Concert photography guide: What every gig photographer should know
Some photographers describe concert photography as the one of hardest types, which probably is true. All the same, what can be more satisfying than chaos of a live concert: the energy exchange between the artist and the audience, the music atmosphere that no CD can deliver the big stage lights, the smoke, the noise and the excitement?
If you are reading this, I bet you love music and live shows. You’ve been going to concerts and enjoyed the amazing atmosphere and thrill of the loud events. You’ve been taking photos of your favourite bands, now you realised that you would like to become a professional concert photographer and make money with it. If you don’t know where to start, let me help you with it.
You need to have at least an entry level DSLR to shoot live events. Compact cameras do not cut it anymore. Of course would be better if you had a full frame camera like Canon 5d mark II, due to its abilities to cope much better with noise at high ISO, but for the beginning no point to invest in expensive camera.
You can shoot concerts with a kit lens, but sooner or later you will want to get a different lens. At concerts you will come up against a problem of changing aperture which happens automatically when you zoom in, let’s say moving from 18mm at f/3.5 to 55mm at f/5.6. Therefore fast lenses with constant aperture is a must for gig photography as you can shoot wide open with them at any aperture (f/2.8 works much better in dark venues than f/5.6), they let more light in, so you will be able to shoot at higher shutter speed and lower ISO.
Zoom lenses are more convenient for concerts as those offer more flexibility. Lots of experienced concert photographers use two cameras, one mounted with wide lens and the other one with a telephoto lens. This way they know they won’t miss a good shot. For the beginning it’s not necessary as most likely you will start from shooting at small venues where one camera with one zoom lens with 17-55mm range should be enough.
In most venues flash is not allowed for concert photographers. You might think: “Why people in the audience can take pictures with flash and concert photographers can’t?” Well, I can’t give you an exact answer for this, but from what I heard it’s because concert photographers are much closer to the artist and have much more powerful flashes. However, as a controversy I also heard that artists do not care about flashes as they say that stage light is much stronger and over powers any flash. So go figure.
In case you manage to get permission from a band to shoot their performance using flash, make sure you use an off camera flash gun (which can be mounted on camera) and not your in camera flash.
If you planning to shoot at big festivals then you might be allowed to use a monopod, but if you are going to shoot at small venues (500-2000) forget about such equipment. Concert pitches are so narrow that no security will let you in with a monopod.
How to get into a venue
It’s really easy to get into small venues, sometimes you won’t even need to pay for the ticket. It will be enough to send an email to the band you want to shoot and ask their permission to take photos of them at the gig. You can find a contact email address of the band at their MySpace, Facebook or personal website. Up and coming bands love the attention and will most likely invite you eagerly to the gig and let you in for free.
Those band who are a bit longer in the business, will allow you to shoot their performance too, but they will ask you to buy yourself a ticket. When you want to contact a more respectable band or an artist, you need to find the email address to their manager and send a polite request, in most cases they will answer, so no worries there.
At the venue
Here are some tips which are essential for every concert photographer to know, so read carefully.
- Be polite to fellow concert photographers, they are there to work, just like you.
- Be polite to the audience, they paid for the ticket and don’t want to see your head or back instead of faces of their favourite band.
- If there are a lot of photographers in the pitch, find a good spot take your photos quick and move on, allowing others to take photos too.
- Watch out for the microphone stands; don’t allow them to ruin your photo, because there is nothing worse than a photo of a singer with a microphone in the eye.
- Be creative, take a few must have shots (head shots, full height shots, players with full instruments, whole band on stage) and then wait for interesting moments to capture.
- Use auto focus and if you have “Al servo” focus mode as it with track the moving object and help you to take sharper shots.
- Compose your photos, don’t just point and shot.
- Get extra memory cards, there is nothing worse than running out of memory.
- Get a few smaller memory capacity cards, rather than one with large memory. In case one card will fail you, you will still have photos on other cards.
- Buy extra batteries, one battery is enough for a concert, but not enough for a festival.
- Capture emotions in your photos and interaction between musicians.
- Stage light is your best friend, observe the patterns of lights and take photos when your object is well lit.
- Take silhouette photos when your subject is backlit.
- Play with different angles.
- If you shoot a band, take photos of all the members of the band.
- If artist communicates with the audience, by pointing a microphone at them or extending a hand for shakes, shoot it.
- Don’t push your camera up the artist’s face, it’s very rude and unpleasant; use your zoom to take a close up shot instead.
- Don’t look down at a photographer if he/she has only an entry level camera with a small lens, this doesn't necessary mean this person has worse skills or knows less than photographer with a pro gear.
- Don’t stand in the same spot throughout the concert, move around whenever is possible.
- Don’t concentrate purely on the vocalist; musicians have interesting moment too.
- Don’t forget about drummer!
If you want to learn more about concert photography, visit this Flickr group, there is lots of interesting information there:
Hope these tips will help you to avoid mistakes from the beginning and take better photos. Now go to a concert and get some practice just remember, your first 1000 photos are your worst, said Henri Cartier ;)