Concert Photography

Concert Photography

Photo credit Ivan McClellan

Everyone seems to love taking pictures at concert venues. A well-timed click of the shutter captures the exhilaration of a live show. And the idea of getting paid to photograph a favorite performer is music to the ears of many camera-toting concert-goers. With the right tools, techniques, and dedication, you can build a concert photography portfolio that could eventually lead to paid gigs.

Gear for Concert Photography

Before heading to a show, collecting the appropriate gear is essential. Unless you’re photographing an outdoor concert in the daylight, you’ll most likely be working in low-light conditions.

To get around the dim lighting at music venues, a lens with a wide aperture is crucial. Aim for a maximum aperture of at least f/2.8. A large aperture allows for faster shutter speeds, which will freeze the action on stage.

Another way to battle the darkness is to make use of high ISO settings. Newer cameras are getting better and better at reducing noise in the upper ranges of ISO. Test out your camera and image editing software ahead of time to see how high you can set the ISO before the noise is unbearable.

Preparation

If you’re unfamiliar with the band you’ll be photographing, do your homework. Look for recent photos and videos of the group’s concerts to find out where each member of the band tends to spend the most time on stage. Pay attention to which hand the lead singer holds the microphone in. Watch for fun quirks, gestures, or dance moves that you can anticipate during particular songs.

Once at the venue, scope out the stage and lighting conditions. Predict your camera settings before the music starts. Look around for all of your possible camera angles, good viewpoints, and any obstructions that you’ll need to shoot around to get a good glimpse of the performer. If you can, use the opening act as a dress rehearsal.

Settings

The lighting at concerts is ever-changing. Even if the lights are constant, it’s unlikely that the musician will stay in one spot and be consistently lit for the entirety of the set. Aside from using a high ISO and a wide aperture to make the most of the light, you’ll need to make lots of adjustments to keep up with the performer.

Shooting in manual mode will give you the most control over the situation, but some photographers prefer to use aperture priority mode. If you do use aperture priority mode, keep a close watch on the shutter speed so as not to unintentionally blur motion. In most cases, you’ll want a shutter speed that’s faster than the inverse of your lens focal length. For example, if you’re using a 50mm lens, you’ll want the shutter speed to be at least as fast as 1/50 of a second to avoid camera shake and faster still to freeze motion.

Decide which shooting mode works best for your situation ahead of time and get comfortable with all of your camera controls. You may be changing your settings in the dark, so it’s important to know which dials to use without looking.

Composition

Concert Photography

Photo credit Jason Persse

Clutter and obstructions, such as speakers, mic stands, or smartphones held up in the air, make it difficult to get clear shots of the performer on stage. Change positions and get creative to avoid having unwanted objects in the frame.

In addition to capturing signature portraits of the artists, remember to capture small details of the show. Put something in the foreground of your shots to provide context. For example, you might frame the performer with audience members. Look for details like a set list at the performer’s feet or his or her instruments to include in your shots.

Much of concert photography depends on patience. Wait for spot lights to illuminate your subject. Look for moments when you can capture the performer’s unobstructed face by moving to the side opposite of the hand that holds the microphone. Astute observation goes a long way when it comes to photographing musical performances.

Etiquette

Concert photography etiquette is just as important as camera technique. Out of respect for the artists, the venue, and all of the other concert attendees who paid to see the show, be sure to follow the rules. Stay out of other concert-goers’ way as much as possible and be polite with the facility’s staff.

Some venues have restrictions on access and photography equipment. In most cases, flash photography is not allowed, and in some cases you’ll even be turned away for bringing in a DSLR without a photography pass. A pass may also be needed to enter the area in front of the stage. Check with the venue ahead of time to avoid confrontations with security.

Practice

Concert Photography

Photo credit Dan Cox

Gain experience by photographing concerts held at smaller venues, like local bars. There are usually fewer rules about cameras and fewer competing photographers for smaller acts. Shoot as many shows as possible. Once you’ve built up a portfolio of stunning concert photos, you can begin seeking out photographers’ passes and paid gigs.

Being close to the stage with your camera in hand is an exciting experience. Careful preparation and lots of practice at shows will help you gain the skills needed to be an impressive concert photographer. Use the next musical performance you attend to start creating a concert photography portfolio. Before you know it, you could find yourself in the pit with the pros.

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Profile photo of Nicoal Price About Nicoal Price

​Nicoal is a New England photographer with a penchant for learning. Her work ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Visit nicoalprice.com for more info.

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