Imagine being a concert photographer and getting the chance to cover loads of concerts. Imagine standing just feet away from your favourite artists as you capture so many shots of them. Doesn’t that just sound like the best thing? As opposed to other genres of photography like portraiture, fashion, etc., we have little to no control over lighting, the artists, and tons of other factors in concert photography.
So what are some of the best settings and tricks to capture those perfect shots at concerts? Images which will make you proud, make the artists and the viewers sat “Wow that is indeed one brilliant capture.”?
Use a fast lens and shoot wide open
Using a fast lens is highly important and is a basic requirement for concert photography. Almost all concerts happen during evenings or night, or indoors under low lighting, which is why your camera sensor requires more light to enter through the lens opening. Moreover, the performers keep moving around the stage so you need to use faster shutter speeds to freeze their motion.
A fast lens is one which allows shooting at wider apertures such as f/2.8, f/1.8, etc. By using lenses like the 50mm f/1.8 or 135mm f/1.8 at the smallest aperture value, you can capture a well exposed shot by keeping the shutter speed fast enough. Another reason for using a fast lens is because usually the distance between the backdrop and the subject is minimal, so to create a shallow depth of field with a bokeh effect, a smaller aperture value would have to be used.
Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode
Using Aperture Priority Mode to shoot concerts allows for more stress-free shooting. You simply tell your camera the aperture you want to use and it automatically sets the corresponding shutter speed. For many newbies shooting their first few concerts and even for many pros, using aperture priority allows for hassle free shooting.
Also, since the your mind is not all occupied by technical settings, you have freedom to look around at the artists, the crowd, etc., and end up shooting something really creative.
Shoot in aperture priority, with your f-number set to the smallest available on your lens, usually f/1.8 or f/2.8.
Crank up the ISO
Concerts usually take place in low light settings and for many reasons, using a tripod is not possible. So you can resort to the one setting which you have control over and can easily use, the ISO.
Before the concert really gets going, fire off a series of test shots at different ISO values to judge after what point the noise becomes unacceptable. (Usually ISO 3200 or 6400). Some noise is actually okay and is far better than having a totally underexposed or blurry shot simply because you didn’t increase your ISO value.
The noise generated by the high ISO values can be used creatively to capture something unique. A monochrome shot with some noise would lend a really cool film grain effect to your shot. High noise can be fixed later on in post-processing too. So don’t think twice before cranking up that ISO, it’s far better than having no photo to show.
Avoid using your flash
MOST important- Avoid using your flash at concerts. It is looked down on and frowned upon a lot. Imagine that you are firing your flash towards the performer(s), and there are 10 others doing the very same. That is surely going to annoy the artists, not to mention almost blind them.
Another important aspect of concert photography is photographing the audience, and no photographer would like to distract the audience from the artist who is performing for them. Repeatedly firing the flash at their faces while capturing their photos can easily annoy audience members.
Also, if we are aiming to capture candid photos of either the artists or the crowd, then firing a flash at them surely is not the right way to do that. And yes, a majority of photos using the built-in pop-up flash simply aren’t worth it. They look flat and uninspiring.
You are not there to stand at one place and shoot the same picture 10 times. As a concert photographer it goes without saying that you will have to move around. Move with the artists, move as the lighting changes, etc., to capture those standout moments. (Note: unless, of course, the venue or artist has put restrictions on photographers moving around.)
If you find people blocking your view, you have to move. After all, they have paid to watch their favourite artists perform. If the lead singer moves to one side of the stage, then you have to follow him over there.
The lights too will change from time to time, and it is important to know when which area of the stage will be illuminated to capture the performers properly with adequate lighting.
Moving around will always get you some really creative shots. You could capture a shot of the lead guitarist under the spotlight, a shot of the lead singer standing isolated from everyone else, etc. The possibilities are endless.
Wait and anticipate
Waiting for that perfect moment is as important as learning to anticipate it. This is a habit which can be developed easily, and is only fine tuned over time. Observe the artists and you will notice certain habits of theirs.
Moments such as a guitarist bending backwards during a particularly intense moment, a DJ waving his arms in the air, a singer grabbing the mic in a particular manner, etc., are all moments which would make for a perfect shot. It is important to know when these moments are around the corner so that you are ready to fire your camera when they come.
These are just a few tips to help you do better concert photography. Please share any others you’ve learned as well as your concert photos, in the comments below.