7 Tips For Stunning Concert Photography

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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.

Fink

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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  • Comments
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  1. Matthias Hombauer

    If you have any questions, please post here. Would be also interesting which experiences you have with concert photography.

    • Reply
    • Tanner Teaff

      Hey, Matthias. Great article! I would have to agree with you on all that you said!

      I film and photograph a lot of EDM (Electronic Dance Music) concerts, and there’s a lot of flickering lights and chaos. The only problem I ever ran into was filling up my cards too fast (due to file size shooting in RAW). What I would have to do is “Pause” for a few minutes, empty my card(s) onto my laptop computer, and then go back to work. Would it be better to have enough cards for the night, then empty later, or is the way I’ve been doing it okay? Just curious for another input on the matter!

      Thanks again!
      - Tanner

      • Reply
      • Matthias Hombauer

        Hi Tanner! I would definitely go with more cards and maybe reduce your amount of pics. I don´t know your shooting style or hoe many pics you have to deliver, but for me it makes no sense to shoot 3000 pics and then i have to trash 2900. So either way, more cards or less photos.

    • lavanya

      hi , I am assigned to take an event photography on stage. stage is 5 ft high where do I position myself now.. ? I have Nikon 3200 slr with 18-105 zoom lense.. pls assist..

      • Reply
    • Charissa Grandin

      Well, I tried this tonight. I set my Canon EOS Rebel XSi to all the settings mentioned in this article the day I read it. And then I ordered the lens mentioned in #1 from Amazon. So, this afternoon I took my camera with me to the free memorial day show at Sands Bethlehem Event Center and photographed the opening band. Not sure what I did wrong. I generally get AMAZING pictures with my iPhone at concerts and got some pretty great shots with this lens and all these settings outdoors and indoors around my home in the past few days. But at the concert, not so much. It was focusing on areas I didn’t want it to focus on–like the center of the musician’s body, making the head blurry. I got LOTS of blurry shots and lots of shots where the lighting was not right on the musician’s face. Pretty disappointed b/c in June I’m going to be taking a lot of pictures a friend’s band for all their social media posts. Should I have bought a different lens? Should I try the stock lens?

      • Reply
      • Matthias Hombauer

        Hi Charissa! Sorry to hear that it didn´t work out so well for you. I guess the out of focus pictures have to do with your camera settings. You have probably set all your autofocus points and the camera is not knowing where to focus. You have to be aware that you give your camera a really hard time when dealing with low light situations like on stage. So set your camera for using only 1 (the middle) autofocus point. Always focus on the face. Use AV mode and the spot metering. This should fix your problem with the out of focus photos. For more tips read on here: http://howtobecomearockstarphotographer.com/concert-photography-for-starters-on-a-budget/

  2. Yann

    Very interesting, thank you very much ! Now I’ve just got to find a good concert and put all of this in practice ! ;-)

    • Reply
  3. Abhishek Dubey

    Hi,
    Its really good to see these type of photography tips and very useful to
    learner.

    • Reply
  4. Matthias Hombauer

    Hi Tanner!

    Thanks for your comment and I am happy that you also made the same experiences.

    When shooting famous bands I am only allowed to take pictures of the first 3 songs in the photo pit. So I use 1x16Gb card on my Nikon D800 and I am fine.

    I did some EDM concerts like Fatboy Slim, Atari Teenage Riot or Deadmau5, but as you wrote, the lighting conditions are very hard to take pictures of. Therefore I would also take a lot of pictures.
    I would suggest to either get more cards or shoot less. Uploading your pics during the concert has the risk to miss good shots.

    Hope that helps and keep on shooting
    Matthias

    • Reply
  5. Matthias Hombauer

    Hi Yann!

    Thank you and have fun practicing!

    greetings
    Matthias

    • Reply
  6. Matthias Hombauer

    thanks Abhishek

    • Reply
  7. Mitzi Vicente

    Hi Matthias!

    Do you use an external flash when you shoot concerts?

    • Reply
  8. Matthias Hombauer

    Hi Mitzi!

    It´s normally not allowed to use flash at the concert. Therefore you need fast lenses

    • Reply
  9. Hector Rivera

    Very informative and asserted tips. I just would like to add that you must have the attitude and seek the angle at all times. Be willing to do whatever it takes to get the shot.

    • Reply
  10. Matthias Hombauer

    Thanks Hector!

    • Reply
  11. alejandro

    hi, Matthias, thank you very much for the great tips, i have a question, can you explain what do you mean when you’re talking about fast lenses, and give examples? i’ve a 50mm f1.8 is this a fast one?
    thank you
    and happy weekend!!

    • Reply
    • Chris Desatoff

      Hey Alejandro,

      Yes, that lens is the one he recommended getting as your first “fast” lens. Your next concert lens would depend on what kind of shows you shoot.

      How is that fast 50 working out for you?

      A great way to know what your 2nd lens should be is to look at the shots with your 50mm and then ask yourself, “What would make this better?” If you find yourself always saying, “I wish I could have zoomed in more on this shot,” then you might want to consider an 85mm f/1.8 or even 135mm f/2.

      But if you look at your shots with the 50 and keep telling yourself, “If only I could have moved back for this shot,” then you’ll want a wide angle lens, maybe an 18-50mm f/2.8 or even an f/2.8 fisheye. There are wide angle prime lenses faster than f/2.8, but they’re crazy expensive.

      I’ve used f/2.8 Sigma lenses for my concert photos, and I was happy with those. They’re cheaper than the Canon ones too (and Nikon ones).

      • Reply
  12. Chris Desatoff

    Hi Matthias,

    These are some great shots! I especially love that b/w one you shot from up above.

    I had a photography biz a couple years back, shooting lots of local punk, hardcore, and metal bands here in Hawaii, and that shot brought back some good memories.

    But I never pulled a Spiderman like that LOL

    • Reply
  13. Matthias Hombauer

    Hi Chris!

    Thank you for your comment and the explanation about the lenses to Alejandro. I totally agree with your suggestions.

    Alejandro, “fast” refers to the aperture. Big aperture means small aperture number. There is also the 50 1.4 available, but the 1.8 will do the job in the beginning.

    Punk and HC bands in Hawaii sounds awesome. Would love to see some of the pics.

    The spiderman is the SF based singer songwriter Zola Jesus. See a portrait of her here:

    http://www.photographyblogger.net/music-portraits-by-matthias-hombauer/

    at the bottom

    best from Vienna/Austria
    Matthias

    • Reply
  14. Kamen Kunchev

    Really amazing shots! I like concert photography a lot and usually take my prime wide aperture lens with me so I can shoot at higher shutter speeds and acceptable ISO values for less noise.
    Thanks for the info and the valuable advice!
    Here’s some examples of mine:
    http://photofigo.blogspot.com/2012/08/concert-photographs.html

    • Reply
  15. Matthias Hombauer

    Hi Kamen!

    Thanks and great article of yours too

    • Reply
  16. Mark Turner

    Got tip number 8 for you… :)
    For those gigs (and they’re getting more frequent) that use mostly LED cans (gotta love those blues and reds) I got taught a sweet trick in Lightroom. (For Lightroom 5+, not sure about older versions)

    Once you have your LED blasted photo in the Develop module, you need to scroll all the way down in the editing/slider pane on the right. Scroll down to “Camera Calibration” and look for the ‘Profile:’ section (the one under ‘Process:’) Click on the drop down and change from ‘Adobe Standard’ to ‘Camera Neutral’ and BAM!

    Quite an impressive difference with just one option changed.

    You can then do some tweaking with your whitebalance, curves, clarity and exposure to get you to your goal but this will at least get you much closer.

    • Reply
  17. Matthias Hombauer

    Thanks Mark for this great comment! I´ll definitely will try this.

    • Reply
  18. Tim

    Awesome Matthias!
    Thank you.
    Will use.

    • Reply
  19. Matthias Hombauer

    I started a new project where I want to share with you all my knowledge I have about concert photogprahy

    Check it out here:
    http://howtobecomearockstarphotographer.com/

    best,
    Matthias

    • Reply
  20. Matthias Hombauer

    Do you want to become a Rockstar Photographer by yourself?

    My ultimate “Guide To Rockstar Concert Photography” is out now!

    http://howtobecomearockstarphotographer.com/

    • Reply
  21. Rogério

    One doubt about the focus… Manual or automatic?

    • Reply
    • Matthias Hombauer

      Rogerio,

      I am always using the middle Autofocus point and it´s on automatic. I guess manual focusing for concert photography is really hard. I have a low light situation and often the artists are moving fast.

      • Reply
  22. Tabatha

    Honestly, photos in the article are crap. There are way MUCH MORE bettter one photographers, not saying that there are simply awesome ones. Seeing THESE pics I am not convinced, taht the guy knows what he photographs. Pale, not original… lifeless. Excpet of the first pic – shit.

    • Reply

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