Three Concert Photography Tips

Three Concert Photography Tips

Have you always wanted to photograph live concerts, but are anxious about how to start? Were you recently hired for your first concert photography gig, but don't still looking for more ideas on how to capture great moments of the show? Well look no further, and keep reading. 

Concert photography can be an amazing way to earn a check for using your camera. Not only do you get paid to listen to music, but you also get to capture the personality and moments of your favorite bands. But, concert photography can also be a bit tough; it's extremely loud, there's a lot of movement going on in a short amount of time, and it's usually quite dark. So to help combat these aspects (and more), read these three photography tips for shooting live shows.

Buy (Or Rent) a Fast Lens

Most venues will be dark. Period. That's simply the nature of a concert, unless it's a live show during daytime. This isn't something to fear or worry about. Rather, it's a known fact that you can prepare for. If you aspire to truly make your living out of concert photography, or want to get serious about shooting concerts, it's probably worth your time, energy and money to save up and purchase a fast lens, something with an aperture or f/2.8 or even f/1.8. The faster, the better. I promise you won't regret the extra money spent for a faster lens. If you get hired for one show and are not sure if you're serious about concert photography, then simply rent a lens with a fast aperture well before the show date. Either way, be prepared.

Utilize Venue Objects 

Too many times, concert photographs are simple and straightforward shutter clicks of the musicians on stage. But if you're shooting a show, you'll most likely have a press pass. Utilize your ability to get close and personal to do exactly that. Get close to the stage if you can, and use objects such as amplifiers or stage architecture to create more compelling compositions of the artists on stage.

Shoot the Crowd

To tell a better and more well-rounded story of the show, don't forget to turn around and shoot the crowd, or get behind the crowd and silhouette them against the musicians on stage. Most of the time, lights meant for the stage will spill over to the fans, creating interesting shapes and shadows, leading to fun and exciting images of people cheering on the artists and music. 

Overall, the best way to create great concert photographs is to anticipate and prepare for possible challenges, like a dark venue, and to think creatively while at the show. Don't simply point and shoot at the artists on stage. 

What are your thoughts on these tips? Do you have any of your own that others would benefit by knowing? If so, leave them in the comments below. 

Tim Behuniak's picture

Timothy Behuniak is a Salt Lake City-based landscape and outdoor adventure photographer who's passionate about getting lost in the woods with his camera. Tim's hope is that his viewers, like him, will one day love and fight to protect the beautiful locations he is fortunate to photograph.

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Concert photography is one of the most technically difficult genres I've tried, expect to take a lot of underexposed, out of focus photos, and to have your musicians look like Oompa Loompas under stage lights. I wouldn't expect to shoot any big name bands, or earn real money, unless you've gotten good at it.

If you want to break in, local bands will likely let you shoot in exchange for admission, even if you're totally unproven.

Even if you have gotten good at it, do not expect to make much money. Unless you are in a major market shooting major acts and have lots of experience, the money is fleeting. Most photogs In this genre are in for the fun and the perks.

True, most concert photographers get accreditations through news agencies or magazines and are bound to the old '3 songs ,no flash' rule. Which means they have to leave after 10 minutes or so. If they're lucky (and good) their shots might be sold to enough publishers to cover their expenses/time and make some extra. The few exceptions might be 'house photographers' of the venue or photographers hired by the band to cover their show/tour.

Band's photographer can take photos during the entire show. Usually the venue's photographer is limited to the same 3 songs as the rest of us. But it's right, there's no money to be made in this business, and when it stopped even covering my expenses, I quit and didn't look back.

I still love shooting shows. But I'm a stagehand by profession so I have free acces to almost all shows I'm working at. I use an old Olympus Stylus One for this purpose and it still amazes me what it can do. In the 6 or more years that have passed since it's release I haven't come across another compact that is better for this job. Even the late (and bloody expensive) sony rx100 mk6 with it's bigger and better sensor only beats it in some situations.

Tip nr 1; 1.8? really? Good luck with fast moving artists and even faster changing lights. Better use a camera with high ISO tolerance and high dynamic range. The biggest challenge is often not the darkness but the contrast between the spot and ambient lighting.

Tip number 2 seems like a good advice ,yet with a terrible example. Floorlights and stagemonitors are usually really annoying when shooting from the pit, as well as videocameras on dollies and cranes. Rarely do they 'add' to the composition, as this picture shows (in my opinion)

Haha absolutely! I tried the 200/1.8 once at a concert just because I had access to one (in the time when 1600 ISO was really the maximum you could do), and it was terrible with such a shallow depth of field! Fully agree with you, go for very high ISO and as long as you don't underexpose, you're good to go! :)

Agreed on No 2, nice idea but horrible example. I always try to get some distance between the mic and someones head. That way it doesn't look like a mic is growing out of their head.

And again, don't expect to earn a lot of money...

Tip #4: Don't be a dick in the pit - respect other photographers, artists and the crowd.
Tip #5: Get a wide angle lens.
On tip #1 I agree with Jaap Venhovens. Some artist will be really hard to catch sharp with f/1.8. I have Tamron 28-75mm 2.8 which is my default lens to go. I also bought Yongnuo 50mm 1.8, used it a few times and it's in the back of my closet since then. It's a nice lens and it's sharp on f/1.8 with still objects. But it just doesn't make it when it comes to concerts. I would prefer my Canon 5d II perform better with higher ISO that having bright lens.

A few of my tips- 1)Be careful at F2.8 with focus- especially if there is a band with several members- I usually shot concerts at F3.5-4 to give myself a bit of DOF. 2)Shoot manual exposure - stage lights are NOT what autoexposure was ever designed to understand 3)Shoot both wider lenses (especially if you can get close to an artist) AND telephoto - (and telephoto is useful after you get kicked out of the photo-pit and wander the venue (I actually shot with 2 bodies for quick ability to change from 1 to the other) 4)A camera with good high ISO performance, good autofocus, and a fairly fast shutter speed with a buffer that doesn't fill too quickly is helpful (gear does matter for this) 5) Shoot RAW- with crazy stage lights/colors/varying lighting it will help you save many images that would be lost in jpeg 6)Watch the performers to see if they have any good go-to moves/looks that you can capture the next time (if you missed it the first) 7) For every great shot there is another that you will just 'miss' - no one gets them all in 1 show!

My music galleries (to show I do have a 'bit' of experience in this)- and if you click the info button you can see my lens/exposure settings if interested-

Other tricks I would suggest is spot metering, aperture priority, exposure locking and auto iso. One moment you can have a artist standing under light and hitting 100 iso, 1000/s f2.8 and 2 seconds later and 2 steps they are 25600 iso 60/s f2:8. You can use one-shot AE in manual but I prefer aperture priority. I switch to Shutter speed priority when the action speeds up..

Thanks for a very interesting article. Great shots! I think my fav was the one of Nick Cave. It looks as if it captured the atmosphere perfectly.

I’m also an avid photographer and music fan (mostly into metal though!) and I’ve always wanted to get into concert photography. Any tips on how to get started?