Regardless of your favorite genre of music, concerts are always an event worth experiencing. If you’re documenting the occasion with a camera, however, it can be difficult to walk away with great photos. This can be the result of anything from low lighting to image glare coming off laser displays.
This begs the question of how professionals get such high-quality pictures. By using these concert photography tips, you can accomplish the same feat.
1. Know Your Limits
If you’re just starting out as a photographer — or if you’re just taking pictures for your own personal collection — one of the best concert photography tips out there is to use the aperture priority mode on your camera. This will automate much of the process since your camera will immediately adjust the shutter speed to maintain your selected aperture.
It’s important to note here that aperture priority mode isn’t the best way to capture concert photography. If you haven’t mastered your camera and had plenty of experience in low-light environments, though, it will very likely give you the best results.
Loud music, rowdy fans, quickly-changing lighting displays, and a host of other distractions can make manual modes a nightmare for the inexperienced.
2. Use Manual Exposure
While using aperture priority mode might be a great concert photography tip for rookies, sticking to manual exposure is best for those who have a little more practice under their belts. This is because the lighting that looks great for attendees isn’t going to translate well onto film.
Dramatic changes in light — which sometimes include strobe light displays — can result in false exposures when letting your camera do the hard work. Instead, maintain control of your images by always using the manual exposure mode.
Whether they dim the lighting down for an acoustic set or lasers are bombarding the stage, you’ll be able to adjust the exposure and maintain more control over the lighting that’s occurring around you.
This is a little more labor-intensive, but if you’re looking for great images over ease of use, this is the only way to go.
3. Set a Fast Shutter Speed
There are exciting moments when the best concert photography tips might fly completely out of your mind. You know these moments. The crowd is fully hyped up, and the lead singer is only getting them more hyped.
In these situations, the band could be jumping around the stage or engaging in any number of exuberant movements. When this occurs, a fast shutter speed will be your best friend.
The simple fact of the matter is that slower shutter speeds simply weren’t created with hyperactive behavior in mind. If your shutter speed isn’t around 1/200sec or faster, there’s a good chance you’ll walk away with blurry images.
Older Millennials probably remember just how bad blurry images look from using their first cell phones to take subpar pics. Rest assured that you won’t hit “big time” status or get the multitude of “likes” and “shares” you’re aiming for with blurred pictures.
4. Go with a Fast Lens
Don’t worry this tip isn’t just a repeat of the above. Many budding photogs who are just starting out don’t realize that a “fast lens” actually just means that the maximum aperture on the camera is large.
This equates to a wider opening where light enters the camera and hits its sensor. When you’re dealing with low-light situations, this is an absolute necessity.
And while it’s not the same as setting a fast shutter speed, a fast lens does help in this area. This is because the larger aperture allows you to achieve the same exposure even though you’ve increased your shutter speed.
A fast lens helps you freeze those special moments in music history with greater clarity and ease. Keep in mind that fast lenses are more expensive, but the improved quality is well worth the investment.
5. Avoid Using Flash
There are numerous concert photography tips that focus on creating the best possible image. While avoiding the use of the flash function helps in this endeavor indirectly, there’s a far more basic reason for not lighting up the stage with a sudden blast of light:
It’s typically not allowed.
Museums and haunted mansion rides aren’t the only places where flash photography is usually forbidden. Concert venues often also require that any photographs get taken without the use of this generally-helpful function.
After all, the artists are likely already bombarded by stage lights. They don’t need 100 different flashes going off in their faces as well.
Additionally, all simultaneous flashes could ruin the minimal benefit you get from using yours. And to top off all of this, your flash isn’t likely to do much unless you’re within a few feet of the artist. When it comes down to it, flash photography is just a bad idea all around.
6. Use Autofocus Single Mode
In low light situations, using the central focus point is typically ideal. This ensures the best result from the combination of settings on your camera, and your photos will usually come out crisp and look professional.
Of course, this can become an issue if you don’t want every frame to have the artist front and center. What if you want several band members in the image, or what if the “rule of thirds” is coursing through your brain?
Either way, setting your camera to Autofocus Single mode can help. This will often involve pointing the camera at the artist and holding the shutter button halfway down. The focus will lock so that when you position the viewfinder to your ideal framing, the important subjects of your image remain in focus.
7. Start at the Outer Edge
If you have a photo pass for a concert, you’re usually given access to the photo pit. This barricaded section is directly in front of the stage, so you’ll be better able to snap images without being pushed around by excited concertgoers. Unfortunately, all the photographers onsite typically crowd the center stage to get images of the lead singer.
In reality, you’re likely better off starting at the outer edges and working your way in. This provides improved flexibility for snagging images of other bandmates or the entire group.
Additionally, being right in front of the lead singer puts you at an awkward angle where you can only shoot upwards. By starting at the fringes and moving in, you’ll avoid the hectic center area and get better images.
8. Increase ISO Sensitivity
Your camera’s ISO sensitivity relates to its ability to capture surrounding light. Even when there are laser blasts on the stage and the artist is immersed in lighting, everything else in a venue is dim by comparison.
By raising your ISO settings, you improve your camera’s ability to quickly respond to light. The professionals typically start out with an ISO level of 1600.
Of course, not every event will be the same. There will be times when it’s necessary to raise the setting above 1600. This is one of the few concert photography tips that can actually result in more “noise” (blotchy colors or graininess), but the resulting images are still superior to blurry photos. Additionally, post-processing programs can help reduce noise.
9. Opt for RAW Format
You have a few options when it comes to image formats on your camera. Beginners often just opt for JPEG mode. That’s because the images will usually look great when downloaded to a computer. This is thanks to the automatic addition and control of saturation, sharpness, and contrast. If you’ve never shot in a different mode, you probably don’t even know what you’re missing.
As it turns out, you’re missing a lot. Shooting images in RAW format preserves all the data in a completely unedited state. It’s completely unprocessed, so this gives you greater freedom to change things up in post-production.
Is the white balance, exposure, contrast or one of other several image quality factors a little off? Shooting in RAW format means you have the power to perfect these after the fact.
10. It’s Not Over Until It’s Over
At some point, you’ll be walking out of the venue as the band heads back to the tour bus. If you just want to show off to your friends and not worry too much about quality, it’s perfectly acceptable to go ahead and upload these images on Instagram.
If you’re working professionally or just want the photos to really capture the atmosphere of the show, however, you’re not quite done with these concert photography tips yet.
As mentioned in Tips 8 and 9 of this list, post-processing is a necessity to get professional-grade images. If you’re a Mac user you can use Apple’s free editing tools available in Photos.
What’s more, you can enjoy these images printed out in a photo project like a book or calendar. Anyone from rookies to experts can still use Mimeo Photos free app to print out their favorite shots from concerts.
Put These Concert Photography Tips to Use
Concert photography is an art. On top of the many concerns that come with taking photos in general, there are countless other issues that interfere with snapping the perfect image.
Professionals and amateurs alike have to deal with these problems. Fortunately, people have been taking cameras to music events for decades. This means many of the best concert photography tips have already been discovered. Don’t come home with subpar imagery by failing to use them.