, get as close as you can, frame it tight and look for band members moving or moving together as it always nice to get a bit of action or more than the isolated band members. I love it, I really enjoy shooting live music, I have improved over the last couple of years and have developed good working relationships with local venues and bands alike. Each venue is different lighting and sound engineers all work differently, but if you buy them a pint the lighting guy might agree to give you a little extra white light at some point during a set or bring up the lights in areas to give you better lighting on certain band members. Among other thigs are, if you get in for nothing to take photos don't abuse that privilege (don't get drunk and make an ass of yourself) show your appreciation to the bands and everyone that has allowed you in to take the pics, behave in a professional manner enjoy the music but prove that you are there to work and not looking for a freebie. BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, NEVER EVER forget to take photos of everyone on that stage, singers, guitarists, keyboards, backing singers and most importantly, usually the most difficult band member to get THE DRUMMER, they can get grumpy if you keep missing them out! LOL[eimg url='' title='Solfest_2010__2010-2084_DCE.jpg']
    [eimg url='' title='sunami-3902_DCE_DCE.jpg']

  • Paul April 2, 2011 07:39 pm

    Great post, I'd love to try some gig photography! Like the touch about show your appreciation, a little humility goes a long way.

  • Arizona Patent Attorney April 2, 2011 07:33 am

    Great tips, but you forgot:

    10. Hide your camera when security walks by!

  • Roman April 1, 2011 04:46 pm

    Thanks for the tips. Going for Fish concert today so I hope to get some good shoots. Greetings.

  • shaun/tenzenmen April 1, 2011 03:15 pm

    i regularly shoot at shows that occur at night in a shop. there are two red lights behind the drummer and sometimes some low level halogens on the ceiling ie - next to no light at all! for bands that might not be so energetic i can get some nice portraits but most of the time i have to resort to flash which then allows for longer shutter speeds to capture some nice movement.
    i've found using second shutter flash gives some nice results.
    if i'm at a show like those from the pictures above though i wouldn't use flash at all and like the article says, anticipate the lighting to take the picture.
    i'm using an f/2.8 lens now but looking at an f/1.8 and maybe saving up for an f/1.4.
    lots of pix here:

  • blacklilly April 1, 2011 12:27 pm

    Thanks for the article! It's nice to be reminded again of the mistakes I still make - microphones!

    I've been shooting Visual Kei bands and fashion shows in Tokyo since last Autumn, and it has been quite a learning curve. My first gig was a fashion/rock show and I also had to take photos of a band while the magazine was interviewing. I had no idea what to do, especially as I had to do it in Japanese as well!

    For most of the time I use a prime lens, and break out the zoom for the dummers, but my most recent gig was a fashion show and X-Japan gig at Yoyogi Stadium, when my 200mm zoom lens barely made it to the stage!

    Here are a few shots I've taken over the last few months. I'd love to hear what people think, and any suggestions for improving them!


    [eimg link='' title='DSC_0538a.jpg' url='']

  • Martin April 1, 2011 10:14 am

    I'd have to say that once you have the proper material to shoot shows, it wont guaranty great shots... it'll only give you the chance to MAKE the shot you want. The most important thing in creating captivating images is to have the mechanics down to instincts. You must know your material without looking at it, because once in the pit, you wont be able to look at your settings.

    Billy Idol in Montreal
    [eimg url='' title='billy.jpg']

  • Sarah April 1, 2011 08:25 am

    Very good article... I will try using the histogram.
    Another angle to shooting a local band is to volunteer at a regular event. We have a 'Coffeehouse & Blues' every month, september through may... the lighting varies somewhat, musicians different every month. It's great fun, wonderful practice & good music. I've also followed a local band for a long time as a fan, the past 4 or 5 years more seriously with camera.

  • Mark April 1, 2011 07:08 am

    I never shoot raw at gigs or festivals, seeing as I usually end up with 1 - 2000 shots from a single day at a festival raw taks too long to process and too mcuh room on the memory card. I have recently had my latest purchase out at a gig and I have been impressed with the quality and speed of operation of the Nikon D2x.

    Hope you like, I have found that shooting with flash in burst mode provides a good shot choice, as the flash can't re-charge fast enough to cope so you get different stage light effects through the lowering power from the flash.

    Its all good fun :)

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer April 1, 2011 05:25 am

    Very nice backgrounds in the example shots. Great job of getting both clean and colorful backgrounds. I do not do much concert photography, but I did photograph The Commodores:

  • George E. Norkus April 1, 2011 05:16 am

    The #4 part with anticipation should also include the lighting. Most of the time I find myself hoping for the performer(s) action and the lighting to be worthwhile. (Double the fun?)

    There's a low key, low budget, bar that normally has weekly rock bands. Some of the bands are fine but I flat out hate the lighting. They are heavy into red lighting with some yellow and blue thrown in just to make it not look like a whore house. Why do I often return and subject myself to that torture? Practice of course!

    Red lighting is very hard to shoot let alone to focus on. For those in the same predicament all I can say is to practice alot, definitely use RAW, and hope!

  • Seakrest April 1, 2011 02:57 am

    I only have my kit lenses 18-55 and 55-200mm (f/3.5-5.6) and I can't afford a fast prime or a fast glass. Is it possible for me to get good shots using this lens?

    P.S. My camera doesn't have an in-built focus motor so I can't use the cheap f/1.8 primes :(

  • Paul April 1, 2011 02:41 am


    Awesome artical.

    Just my 2 cents, I always shoot Shutter Priority at about 1/200 or 1/250, keeps the artists nice and sharp. If my shots are coming out too dark I bump the ISO and vica-versa if they are too bright. I used to be a fan of AP, but my shots would be soft and would often miss the focus on the eyes, I would frequently get the mic in focus and not the singer etc...

    I've never used flash - all the venues I've shot at dont allow if, its one of the first things you're told before you pick up your media pass.

    I always take two lens; 24-70 f/2.8 and 70-300 f/3.xx as you usually only get the first three songs, I shoot the first song with the 24-70, second with 70-300 and then decide last minute on the last song depending on the type of act they are - i.e do they move around alot, or would close up shots be better.

    I always shoot raw and fix white balance issues in lightroom.

    p.s. it helps if you like the bands you are shooting, or at least have heard their stuff, it helps, to know when they're gonna jump/shout/back-flip or whatever...

    Have a peak at some of my shots if you like

    ta ta,

  • CRider April 1, 2011 02:37 am

    Excellent timing on this article as a buddy asked me to shoot his band in a local bar in a few weeks...something I've never done. Some great info here, thanks!

  • D Clark April 1, 2011 02:29 am

    One thing I think you forgot to mention, is to expect more bad shots than good.
    Live band photography is one of my babies, been doing it for about 10 years now. One thing that is always true is that unless you have great lighting at a venue, the greater majority of your shots will be blurry. Especially if it's a high motion rock band in a dive bar or even someplace like the Whiskey in Hollywood (yes, I've shot there many times).
    Generally for a band, I'll shoot 2-3 songs in order to get enough material for me to be satisfied. For those 2-3 songs, I shoot on low speed drive (high speed on my 1d would murder my cards!). I can take easily 300+ shots, and out of those 300, I'll get about 20-30 that are worthy of presenting.
    The drive mode does one thing that most people don't think about, however.
    Each time you press and release that shutter button, you're moving your camera. So if you blast off 3-5 shot burts, the shots in the middle tend to be the sharpest.
    Especially when the lighting sucks and you're shooting at shutter speeds of 1/6th @ ISO 1600.

  • Andy Mills March 31, 2011 09:32 am

    I think the manual vs. Av mode "argument" depends upon the situation - I do a fair amount of low light event and night club photography (with flash though), and overall, the lighting levels are pretty much consistent so I stick with manual mode and don't have to change settings too much.

    But in some circumstances where lighting on a subject can change often (like a performer in a spotlight or something), then maybe using Av mode would be an advantage, otherwise it could be difficult to keep up. Basically, there's nothing wrong with using aperture priority mode if it's working for you.

  • Nicholas March 31, 2011 07:36 am

    Very interesting article!
    I took quite a few photos at jazz, rock & pop concerts. I'm generally not too focused on "technical" aspects of shooting pic at concerts - music is art and I try to put some "art" in my photos (i.e. more heart than brain! lol) I'm an amateur and I shoot just for fun!

    This one was taken at a jazz festival, shooting from the first row of seats in jpg (no raw) and this is how the photo came out of my camera, with no post processing whatsoever:

    This one was taken at a pop concert (italian band "Pooh")
    I was about 20 metres away from the stage and I was shooting in raw (some minor adjustments with UFraw)

    I think the most challenging aspect in this type of photos is the colour. Sometimes the coloured spotlights are really suggestive, but often it's so difficult to capture the colour and the mood! ...especially the red colour is terrible! In that case I try desaturating, and often I get decent b&w pics.

    Thanks for sharing all these tips, DPS is great!

  • arosha liny March 31, 2011 06:27 am

    I have taken some pics of concerts. they are not awesome! but they are pretty decent :)

  • Paul February 18, 2011 08:51 am

    I shot my first concert last summer in Asbury Park,NJ which is a great location to practice. Definitely no flash get close and shoot a lot...I think I shot close to 2000 pictures and got several I was very happy with and used for a local fund raiser.

  • Stephanie February 7, 2011 05:49 am

    @Jimmy-not only that a lot of the time security doesn't know anything. I had one security person tell me to pack up my camera when I was wearing a photo pass not just from the band but from the venue that gave me access to shoot the entire show. Luckily it was early in the show and I buzzed the head of security. I always make it a point to get there as early as possible especially when photographing a band that I know personally. I also try to get to know a little bit either the manager of the venue or the head of security that way you have a fall back position. The head of security asked the guard for my name and when he gave it to him he said she gets to photograph the entire show per the band. Don't bother her she is here with the band as their photographer. I too am on facebook under AriCat so look for me on there.

  • Mark February 5, 2011 02:56 am

    I have been taking photos for three years now at local gigs and music festivals, always for free (or the price of a ticket) as most are charity events, and the local bands don't have a lot of cash to throw around, you might get a pint bought for you and the eternal gratitude of a local band when they see your pics. Its nice to read a good tutorial on teh subject, I have been operating with Trial and Error and slowly getting better as the shutter count sped upwards. However I would like to say you don't need the best kit, I have been using a Fuji S2 pro with a Sigma 28-200mm lens, F3.4 at best. Just upgraded to a D2x adn will be saving pennies to get some faster glass as soon as possible LOL. if you want to have a look at my attempts have a look at and you can see how I have progressed over the last couple of years, as they say practise makes perfect! LOL not perfect but certainly improving. I'm also on Facebook with a few albums up there as well just look for Theregsy thanks for the tutorial. See you at a gig sometime :)[eimg url='' title='DSCF0125_45_DCE.jpg']

  • Jimbo July 4, 2010 07:48 pm

    Hey Nyani, great article! I LOVE live music photography. Check out my Facebook page everybody and tell me what you think, I'd love to have some feedback fom other photographers. Ciao!

  • Enric Martinez June 21, 2010 09:04 pm

    @Chris Owyoung: THX for the tips, I'm going to check out your blog.

    Here is the stuff I shoot:

    As you can see I shoot mostly metal and hardcore which means that everything is fast paced: The band members, specially the singer, are constantly moving and even jumping, the light is also changing at a very fast pace and the crowd is also acting on it's own. The latter can be quite an interesting subject by it's own right, but it also makes it difficult to get a place to shoot.

    On the other hand, metal and hardcore bands do normally not complain about the use of flashes; they wouldn't even notice ;)

    You can see that two series (Izah and Wolves in the Throne room) have been taken without flash using a 50mm f/1.4 prime at 1600 - 4000 (!) ASA. I thus wonder how the autor of the article speaks about speeds of 200-800 ASA. It is feasible, but it takes a lot of luck and with dim atmospheric lights it is completely impossible.

    Regarding point 9: When we are talking about local bands (and even some of the bigger bands) I use to offer them copies. I am not a pro, I am a metalhead and photography lover and I publish my stuff under CC, so why not?

    Thanks for the good blog!

  • Greg Taylor February 17, 2010 03:24 am

    I've started a concert photography 101 series on my blog. The latest installment deals with Getting Photo Passes / Credentials

  • Polly February 4, 2010 12:25 am

    Great article and helpful tips in the comments. Shooting my first gig tomorrow so have been hunting for tips.
    Thanks! ^_^

  • Roger Goodgroves December 2, 2009 09:57 am

    Great article thanks. I've been published a few times with my trusty compact (TZ5) and recently moved up to having photopass access so at last able to take a decent camera into gigs.

    I'd have to say in my experience that the lighting for the warm up acts can be so vastly different to the main band as to be only useful for getting a very rough feel and getting over some of the nerves :-)

    Finding the pressure of the first three songs a little off putting right now, mind you beats trying to avoid security ;-) Being the only one allowed to take pictures at a venue is very satisfying.

  • Greg Taylor November 20, 2009 08:25 am

    Great tips on concert photography. When I shoot concerts I make sure that I do all my test shots during the openers. This is the best time to get a feel for your settings (i.e ISO, aperture, shutter speed). With that being said I then start photographing live music with one of those settings knowing that I will have to make adjustments - it's just a great starting point.
    I try and shoot with the lowest ISO and the highest f-stop but it seldom works. My setup of choice lately has been ISO 800 at about 1/125 (or less) with my 24-70 at f2.8. A really good lens for shooting shows that won't break the bank is a 50mm prime 1.8.
    Like anything else the more you shoot the better you'll get and don't be afraid to experiment - especially if you're in a situation where you are not limited to taking photos for only the first three songs.

    Thanks for the posts and keeping this thread alive. Cheers~ GRT2

  • Roger Williams November 20, 2009 07:49 am

    Thanks for the comments. You can try AV f stop 2.8, ISO 1600, see what happens. You can bring the f stop up if it works. Watch your histogram. I shot a concert the other night in good light and it worked well. AV seems to have balance.

  • Skye November 20, 2009 02:34 am

    Awesome advice. Now if I can just figure out how to sing and take picture at the same time ;)

  • Nyani Quarmyne November 10, 2009 01:59 am

    Roger - You could try Av (aperture priority) mode, do histogram checks and adjust your exposure compensation until you were happy with the histogram, but then every time you recompose you'd have to readjust your exposure compensation. Personally I think it would be faster and easier to stay in Manual mode. Also, in Av mode the camera will be varying the shutter speed to achieve correct exposure, which will result in blurry shots when it selects a shutter speed that is too slow to freeze motion in the scene you are shooting. (Of course, that's OK if motion blur is what you want...)

    Shooting at f/5.6 will be tough in in low light. You'll have to push the ISO pretty high to get fast enough shutter speeds to freeze motion, especially with a longish lens. For example, the shot of Ben Harper above was at 1/100s, f/2.8 and ISO800. If I were at f/5.6 I would have to raise the ISO to 3200 to keep the same shutter speed, which would result in a pretty noisy shot unless you have a camera that has really good high ISO performance. Unfortunately, fast lenses really are the way to go with this type of photography.

  • Roger Williams November 8, 2009 02:44 am

    Wonder about shooting at AV with f stop at 5.6 or higher. Your opinion would be nice, I liked your article.

  • Darren November 3, 2009 11:54 am

    Sime - as I said, 'yeah there are times that it's needed' and certainly is my weapon of choice when shooting sports (football, as in soccer) - even moreso than my 300

    My first stadium gig was Bryan Adams (was also my first time in a pit) - started with an old sigma 70-210/2.8 but (being honest - mainly due to it's crap AF speed) quickly changed to the 85/1.8

    I'm not a prime nut (although I do crave the 200/2) and in general prefer the flexibilty of a good quality zoom but for music I really like to have the fast primes

    Very much agree with your tip on keeping both eyes open :)

  • Sime November 3, 2009 09:15 am

    Hey, Darren - I've not seen you around? Probably because you're always wearing black haha... Shoot V or Sonisphere or Benicassim or Glasto - you will immediately appreciate a long lens (Or Wembley or o2!!)


  • Darren November 3, 2009 06:04 am

    Congrats on a great article :)

    I've been shoot live music for a few years now, been published in big press, signed to major agency, blah, blah, blah...

    Some very good tips listed above, wear black - a good one (never really thought about it but I've always done it)

    One thing that I don't really get is the love of the 70-200/2.8, mine (Nikon 80-200/2.8 AF-S) spends most of it's life in my bag, yeah there are times that it's needed (over crowded pit, snapping from the side etc) but the vast majority of the time I'm swapping between primes (35/2, 50/1.4, 85/1.8)

    Best tip that I can offer is to get out there and do it - talk to your local bands, find your local small venues, you can be sure you'll find some very difficult lighting situations - don't fear the grain, you're capturing something alive and active - it's not a fashion shoot! Learn to love your 50/1.8 (if you don't have one then you are a fool)

    Most importantly - enjoy it (you need to, there's not a lot of money in it *grin*)


  • Oren October 16, 2009 04:35 pm

    Awesome photographer and some awesome advice. Do not dismiss what he says here. Some of it might sound basic to more seasoned photogs, but the advice is truly golden. One thing, though, regarding ISO--sometimes (especially if you shoot small venues) the lighting will be really dim. Crank up that ISO as far as it'll go. Honestly, iIt's better to get the shot and have it be grainy than not be able to get the shot at all. And don't trust your autofocus!

  • Helgga October 2, 2009 05:03 pm

    Great Article. I guess I need more practice. I just received my Canon EOS Rebel XS and trying to figure out the best place to start. Hopefully I will be posting things soon for everyone's thoughts. But be kind :-) I am new.

  • Abhimanyu Ghoshal September 30, 2009 03:44 pm

    Great article! I tried following some of these tips, but I guess you have to adapt to the lighting/space scenario depending on where you're shooting. I took some shots of this band Caesar's Palace ( in Bangalore, India - check them out here:

    I used a Canon EOS 500D/Rebel T1i, with ISO 400/ISO 800, and had to bounce the pop-up flash off the ceiling by placing a business card in front of it at an angle. Would love to hear what you guys think of these pictures!

  • Daniel*1977 September 28, 2009 05:21 am

    My camera is too weak to do shots in dark places without long exposure, but I got this:
    First Ignite it was a long time ago, 2nd NA - not so bad I thinh :)

  • Jimmy September 28, 2009 02:17 am

    @ Sime. They are OK to go by the book. But check and stop us, when tearing my ticket. Not when I am in the mist of enjoying the performance. If they have a list of models or photos mugs of "banned" cameras.

    My friend who was further front, said that the guy in front of them with the Nikon DSLR was asked to pack his camera or pack & leave . That guy is really too much. I would complain the same as the shutter crashing sound can really irriate.

  • Sime September 27, 2009 09:15 am

    @Jimmy - A lot of the time security only know one thing for regular punters (make that two) :No Photos and Little Cameras: I came in just now from shooting Gang of Four, I arrived at the venue, the HMV in Kentish Town (London) and said hi to all as I shoot there often. Well, there were new guys down the front running the pit security. I was told "THREE PHOTOS, NO FLASH" ...I looked at the guy with a "you're joking, right?" and said "Three photos? You mean three songs" ... Nope, the guy was serious - threee photos - I explained I usually whip off about 150 - 300 for a three song set, he didn't flinch - THREE PHOTOS... I had to go find the head of security and ask him to sort it out... He did - he said to the new guy "These guys know what they're doing, just let them get on with it" - Sometimes security only remember two things "no photos, small cameras" I appreciate security, but they're not always 100% with it... if you get my drift

  • hussain shafei September 27, 2009 05:29 am


  • hussain shafei September 27, 2009 05:28 am

    I took some shots from the local Rock bands,
    I used my nikon D60
    -Nikkor 18-55mm
    -Sigma 70-300mm

    Check it out-->

    Let me know what you think.

  • Jimmy September 27, 2009 03:38 am

    just to add....

    I was already being very nice, using my viewfinder, no flash (too far anyway), MUTE & no screen review.

    Perhaps the only 2 items was the slight click sound and the red "write" blinking light, whenever a shot is made. This click sound is nowhere near the shutter crashing sound of a DSLR & is only heard if I am very very close to the camera (the camera is in MUTE mode).

    Also, there were no signs saying "NO PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED" or anything. Or "NO DSLR allowed" signages.

  • Jimmy September 27, 2009 03:30 am

    AT IL Divo concert this evening and midway thru my fav song, the security came over and asked me to pack up my camera. He says that only "dummy" / PHD are allowed. I was using my Canon SX10IS, which unfortunately looked like a DSLR when fully extended. I was pissed off, and I showed him my camera upclose, saying that this is a "dummy" camera, "look, it cannto change lens". He apologized and moved on, and I lost the chance to sing my fav song and my fav group. Grrrr

  • Joanie September 26, 2009 05:35 pm

    Love the shot of Eli and of the woman. The lighting is beautiful, as are the expressions.

    There's nothing greater than capturing THE shot during a concert.

  • karol. September 26, 2009 04:55 am

    First of all, great article. As a music photographer who's done work for bands for the past 6 years, I found a lot of the information useful. Unfortunately, I think it only applies to one particular kind of situation.

    The truth is, the MAJORITY is music photography is done at smaller shows, where you don't get photo passes, where there is no press pit, where you don't have the luxury of nice lighting or using a long lens.

    if the editors are interested, I would love to do an article on smaller scale music photography, that might be a bit more accessible and relevant for at least some of the readers of the blog.

    for an example of what i mean, please check out:

  • Ramiro Torres September 26, 2009 02:02 am

    Very interesting! thank you!!

  • Sime September 25, 2009 11:27 pm

    I've done a little bit of music stuff -> if you're bored <- One thing I've stated doing recently, and this sounds weird, but if you're shooting a big stage try it - Shoot with both eyes open. One eye focussing on the shot, one just open to catch movement / track anything exciting happening. It sounds weird, but once you've got it down it works well. The thing that I find most tricky when you're starting out is that you never quite know what to expect... I shot all day at a festival and then shooting Metallica, the whole lighting set-up was completely different.. Than say, tonight, shooting Nate James at the Jazz Cafe in London - I know the venue and am mentally prepared... Don't obsess over it - Like Nyani says, reel a few off, check them and then get on with it - You'll have time to count your money when the deal is done.

    One thing new music photogs ALWAYS forget - ENJOY IT! If you're relaxed and in touch with the music, you're going to get much better shots.

    I love shooting music. totally.

    Sime (dPS Community Manager)

  • Robin Ryan September 25, 2009 01:25 pm

    Great article, Nyani. Something I'd always like to do more of.

    I don't have too much experience, but I was invited to shoot a concert once which included Sloan, 54-40, and Hawksley Workman. I got a 80-200mm f/2.8L for the day and was thrilled with the quality. Here are a few of those shots:

    And then one of the mariachis playing in Mexico:

  • Alan Nielsen September 25, 2009 03:29 am

    two camera's:

    APC-C size sensor with a 70-200mm 2.8
    full frame with a 24-70mm 2.8 or 50mm 1.4

    That way you can zoom right in on any of the action from across the stage or the background performers as well as capture anything happening right in front of you. Also, having a zoom lens on an APC-C sized sensor really helps if the stage is higher than normal and you have to stand back a bit. I'm short, so this happens a lot.

  • Oskar September 24, 2009 08:32 pm

    I never ever use flash unless I have a deal with the artist, but even then I prefer to use the lights at the show.

    In Sweden we usually just get the three first songs at a show. If you have the possibility to go back to the other end of the room and use a zoom you sometimes get really great photos.

    Other than that I usually try to use my 2.8 zooms and ISO 800-1600, often with exposure set down 2-3 steps.

    My concertpic's are at:

  • montreal florist September 24, 2009 01:09 pm

    It's like magic of light. Fantastic shot!

  • Aimee Greeblemonkey September 24, 2009 12:03 pm

    these photos are amazing. and awesome tips, thanks.

  • antonio September 24, 2009 05:02 am

    One more tip: wear black.

  • Nicolette September 24, 2009 03:34 am

    I shoot alot of local and national acts and have been for several years now. I shoot about 4 shows per month sometimes more. Theh more you shoot the better you get. You can check out my work at I use a cheap Sony Alpha A100 and a 50mm f/1.7 with a ISO of 800 to 1600 and I do just fine with local bands in dark bars. I use a cheap Minolta 70-200 f/4.5 with an ISO of 200 to 400 for larger venues with lots of lights. I think I do alright with this and alot of the bands use my work.

  • Sean Ilaguison September 24, 2009 02:35 am

    Very helpful tips. I love concert photography myself.

  • Paulo Sacramento September 24, 2009 12:56 am

    That's probably my best concert picture EVER:

  • Eric Mesa September 24, 2009 12:33 am

    These are nowhere near as awesome as the photos in this post, but I wanted to show some good (not great....definitely not great) photos that can be had at a concert with a point and shoot and even from far away.

  • Nyani Quarmyne September 23, 2009 10:21 pm

    Thanks for all your comments, everyone!

    Chris, I completely agree about shooting in manual mode, shooting RAW, and constant aperture lenses. (I can see how what I wrote about compensating for exposure could be interpreted as "use exposure compensation".) However, I personally don't rely solely on the center AF point when there's enough light to use others. I'm fortunate enough to have a handy 51 AF points on my Nikon, and as I frame for a shot of a relatively static subject I'll often select the focus point closest to what I want to focus on. I find this minimises how far I have to swing the lens to recompose, and allows me to get more accurately framed shots, quicker. Great article and images on your blog, by the way.


  • robo September 23, 2009 06:18 pm

    It also helps if you're a girl.

  • Lorenzo Reffo September 23, 2009 05:02 pm

    I'd really love to shoot a live show, but I don't think I will ever take a DSLR with me :)

    Anyway, on this page I found a collection of pics I really loved:

  • Chris Owyoung September 23, 2009 04:29 pm

    A nice article. I would add the following:

    1) Getting the exposure right.

    The most successful concert photographers I know all shoot in manual mode. They rely entirely on the histogram and the screen to judge the proper exposure for the subject. Why? Because every automatic mode on the camera depends on the light meter, which, no matter if it's set to Matrix/Evaluative or Spot will be overwhelmed by the venue lighting and fail you.

    At many concerts, the lighting on the subject does not change very rapidly. The lighting around the subject changes all the time. Its important to know the difference since the huge majority of the photos a photo editor will run are those that are properly exposed for the subject.

    Instead of relying on the meter and exposure compensation for every shot, expose manually making small adjustments for the changes in lighting.

    2) Shoot RAW.

    Shooting RAW solves two of the major problems found in concert photography, exposure and white balance. Even though I shoot several shows per week and have been published in every major music magazine in the country, I still rely on up to one (1) stop of exposure compensation in post in order to nail the shot. I also rely on white balance adjustments on almost every photo in order to correct the inaccurate color casts created by Auto White Balance. Every concert photographer should know that their histograms are only a reflection of their camera's white balance at the time of capture. So, if your white balance is horribly wrong, so too will a regular reading of the histogram. If your photos is too red you should also account for your histogram being too red (or green or blue, etc).

    3) Use constant aperture lenses.

    Since shooting close to wide open is needed for all but arena shows, shooting a concert with a f/3.5-5.6 variable aperture lens doesn't make a lot of sense. Every time you move the zoom, your exposure and depth of field changes. Sure, you can use Auto ISO or compensate with shutterspeed, but really, you shouldn't rely on the camera's meter or automatic modes at all (see first point).

    Instead use prime lenses or zoom lenses with constant f/2.8 aperturesl; this way, your focal length has nothing to do with your exposure. Although the f/2.8 zooms made by Nikon and Canon are very expensive, there are decent third party alternatives from Tokina and Tamron for every major brand.

    4) Use the center AF point.

    If you think center weighted compositions are boring but can't get your camera to focus in low light using the outer points, it's probably because they aren't as accurate as the center. In every camera body I can think of, the center AF point is the most accurate. Instead of moving focus points consider using only the center AF point and focusing then recomposing before the shot. Sure, there is some shift in the focal plane, but it's nothing compared to how out of focus your photo could be if one of the outer points decides to lock onto the mic stand or guitar head instead of the subject's eyes.

    Lots more info with examples here:

    and on my music photography blog:

    Happy shooting everyone.

    Chris Owyoung

    The article I wrote this summer answers all of your questions:

  • Norbert September 23, 2009 02:41 pm

    As I do the same work in Germany: in all points you are absolutely right! Especial rule 9 is normally one of the "forgotten" rules....... be nice and other people will be nice to you! Believe me, even if you are in hectic, it works!

    best regards from Germany

  • Jimmy September 23, 2009 02:11 pm

    Well, the author is fortunate to be this close to the performer.
    I wasn;t so lucky at a recent concert.
    Was using my Canon SX10IS at max zoom (thats 560mm for 35mm film camera), shooting at ISO 800 or 1600 (sometimes to ISO3200). Had to switch to spot metering, or the bright and not so bright light plays havoc to my photo.

    Here are a few samples.

    I will gladly try again on this weekend, with IL Divo.


  • en_joy photos September 23, 2009 01:52 pm

    nice stuff :) you should have a blog on how to land a gig doing concert photos :)

  • kim September 23, 2009 11:53 am

    Good advice, but I don't think the photos illustrate the concepts they're accompanying.
    if you want good concert photography advice and examples, check out
    todd's written a piece that's very similar to this.

  • Mike September 23, 2009 09:52 am

    1st how did you get so close?
    2nd most stadiums/events will not let you in with a DSLR!!! (WHY!!!)?
    3rd how do you do it with out massive amounts of backstage passes and £'s to bribe the door men?

    if there are ways of doing this please le me know

  • gp sachs September 23, 2009 08:27 am

    Great post.

    I've taken pictures in two concerts so far. First one was a total disaster, but the second one was much better, but I still have a lot to learn and these tips will be very helpful next time I go to a concert to shoot. Here's the link to some of my pictures:

  • Bill Goodman September 23, 2009 08:27 am

    I've been doing concert photography for a little while now and I've found through my trials and error that the lens has a little bit to do with it was well. I'm not talking quality of lens (IS vs non-IS etc). For a while I was using a 28-105 2.8/5.6 zoom. My results would vary but I would spend a lot of time post processing in Photoshop. The last show I shot I would up trying out my 50mm 1.2. The end results were a lot more satisfying. Images were sharper and cleaner. Not only did I have a lot more keepers but I spent less time post processing. the reason, I was zooming in and out thus changing the fstop from 2.8 to 5.6. I took a few test shots to determine my settings and kept my shutter speed at 1/80, iso at 800 and the fstop stayed at 1.2. The shots are from a local band called "Low of the Low" and the results can be seen here:

  • Tim A. September 23, 2009 07:58 am

    It certainly is a whole different set of skills. Thanks for the writeup :)

    On occasion I've photographed a local "School of Rock" concert and as it's typically in a club with terrible lighting, most of the time, everyone just ends up looking, orange, or some other odd color. Though I keep it that way as that's how they looked, I also found that, for certain shots, very high contrast black and white looks nice too.

    Won't say these are awesome. But the performers (all are mostly parents of kids in the school) enjoyed the shots. Most ended up using them for their facebook profiles to show off to their kids :)

  • Graham Warsap September 23, 2009 07:18 am

    Learnt the hard way about using spot metering. Shot a festival for the first time and very sunny. Back ground dark so detail of performer blown out. Some good points there off to gig on thursday will try them out.

    Also to practise try local pub/club to practise with newish bands. All myspace very good to get to know the performers.

    Have a look at my music collection on flickr

  • JonatasCD September 23, 2009 05:52 am

    I don`t that experience, but I can tell you that the point #9 is TRUE
    Great contribution - thanks

  • Sarah September 23, 2009 05:31 am

    Great post and sweet shots!

  • Memoria September 23, 2009 05:30 am

    I forget to look at the histogram on my camera; I really need to do that to avoid overexposed and underexposed photos. Thanks for the great tips.

  • Scott Johnson September 23, 2009 05:28 am

    Great article.

    I use these techniques when shooting wildlife. Get the camera set and watch for pattern in your subjects movement.


  • nathan September 23, 2009 04:01 am

    Thanks for the post! I've been doing a bit of concert photography lately, it seems... but I must say that your shots are incredibly impressive - sharp focus, great exposures and composition. Nicely done!

  • Greg Taylor September 23, 2009 03:23 am

    Great post. I love shooting live music. For me lighting is always the key. I've been fortunate enough to shoot the same band a couple of times. The more you shoot a band the more you'll have a knack for the lighting for certain songs or different parts of the set. I'm a big fan of shooting from behind the band to capture the crowd. Most performers feed off the energy of the crowd so incorporating people in the shot can be real cool.

    My advice for people who want to shoot music - (as always) shoot as often as possible. Make friends with local bands and hone your skill. Who knows - they may be called on to open for more national acts and get your foot in the door for photo passes etc. Be respectful and more often than not - people will help accommodate you.

    For some examples of my work:

  • Matthias September 23, 2009 02:12 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on concert photography. I normally do not use flash, because most of the time it is forbidden. However, when you are taking concert shots for friends, try to set up a flash on the side of the stage and fire in a reflective umbrella. I used this strobist technique last weekend (the light conditions were really poor, just blue and red spots) and it worked amazingly well.

    For my concert shots have a look at:

  • free classified ads September 23, 2009 01:42 am

    nice tutorial i have in this blog, great content , photography is an art

  • Annette September 23, 2009 01:13 am

    Unless I'm asked to provide a performer photos, I would never use flash, even with a hat brim causing shadows.

    Musicians who wear hats on stage are quite often doing so due to sensitivity to the lights shining on them - and using a flash in their faces is even worse than on most performers! You just have to use it to your advantage.

    Thank you for showing some examples which weren't as well-lit as a typical photographer who does very few concerts will want. In showing your examples, you show both well-lit features as well as the advantage in sometimes just letting light highlight a bit of someone's face rather than getting that full "daylight" exposure - you're capturing the actual experience. Concert photography is my big love, and it's nice to see someone not attempting to eliminate effects of colored lights or make concert photos look like something other than a concert.