Pitbull performs at the MTS Centre, Winnipeg
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...
Shoot on Manual:
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.
Fred Penner, Festival Du Voyaguer
Wait for the Right Light:
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.
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.
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.
Certain Venues are Better than Others:
Shooting arenas, contrary to what the general public would think, 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.
Use Fast Lenses:
It will be dark and any extra light you can get will help you out. If you’re up front a 50mm 1.8 prime can be your best friend, and they’re cheap too.
Don’t Use a Flash:
Ick, flash photography at concerts just looks bad. Google concert photography and you will be able to tell immediately what I’m talking about. The flash will wash out the colour in the background. It often will make the subject incredibly bright and the background incredibly dark.
Flash photography is also extremely distracting to performers to the point that most venues now ban it entirely. I think they should just ban it for the sake of photography, but that’s just my opinion.
If you must use a flash drag the shutter and you can get some really great lighting effects.
The Faster The Shutter Speed The Better:
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.
Like anything, the more practice you get the better you will become. Practice changing your lenses, where all the controls are on the camera and leading your subjects. Again, and again and again.
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.
Underground 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.