One of my favorite events to photograph is concerts. The excitement and ambiance are so intoxicating and exhilarating, but concert photography doesn't come without its unique challenges. The unpredictable stage lighting, dark venues, and fast-moving artists can leave you disappointed and heartbroken if you don't know a few basics on how to shoot concert photography.
(Collective Soul, Nikon 3200, 35mm @ F 2.5, 1/2000, ISO 1600)
How to Shoot Concert Photography – for Beginners
- Use a fast lens, wide open. – Your best chance to get that tack sharp concert photograph is a fast prime lens. Opt for a 35mm 1.8 or 50mm 1.4 or 1.8, and shoot wide open (the lowest aperture.)
- Up your ISO. – You're going to need to up your ISO to be able to reach a decent shutter speed to capture the artists mid-set. Don't be afraid to go as high as 1600 (or higher) to get the shot you want. Uping your ISO will add grain to your photograph, but you can correct the grain during post-production with noise reduction software. But honestly, I don't mind a little grain in my concert photography. It adds personality and a bit of dirt and grunge to the shot.
- Set a fast shutter speed. – I always start with a shutter speed of 1/250 (and usually go higher!) to freeze the action. If the photos are turning out too dark I up my ISO to 3200 or 6400 to compensate for the fast shutter speed.
- Shoot in aperture priority or manual mode. – Shooting in aperture priority gives you the freedom to set the right exposure and forget about it, something many photographers prefer in an unstable lighting environment. But if you're comfortable shooting inconsistent and sometimes temperamental lighting in manual mode, then I say go for it!
- Use spot (center-weighted) metering. – You will never be able to fully predict the stage lighting will land next, and those black drop curtains will only confuse your camera's metering. By using spot metering you will be able to get and keep the correct exposure of a performer's face to prevent them from becoming blown out.
- Switch to autofocus. – This is another one of those set it and forget it opportunities. I typically shoot concerts using autofocus with a single focal point and let my camera work for me. This allows me to focus on composing the shots I want no matter where the artist is on stage, employing the rules of thirds if needed to get that perfect shot with the band and/or instruments. Just be sure not to crop out fingers, feet, or instruments.
- Utilize burst mode. – Your finger will never be able to press the shutter as fast as a camera's burst mode, and with performers jumping all around the stage burst mode can catch that perfect shot you want. Maybe you caught sweat flying from the performer's face, or you caught that drumstick mid-air at just the right angle, whatever shot you're wanting to capture burst mode can help you attain those unpredictable shots.
- Never, ever, ever, use a flash. – Just don't. I cannot repeat this enough. Do Not Use Your Flash. Do Not Plan On Using Your Flash. Ever! Not only will this blind the performers possibly turning them against you, you will also completely annoy the audience and this just may get you kicked out of the venue as well. Flashes are a no-no at concerts so leave them at home.
- Be nice. – This is where it gets real. I know you've heard the saying you can catch more bees with honey than vinegar, and that same principle applies at concerts. We have received more front stage, back stage, and exclusive one-on-one opportunities by being humble and nice to the band, stage crews, everyone. Remember, these people are just like you and me working an (albeit AMAZING) job who want to be treated kindly. Please don't forget this as you learn how to shoot concert photography.
- Show appreciation. – Before you leave, thank the band for making eye contact and giving them a little nod or wink. They just may appreciate the thanks enough to get right in your face and give you that unbelievable close-up shot you dreamed of.
We hope you learned some valuable tips on how to shoot concert photography to encourage you to get out and combine two of your favorite loves. Some of our favorite day and night concert photographs featuring Collective Soul, Joan Jett