How To Be A Concert Photographer

By Geoff Harris

5 Tips For The Beginner Concert Photographer

Concert, photography, photographer, Music, band, Lens, camera, festival, gig,

For anyone into music and photography, shooting gigs is a great way to combine two interests at once, and can even make you money if the pictures are good enough to sell. Although it may seem like it's just about turning up with a camera, getting down the front and blasting way, good gig photography is one of the more technically challenging genres. Here are some tips to get you started

1) Make sure your camera is up to it

Concert, photography, photographer, Music, band, Lens, camera, festival, gig,
The first thing you need for good gig shots is a camera with good high ISO performance. You are very rarely allowed to use flash to shoot a live band and on-camera flash looks rubbish in this situation anyway. So the higher you can push the ISO (light sensitivity) on your camera without generating lots of noise, the better.

Full-frame SLRs tend to perform best, but most decent modern SLRs, mirrorless cameras or power compacts should be fine around up to about ISO 1600.

2) A longer, fast lens

Concert, photography, photographer, Music, band, Lens, camera, festival, gig,
By fast, we mean a lens with a fixed wide aperture – f/2.8 ideally, or f/3.5. The wider the aperture, the more light comes through to the sensor, which again is essential at a gig where you can't use flash. Lenses with wide apertures also enable you to blur out distractions in the background.

The classic lenses for a gig are a 24-70mm and 70-200mm f/2.8. The other option is to use a long telephoto lens to pick out details, particularly if you are back in the crowd.

3) Consider shooting in Manual

Dariusz Lakomy – Concert and Art Photographer
Constantly changing stage lighting is the one of the main obstacles when shooting gigs. Your camera's semi automatic modes (Aperture Priority or Shutter/Tv) can get confused by the changing lights, while don't even think about shooting in Auto mode unless you only want snapshots.

By shooting in Manual, you can choose a very wide aperture, then rattle the shutter speed and ISO up and down as needed to keep the subjects sharp.

4) Watch the composition

Photo by Derek Martinez
There are some rookie errors to avoid when shooting bands. Try to avoid microphones covering up the singer's face, or mic stands cutting them in half; monitors and other stage clutter can get in the way too, which again is where a longer lens comes in handy so you can pick out details.

Be careful of very strong red or green spotlights on the band, which can make them look a bit strange. Sharpness is crucial, so use continuous autofocus and aim for the eyes. Shoot raw for maximum leeway at the editing stage.

5) Be realistic about access

Best Coast at Riviera Theatre on July 27, 2012.
At a big gig, you are unlikely to get a photo pass unless you are known to the PR, promoter or the band. Unfortunately, using a long lens back in the crowd is likely to get you thrown out by security.

It's difficult, but consider using a mirrorless camera or power compact with a telephoto zoom lens as they look less 'pro' than a big black SLR. From a technical standpoint, you are more likely to get better shots of a local band who will happily allow you down the front.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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