In this post, I want to talk about the best settings and techniques for concert photography. And how to get started as a concert photographer.
Most people who get into concert photography do so because they have a passion for music, photography and a love of the music scene. If this sounds like you, you are already halfway there to becoming a great music photographer, but it also takes time and practice. Regardless of your favourite genre of music, concerts are always an event worth experiencing. If you’re documenting the occasion with a camera, however, it can sometimes be difficult to come away with great photos and there can be several reasons for that.
Low light isn’t quite the problem it once was. Gigs can be dark but modern cameras are excellent at producing good results at high ISO, so the lack of light is not always an issue. But shoot Raw! Shooting in JPEG just won’t give you the latitude you will need to correct highlights, colour balance, levels and noise. I also recommend you learn how to shoot manual mode or you will never learn how to truly control your camera. With all the shadows and poor lighting during a concert, manual mode allows for a more consistent way of exposing images. Any other setting may produce poor exposure since the setting isn’t programmed to pick up on concert lighting so well.
However, if you’re just starting out as a photographer one of the best concert photography settings tips is to use aperture priority mode when you start out. This will automate much of the process since your camera will immediately adjust the shutter speed to maintain your selected aperture.
Loud music, rowdy fans, quickly-changing lights, and a ton of other distractions can make manual mode a nightmare when you start out but will ultimately give you far more control. Once you improve, the manual setting will allow much great control in tricky lighting situations.
Check out the video below:
When you first get access to photograph a gig, the temptation is to just shoot a million photos in the hope that you’ll get something useable. You can do that, of course, but you will probably discover a high percentage of images will be dark, out of focus, and maybe not usable, and an unreasonable amount of time will be spent editing through all the images.
Be patient and wait for the right moment to shoot. Focus on the person on stage, find a good angle where the mic isn’t obstructing their face and try and watch what the lights are doing. When the light looks good and you have a reasonable exposure and the artist looks good then shoot. If not try and wait. But if something spectacular happens like somebody jumps into the crowd or looks straight down the lens of your camera, then just keep shooting!
When the band is jumping around the stage or engaging in any number of wild movements, a fast shutter speed will be your best friend.
The simple fact of the matter is that slower shutter speeds simply weren’t created with concerts in mind. If your shutter speed isn’t around 1/200sec or faster, there’s a good chance you’ll walk away with blurry images.
Not all gigs are lit up like a Def Leppard concert and small gigs can be super-challenging. But there is no reason why a decent newer camera with a good lens can’t produce good results in a dimly lit venue.
The next thing to consider is how high ISO can your camera go before the noise makes the photo unusable. By raising your ISO settings, you improve your camera’s ability to quickly respond to light. The professionals typically start out with an ISO level of 1600.
For concert photography settings, not every event will be the same. There will be times when it’s necessary to raise the setting above 1600. This is one of the few concert photography tips that can actually result in more “noise”, but the resulting photos are still much better than blurry photos. Additionally, post-processing programs like Lightroom can help reduce noise.
While avoiding the use of the flash function helps keep the mood of the performance, there’s a far more basic reason for not lighting up the stage with a sudden blast of light:
It’s usually not allowed.
Since the artists are likely already bombarded by stage lights. They don’t need 20 different flashes going off in their faces as well.
If you have a photo pass for a concert, you’re usually given access to the photo pit. This barricaded section is directly in front of the stage, so you’ll be better able to shoot without being pushed around by excited fans. Unfortunately, many photographers typically crowd the centre stage to get shots of the lead singer.
In reality, you’re likely better off starting at the outer edges and working your way in. This allows you more opportunity to capture different angles and other band members before focusing on the frontperson after the other photographers have got their shots.
Standing right in front of the lead singer puts you at an awkward angle where you can only shoot upwards. By starting at the fringes and moving in, you’ll avoid the hectic centre area, to begin with, and get better photos.
Because you usually only get to shoot 3 songs you need to prepare and find out what happens during those first moments of the show. The best way to do this is to learn the show from YouTube where there will be plenty of fan uploads showing where each member of the band stands and what the stage show and lighting is like, and what are the must-see moments to capture.
When you first start doing concert photography your first instinct will be to start shooting as much as you can the second the band appears on stage even when it’s tricky to take a photograph. You feel under pressure because you only have three songs to get good shots. Relax! Sometimes it’s almost impossible to get a shot when it’s really dark. Take advantage of those impossible low-light moments in a concert to give you time to find a good shooting spot or to take a quick glance at your pictures to make sure you are adjusting your camera settings correctly. Be patient and wait for the moments of bright lighting bursts to get most of your shots.
Here are my tips on how to shoot low light concert photography:
- use a fast lens
- use a small aperture number
- use a shutter speed of at least 1/200 sec
- start with ISO 1600
- use aperture priority or manual mode
- research the band before
- wait for the right moment to shoot your photos
- ALWAYS use earplugs to avoid hearing damage
It is very easy to get intimidated by the low-light environment in a music venue. It is important to understand your settings and to go through your images during post-production to see where things went wrong or where things went right. The more you shoot concert photography in low-light stage situations the more confident and comfortable you will become with yourself and with your camera.
Most of all… Have fun!