Concerts and events can either be exciting and fun or quite challenging for us photographers due to the low-lit environment and having to share the space with other photographers, all while being crammed into a tight space. Luckily, a little bit of planning and preparation can go a long way to avoid any disasters while shooting.
I've been covering concerts and events for about a decade now, and along the way, I've learned a few things to help me take better photos and prepare better in case there are any unforeseen issues. It's amazing what 10 minutes of gear-checking and packing can do to avoid any mistakes or disasters while shooting.
As I mentioned before, concerts and events are usually packed full of people. It's not exactly practical to lug around a Pelican case, two tripods, and two camera bodies, so the most important thing to remember is to try to pack as light as you can. To prevent you from fumbling around and knocking people over the head with a tripod, plan the shoot a few days before. Start by doing a gear check and packing only the gear you absolutely need.
This is what I normally pack for a three-hour event or concert:
- Two camera bodies
- Two lenses (wide and telephoto/zoom)
- 3-4 memory cards
- 3-4 batteries
- Laptop and card reader (if needed)
- Small backpack
Now, your circumstances might vary, but I use the above list as a good starting point and plan accordingly from there on. One or two camera bodies should be a good start. Using two bodies with different lenses, say a wide-angle and a telephoto zoom, will prevent you from stumbling around and possibly dropping valuable gear while doing a lens change, and you'll be able to cover both wide angles and close-ups by just switching camera bodies. Switching your camera(s) to burst fire will also help you get the shot; just be mindful of how many shots you're firing off to eliminate future headaches of having to cull thousands of images when you're editing.
Another thing to keep in mind is if your client requires the photos to be sent off as soon as you shoot. In this case, it's important to pack a laptop and memory card reader (if your laptop doesn't have one), so you can dump and process images to send off as soon as possible. Most cameras these days have Wi-Fi, which allows you to send them directly to your phone or laptop, where you can do quick edits before sending them off, speeding up the process even more.
Leave the tripod at home. If the brief requires you to take photos of people or a band playing at a concert, you'll just get in people's way when setting up a tripod. Chances are you'll be shooting at a minimum 1/160 of a second (depending on what lens you're using — increase your shutter speed if using a telephoto) at f/2.8, ISO 800 (or higher) for these types of events.
This leads me to one of the most important things to plan: lenses. More often than not, the concert or event will be dimly lit, so choosing the right lenses for the shoot will help you capture the moment at the right time. Pack two lenses, one wide-angle lens, and one telephoto zoom lens. The wider f-stop you have, the better. You want as much light to hit the sensor in these low-light scenarios as possible, so shooting at an f-stop of between f/1.8 and f/2.8 will be highly beneficial. If you have two camera bodies, mounting the two lenses on each body will eliminate the need to swap lenses and avoid possible disaster if you drop it in a crowd of people. Make sure the autofocus on the lenses and camera bodies is as accurate and fast as possible. In a critical moment, you might miss the shot if you're using a lens with a slow autofocus motor.
The last thing to mention is to keep your flash at home if you're shooting a concert. Most concert venues won't allow you to shoot with flash, as it's distracting for the audience or band performing. Other events might be different, such as weddings or corporate events, where the use of flash is often necessary.
Once you're done planning, pack the gear into a small, compact bag, like a sling bag or something similar. This way, you'll be able to navigate through the crowd with more ease. Make sure your cards are formatted and batteries fully charged.
One thing to always keep in mind when shooting concerts and events is to be mindful of the people around you. While you are there to do your job, the people attending the show have paid quite a bit to be there. The last thing they want is a photographer to stand in their way, bump them with an oversized bag, or fire a flash off constantly. With concerts, you usually only have the duration of three songs to take photos of the band performing. Give the fellow photographers in the pit a chance to shoot in your spot after you take a few shots, then move to a new spot and fire off a few more shots. Wash, rinse, repeat. By doing this, you won't be in front of too many people in the crowd, and you'll allow other photographers the freedom to move around more.
One thing I always do at shoots like this is trying my best to be invisible. Pretend you're a fly on the wall. Take a few moments to observe, take the shot, and move on.
Editing Your Photos
After you've copied and backed up all the images you've shot at the concert or event, it's time to start sifting through them and select the best of the best. In these situations, I usually end up selecting about 100 images and narrow them down to about 20-30 images in the end. My workflow (yours might be different — we all have our preferred way) consists of loading Adobe Bridge and labeling all the good shots on the first go. I'll then go through the labeled shots again, culling a few more shots, and repeat this process until I've reached my goal of 20-30 images.
Once I'm satisfied with my image selection, I'll select all the images and load them in Adobe Camera Raw, where I'll do basic adjustments (exposure, contrast, color correction, noise reduction, etc.) before opening the shots individually in Adobe Photoshop and doing further adjustments there, which I explain more in depth in the video below.
The process of shooting concerts and events can be an exhilarating experience if you're prepared for it. I remember the first couple of concerts I shot were a major learning curve for me. I was fresh out of college and eager to shoot my first concert. With all that excitement, you sometimes forget to plan the necessities; it happens. Sometimes, I didn't have the right lens, or a memory card would fail, or the only battery I owned would run flat. It's a learning process, as it is with any genre of photography. The important thing to remember is to enjoy the experience and learn from your mistakes, no matter what happens. A few years from now, you'll look back and laugh at yourself.
What tricky situations have you found yourself in while shooting concerts or events?