ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Arts and Design»
  • Photography

Concert photography guide: What every gig photographer should know

Updated on April 4, 2013
Stage light is your friend when taking photos at concerts (photo taken with Canon 450D)
Stage light is your friend when taking photos at concerts (photo taken with Canon 450D)

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.

Take different photos at concerts including head shots and full body shots (photo taken with Canon 450D)
Take different photos at concerts including head shots and full body shots (photo taken with Canon 450D)

Equipment

Camera

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.

Lenses

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.

Capture the emotions when photographing a gig (photo taken with Canon 450D)
Capture the emotions when photographing a gig (photo taken with Canon 450D)

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.

Flash

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.

Don't forget to photograph the drummer he is also an important member of a band (photo taken with Canon 450D)
Don't forget to photograph the drummer he is also an important member of a band (photo taken with Canon 450D)

Monopod

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.

Using back lighting at concert might also create an interesting results in photos (photo taken with Canon 450D)
Using back lighting at concert might also create an interesting results in photos (photo taken with Canon 450D)

At the venue

Here are some tips which are essential for every concert photographer to know, so read carefully.

Do’s:

  • 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.

Capture interactions between musicians on stage in your photos (photo taken with Canon 450D)
Capture interactions between musicians on stage in your photos (photo taken with Canon 450D)

Don’ts:

  • 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!

Keep your camera always at ready at concerts to not to miss the best moments (photo taken with Canon 450D)
Keep your camera always at ready at concerts to not to miss the best moments (photo taken with Canon 450D)

If you want to learn more about concert photography, visit this Flickr group, there is lots of interesting information there:

Concertshots Flickr Group

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 ;)

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • JaneA profile image

      JaneA 2 years ago from California

      Great advice. One of the challenges that I encounter is lighting and deciding whether to white balance to tungsten/indoor, adjust for the prevailing light color, or just rely on auto settings.

    • Sean Fliehman profile image

      Sean Fliehman 2 years ago

      Great comments!

    • profile image

      Paula 3 years ago

      Great guide, Gina, thanks!

      You may wish to check out the interview I recently had with radek Zawadzki, concert photographer: http://www.deliciouspresets.com/concert-photograph...

    • Dina Blaszczak profile image
      Author

      Dina Blaszczak 5 years ago from Poland

      @Sherry Hewins Thank you for your comment, much appreciated! :)

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      I love your photos, thanks for the great tips. I'm no photographer, but I do love to take photos when I go to a show.

    • Dina Blaszczak profile image
      Author

      Dina Blaszczak 5 years ago from Poland

      @floriferous Thanks a lot for reading, I'm very pleased you found it useful! :)

    • floriferous profile image

      floriferous 5 years ago from Canada

      Great in-depth hub, wonderful tips for photographers starting out and good writing on top of it.