7 Tips For Stunning Concert Photography

You always wanted to know the tricks of the best concert photographers? In this blog post I will share my 7 best tips on how you can improve your photography skills to become a better concert photographer.

Fatboy Slim

1. Pure aperture madness!
The best way to start as a concert photographer is to get a lens with a big aperture (small aperture number e.g. f1.4, f1.8, f2.8). One no-brainer is the 50mm f1.8 lens (available for all brands) which is lightweight, unobtrusive, and cheap. The aperture of 1.8 will give you the ability to shoot in low light conditions and is just perfect for concert photogprahy.

Skunk Anansie

2. Freeze the action!
Have you ever been on a concert where the artist was hyperactive jumping from one side of the stage to the other? To freeze these movements we have to use a fast shutter speed. In general, I set my shutter speed at 1/200sec. I just want to remind you about the rule of thumb: 1/focal length is the shutter speed you need to overcome camera shake (and therefore blurry images).

La Dispute

3. Film speed in the digital era?
ISO or film speed refers to the sensitivity of an analog film. Today the term is used for the sensitivity of your digital sensor. The higher the ISO setting the less light is needed for a proper exposure, but the more noise you will encounter in your pictures. Depending on the ability of your camera a good starting point is an ISO setting of 1600.

The Black Keys

4. RAW is the new jpeg!
This one is essential: always shoot RAW! I am 99% of the time a RAW shooting professional photographer. The reason? You have way more freedom in postproduction like changing the white balance, reducing noise, changing the exposure, etc. Especially in the field of concert photogpraphy we are dealing with low light and ugly colors like red and blue spot lights on the artist. Drawback: the files are big and you have to postprocess them. For even more information about why you should shoot RAW have a look at P/B’s post on 7 reasons to shoot RAW.


5. Automatic or manual?
When I started as concert photographer, I used the aperture priority mode (Av). In this mode you set the aperture and your camera will automatically set your shutter speed for the right exposure. In the beginning it can be somewhat overwhelming. Standing in front of the stage for the first time is a great experience, but too many thoughts may be going on in your head. Do I have the right settings? Is the audience mad at me because I am standing in front of them? What is the artist thinking of me run aorund in front of him with my camera the whole time. So I would suggest to start out in Av mode and once you feel more comfortable with the situation, change to manual mode which will give you even more freedom to set your exposure.

Zola Jesus

6. Do I have to live in the Matrix?
Normally I am always part of the Matrix (metering). In this mode the camera measures the whole frame to get the right exposure, which works in normal circumstances just fine. In our situation where unpredictable light is spilling on stage everywhere it´s a pain. For example, in back lit situations on stage you might get a silhouette of the artist (which can be sometimes artsy, but should not be the norm). Therefore I am using spot-metering, where the camera takes it´s metering from a small spot (placed in the middle of your viewfinder). So you can meter for the artists face and you get the proper exposure exactly where you want it to be.

Atari Teenage Riot

7. Click! Click! Click!
The last setting of my choice is the multiple shot mode. Our situation in font of the stage is really challenging for our cameras. A low light situation and fast movements are not the easiest things to deal with, and therefore we need to take a lot of pictures during a concert. Using the multiple shot mode allows you to take 3-4 frames in a short time period which increases the possibility of getting a good shot.

With these settings in mind you should be able to get pretty good results from your camera. These tips cover the main points for all kinds of low light stage photography and can be achieved by an affordable DSLR and a fast lens (e.g. 1.8).

About the Author
Matthias Hombauer is a professional music and portrait photographer from Vienna, Austria. Connect with him at blog.matthiashombauer.com.

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