Concert Photography Masterclass : Part 2

In Music Photography

Concert Photography Article

This is the second and final part of my guide to concert photography.

Technique

You can be technically adept but still take poor photos, the trick is knowing when to click the shutter. Watch the performance for a moment, where is the light on stage? You may have to wait for the performer to move into the light.

My favourite shots are ones that show emotion and energy. Go for a shot when the singer steps away from the mic, you don’t want it obscuring your shot.
Try and get one when the singer is "in the moment", reaching for a high note or gesticulating.

The other thing to remember is that shooting digital means you can take lots of photos. Go nuts.

The Cops

ISO 1600 | F2.8 | 28mm | 1/320 sec

Keep an eye on the background and lighting. Backlighting your subject can give a beautiful effect

Consider the background

While you’ll be concentrating hard on capturing the performer in the foreground don’t forget to keep an eye on what’s visible in the background of the frame. A simple backdrop is usually best, so position yourself to avoid getting the lighting rig or advertising banners in the back of your shot.  Any clutter in the background will just distract from the focal point of your shot.

One effect that can look good is backlighting the subject. If you spot a particularly bright spotlight behind a performer move around till it’s directly behind the subject. It’ll give them a warm halo of light. A solar eclipse-like effect.

ISO 800 | F2.8 | 28mm | 1/125 sec

Sometimes the action off-stage is just as photo worthy as the action on-stage.

The Atmosphere

While the action on stage is what you’re primarily there to record, don’t forget to look around you and capture other elements to the show.

Once you know you’ve got some great shots of the performance think about grabbing some shots of the crowd. If you can get the performer and the crowd in the same shot, even better.

If you’re photographing a festival, shots of the audience and the vibe of the day are particularly important. Think of Glastonbury, and it’s images of floods and mud soaked punters that come to mind before any particular performer.

A music festival is about a lot more than the acts on stage, and you ought to take photos to tell that story.

Editing, flash and ettiquette

After you’ve taken hundreds of shots at a show, cull them down to the best 20 or 30. Then cull that down to the best 3.

If you’re going to show other people your photos don’t show them everything, just the very best.

They’ll assume all your shots are that good.

Photoshop

Sometimes your photos may need a tweak in post-processing. This isn’t unique to digital photography, people have been tinkering in dark rooms forever so it’s certainly not cheating to adjust your images in Photoshop. I usually just adjust the levels.

To make the blacks really black, bring up the contrast a little. Don’t change too much though, it’ll just look obvious and cheesy. Plus photo agencies and publications may not accept images that have been overly manipulated.

Photoshop can also help you remove an overwhelming colour cast, which under stage light is often red. Try tweaking the curves and colour balance to find a level that looks natural.

Young and restless

ISO 800 | F1.8 | 50mm | 1/200sec

The venue this shot was taken at only had red stage light, the bane of a concert photographer’s existence. Photoshop to the rescue!  A tweak of the colour balance and a spot of burning improved this shot while still looking natural.

Sometimes the colour of the stage light will be so murky and red that the image is almost unusable. In this instance try converting your image to black and white and the image may improve dramatically.

Be aware that very few publications will run black and white photos these days though.

For shots taken at high ISO values you may want to run your shots through noise reduction software. Noise Ninja and Neat Image are widely used and quite effective.

Flash and etiquette

Flash is generally forbidden in concerts but sometimes unavoidable to get a decent shot. I wouldn’t use an on-camera flash, an external flash will work much better.

If you’re in a small venue try bouncing it off a ceiling or wall – not in the performer or audiences face. Don’t go overboard with the flash, it’s distracting and quickly irritating, so if you have to use it keep it to an absolute minimum.

The Cribs

ISO 400 | F2.8 | 59mm | 1/125 sec

If it bleeds, it leads. When I saw Ryan Jarman from The Cribs bleeding from the mouth I knew the red stage light wouldn’t pick it up. A good time to use a flash.

Etiquette

Be nice to those around you. If you’re shooting from the audience don’t just shove your way to the front.

If you want to get closer, tap someone on the shoulder, smile and ask if they mind you moving forward to take some photos.
If you need to stand right in front of someone ask them if they mind and promise you’ll only be there for a minute. Keep that promise and move on.

If you’re in the photo pit be considerate of your fellow photographers. Keep an eye out for them and never walk in front of a shot while they’re composing it.

Always respect security, if they tell you to stop taking photos it’s not worth the hassle to argue.

Just put your camera away and enjoy the show.


Well that’s my advice all wrapped up, i hope you found it useful.

If you haven’t seen the first part, check out Concert Photography Masterclass.


42 Comments

  1. Love the advice. Have bookmarked these for later reference. I’ve actually been looking for a tutorial like this, so thankyou.

  2. Great stuff Dan – very comprehensive – thanks for sharing this here 🙂 Your photos are something to really aspire to… You should be really proud.

  3. good shit…like your shot of Tv on the Radio with the image cropped around his arms….killer pic.
    Check my pics if you’re on myspace, I tend to use the flash “religiously”, because im always in small/club venues. Cheers.

  4. If you shoot enough photos you will end up developing your own style and know what works for you. These days I tend not to use the flash and pre-set the white balance to save trouble later.
    Also, go talk to the band afterwards. I never know why people just run off after taking photos. If you can’t do it at the gig at least contact them via email later so you can show them your photos.

  5. In honesty, I cannot believe I never noticed the tiny “moon” at someone’s finger tip in the blue crowd photo… until I got a chance away from work and practice to sit down and thoroughly read your article properly… “A solar eclypse-like effect”.
    Also, I wanted to say – in reguards to what you’ve more recently posted about Wolfmother… Look at the difference in your photos, Dan. Amazing what you’re doing these days – from humble beginnings.
    I can only hope that should I ever be lucky enough to get my hands on an SLR camera, that I won’t be too shy to ask you to help me… 😀
    Well done, friend. x.

  6. Thanks for this, I am shooting my first concert this saturday, Everclear at the 930 club in Washington, DC. This guide will come in very handy.

  7. Great overview on concert photography. I have had the opportunity to shoot a number of concerts and had to learn by trial and error. Your tips would have been invaluable when I was getting started!

  8. Do you have any additional tips on use of flash? I’m very new to concert photography and so far I’ve been fortunate enough to be shooting in venues with gorgeous lighting so I have yet to resort to a flash. Do you suggest just bumping down the exposure on the flash and using it as fill or any tricks with rear curtain? Any words of wisdom you can throw my way would be greatly appreciated. (I own an SB-800 for my D200)

  9. Greate advice for me Dan!
    I begin to love taking concert pictures. Your article really shows me how to do it properly.
    Pls take a look to my flickr page and give me your critique.
    Thanks much!

  10. Enjoyable tips! I’m working towards a professional career in music photography and I’m quite intimidated by your images! Very impressive that you’ve retained some kind of style in this industry!
    I certain found a few bits of that very useful! The rest I had to learn the hard way! hehe
    Thanks

  11. Is the 5D your main camera? and what are your essential gear on assignment? Do you find it hard/easy to get credentials to an event?
    I’m also working towards a career in event/music photography and I’m very much inspired by your photos. Thanks also for passing your knowledge to us!

  12. 5D is now my main camera. I used the 350D for two years prior to that purchase.
    Essential gear varies from assignment to assignment.
    Getting credentials is all based on who you’re shooting for. It’s very hard if you’re just a freelancer without a publication or agency affiliation.

  13. I’m shooting a gig this weekend. The place is small and I’m figuring the lighting will be sparse. Flash isn’t allowed. I’ll probably be up front most of the time. In this scenario, do you think I’d be ok with my wide and standard zooms (f/2.8), and leave my tele zoom at home? How would you approach this? Thanks!

  14. Izzy – if it’s a small venue and you’ll be right up the front then your telephoto probably won’t be much help. The longest i’d take might be my 85mm 1.8.
    For a small, poorly lit venue i rely on my 50mm 1.4.

  15. Great tips!
    The only thing I didn’t see was advice on what format to use – do you use raw or jpeg?
    Personally I now always set to raw so that dealing with problem lighting can be sorted out. The downside is that my camera (Nikon D50) takes longer to process shots,which can be annoying, especially in burst mode.

  16. Great article, i missed that issue so thankyou for putting it up here. Iv recently got my first digital SLR , a D200 with a Nikon 18-70mm F3.5-4.5, from reading this it seems the lense wont be much use in lower light conditions… Do you have any advice for shooting in bad light conditions (that probably have the dreaded red lights). I bought a flash for it as w3ell, the nikon SB800, what sort of external flash settings would you reccomend for poor lighting ?
    Thankyou
    Ollie

  17. To Daniel: Fine article. Thanks.
    To Ollie: You’re correct. The 18-70 is an excellent lens but it is just too slow for live indoor performance conditions. The Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 has made all the difference on my D70, even playing it slightly conservative at f/2-ish. More keepers, fewer blurred could-have-beens.

  18. I’m starting to get into the concert/party photography a bit more. This review is very helpful. I have the Canon 400D with zoom lens, looking to pick up a 50mm f/1.4 now! Thanks so much!

  19. I love your photos and your writing. I have one question. How are you getting those natural skin tones? Are you adjusting the white balance or are you just getting lucky with the light?

  20. I don’t adjust the white balance. I just get lucky with lighting and occasionally adjust the curves.

  21. Daniel
    Very cool this tutorial. Thanks for all the tips.
    I simply love photographing concerts, but find really hard getting passes for the shows. I’ll try to folow your advice.
    Awesome shots you´ve got here
    Take Care

  22. Awesome tips! Fairly new to photography and teaching myself, so love the advice. Damn i need a Prime!
    Cheers…

  23. Your images are awesome!!! It has taken me a while to figure out the tricks that you have published here. Now I feel more confident reading your tips knowing I am on the right track!! I hate usuing a flash in a club. As a matter of fact since I bought my 50mm 1 year ago…I never use a flash anymore. I just take about 600 photos per gig as opposed to 150 per gig when I used to use a flash. I also have felt a bit like I was cheating by editing in Photoshop. I will start to “lightly” edit now that I have read your tips…..without guilt!
    Channin

  24. Dan,
    Autofocus is out of the question for low-lighting situations. What tips do you have for getting a well focuses shot? I have been using manual but been looking to “sharpener” my focusing skills
    thanks,
    Fish

  25. Fish – i manage fine with autofocus. I’d find manual focus a lot more unreliable.

  26. Hi, Nice guide..
    I’ve been lucky enough to get a few photo passes and for those new to gig photography, I have to say that I’ve yet to have an opportunity to use flash, so I’d forget that unless you’re in a pub or taking pics of friends who happen to play in bands..
    Light is always a struggle. I shoot a couple of hundred pics during the usual 3 song rule and I’m happy if I get 20 useable pics. I find it best not to be too scientific, just use settings that have worked in the past and rely on the law of averages..
    Check out my pics here> http://www.gigshot.co.uk
    Cheers
    Martin

  27. Today I’ll be getting my first photo pass and I’ll be shooting at an arena! I’ll be using my 50mm f/1.4, no flash, and shooting in RAW+JPEG so I should be able to get a couple hundred shots.
    What I do recommend for those of you who don’t know what lenses to buy is to rent them. I have done that and will continue to do that before I settle on buying an additional lens. I’ve used http://www.borrowlenses.com based in CA and only ship within the U.S. Their line of lenses is always growing. If you’re a smugmug user you get a discount too.

  28. Awesome and absolutely invaluable tutorial; a gem among most of the crap on the ‘net!
    Thanks ever so much!

  29. Excellent tutorial! I’ve been dabbling in concert photography over the last 7 or 8 years and rarely get awesome shots. There are tons of great tips in your article and I plan on getting back out there and trying some new things out! Thanks so much.

  30. thanks for the advice man. it is so fucking helpful!
    is there anyone you aspire to shoot like

  31. Hey man – this is an amazing article.
    Been really helpful for me as of late – I did my first shoot last night where I experimented without using flash – it’s hard stuff. Especially in these local clubs/pubs with sh*t lighting. But I liked the more dramatic effect of not having flash.
    Do you find that a lot of your non-flash shots are underexposed on the camera? Should I let this put me off or…?
    Also, when using flash; do you prefer to freeze and action or have those blurry action shots [which I feel are over used sometimes]?
    Thanks.
    Russ.

  32. Hey Dan,
    Just wanted to say thank you for posting this online! It is a great help and a great reference point. I am going crazy deciding what to do – upgrade the body or the lens… Your tips where a great help in the decision process.
    Cheers!
    Lau

  33. Hi Dan,
    Excellent article.
    I’ve been shooting at concerts for a couple of years now and its still always a challenge.
    Something you don’t mention in your article is exposure compensation.
    Do you usually dial any EV compensation in? and if so, how much?

  34. Wow. This is just what I needed. Some very useful tips in here! Thankyou

Comments are closed.