How To Photograph Concerts

Written by Robert Lowdon

Robert Lowdon is an internationally published commercial photographer based out of Toronto, Canada. He spends his time photographing architecture and industrial projects for the most part.

Published October 17, 2013

concert photography

Concert photography can be a very tricky endeavor to embark on. It is definitely not easy which is kind of ironic because it seems this is where most photographers get their start (me included). In photography, if you can work in the dark you can work pretty much anywhere.

I thought I would share a few tips on how to embark on the journey of concert photography. Well it started as a few, anyway…

25 Tips on How To Photograph Concerts

If you’re new to concert photography, or just looking to up your game, these 25 tips will help you get the best photos possible.

How to photograph concerts
Slayer!!!

Get there early

This one is a no-brainer – the earlier you get to the venue, the better position you’ll be able to get for taking photos. If possible, try to arrive when the doors open so that you can get closer to the stage.

Choose your camera carefully

If you’re serious about concert photography, you’ll need a DSLR camera that can shoot in low light and handle fast action. A point-and-shoot camera simply won’t cut it.

Crowd at concert
A large crowd, waits for a redbull concert

Use a good lens

You will need a fast lens meaning one with a large aperture. For example an f/stop of f/ or lower. The reason for this is that you will be shooting in very low light situations and you will need all the help you can get. A faster shutter speed will also be necessary to freeze the action on stage. I recommend starting out with a 50mm f/ or 35mm f/ lens.

A telephoto lens is essential for concert photography – it will let you capture close-up shots of the performers without being too intrusive. A 70-200mm lens is the gold standard. This might be the most important tip on how to photograph concerts.

Set your camera to manual mode

In manual mode, you have complete control over the exposure settings of your camera. This is important in concert photography, as the lighting conditions can be unpredictable.

Concerts will wreak havoc on your camera’s metering system. Varying changes in light and very dark environments are just flat out confusing for the camera. Often times if you shoot on automatic the meter will try to expose for the background leaving your subject either under or over exposed.  If you want to be in control of your own destiny (and get the shot) put your camera on manual and learn how to expose.

How to photograph concerts
Gojira in concert

Use a high ISO setting

Since concerts are typically quite dark, you’ll need to use a high ISO setting on your camera in order to avoid getting blurry photos. A setting of 1600 or 3200 should give you decent results.

Be prepared to shoot in burst mode

Concerts are fast-paced and action-packed, so you’ll need to be ready to shoot in burst mode (taking multiple photos in quick succession). This is a mode on your camera where you can hold down the shutter button and it will take several shots in succession. This is great for concert photography because it allows you to capture multiple moments of the same thing. For example, if the lead singer is jumping around on stage you can hold down the shutter and get a few different shots of him in mid air.

This way, you’ll be sure to capture the best moments.

Marianas trench in concer
Mariana’s Trench performs

Use a Monopod

If you want to save your arms you might want to try a monopod for longer lenses.

Get close to the stage

The closer you are to the stage, the better your photos will be. If possible, try to get a spot near the front so that you can really fill the frame with the performers.

When you are just starting out it is tempting to shoot from the back of the room. After all, it’s easier and you don’t have to worry about getting in anyone’s way, right? WRONG! Get as close to the stage as possible. Not only will you get better photos, but you will also have a much more enjoyable experience.

Blue rodeo in concert
All time greats Blue Rodeo

Watch the Background

This is important for two reasons. First, you want to make sure there is nothing distracting in the background of your photo that will take away from the main subject which is, of course, the band. Second, if you have people in the background you want to make sure they are not blurry. If they are, it will make your photo look sloppy.

Be patient

Good concert photos often take time and patience to capture. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the perfect shot on your first try – keep at it and you’ll eventually get the results you’re after.

Ideally, you want to predict where the performer will be rather than where they are. So try to lead your shots and when they are in the right place fire away.

Megadeth in concert
Megadeath concert photos

Experiment with different angles

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles and perspectives when taking photos at a concert. The more creative you are, the better your photos will be.

Take advantage of the lighting

Many concerts feature interesting and unique lighting effects which can make for great photos. Pay attention to the light show and use it to your advantage when framing your shots.

Try to notice a pattern in the lighting and anticipate what will happen next. If you’re set up for a proper exposure when the light hits the singer wait for that to happen. If you spend too much time messing around with your camera settings you usually end up with nothing.

Use a flash sparingly

While a flash can be helpful in some situations, it’s generally best to avoid using one at a concert. Flash photography can be disruptive to the performers and other concertgoers.

If you must use a flash drag the shutter and you can get some really great lighting effects.

Be respectful

It’s important to be respectful when taking photos at a concert. Don’t use flash photography unless it’s absolutely necessary, and don’t block the view of other attendees.

Shooting arenas, are so much easier than small clubs. Large venues have better lighting; better special effects and they’re pros. They give you concrete rules of where you can shoot, and if you’re courtesy and friendly to the staff and security they will help you out.

Tip: Never Break the Rules at a Venue.

Not only does security have the monumental job of trying to keep the place safe with everything that is going on, the last thing they need is a photographer making their jobs that much more difficult. If you’re told to do something say: “Okay, thank you” and do it! Or get banned, I guess that would be up to you.

Dress Appropriately

Dress comfortably and in clothing that won’t restrict your movement. You’ll likely be doing a lot of standing and walking, so make sure you’re wearing shoes that are comfortable.

Bring extra batteries and memory cards

Concerts can be long, so make sure you bring extra batteries and memory cards – you don’t want to run out of juice in the middle of a show.

Backup your photos

Be sure to backup your photos as soon as possible after the concert. This way, you won’t have to worry about losing them if something happens to your camera or memory card.

Edit your photos carefully

Editing your photos is an important part of the concert photography process. Be sure to take your time and experiment with different editing techniques until you’re happy with the results.

It is very rare that you will get a concert photo that is perfect straight out of the camera. More than likely you will have to do some editing in order to bring out the best in your photo. This could be anything from color correction to cropping.

Print your best photos

Don’t forget to print out your best photos! Concerts are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it’s nice to have physical prints that you can look back on and enjoy.

Have Fun

At the end of the day, if you’re not having fun then what’s the point? Concert photography should be enjoyable so make sure you take some time to soak it all in. After all, you’re at a concert!

Shoot a Ton of Frames

Anyone who has shot a concert before can tell you that you will get quite a few shots with just flat out weird expressions from performers. If I was a jerk I would post some examples, but I really don’t enjoy making people look bad.

Also with changing light you will have shots that are over and under exposed, because you are at the complete mercy of the lighting tech. A bad one can be one of the most frustrating things there is.

Use a Fast Shutter Speed

I know it will be dark, but you really need to freeze the action. A little bit of motion is okay, but you really do not want motion blur in your photographs. No amount of VR (Vibration Reduction) will compensate for this.

Be Original

This is obviously something you can’t teach. Once you get your standard shots try experimenting, look what’s behind you, what’s above and so on. Get low, get high. You want your photos to stand out and be original so people will actually look at them.

Small Concerts are a Good Place to Start

You will have a great deal of trouble trying to get into a major arena or concert venue without experience and a solid portfolio. The good news though is that a lot of the smaller venues will allow you to photograph bands, provided you ask permission. I can’t stress this enough, always make sure to ask permission. If you get kicked out, good luck ever shooting there again. 90% percent of the time you will get a yes (small venues) and sometimes they will even give you special access.

Share your photos with others

Last but not least, don’t forget to share your photos with others! Post them online or send them to friends – you never know who might appreciate seeing your work.

Concert photography can be a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. By following these tips on how to photograph concerts, you’ll be well on your way to taking great photos that you’ll be proud of.

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