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How to Photograph Concerts

Updated on July 15, 2014

I Love Photography and I Love Music

I'm an avid amateur photographer and I never am without a subject to photograph. Ask my family I'll take pictures of food, flowers, the dogs, sunsets, clouds, and heaven forbid I aim the camera at them.

So special events such as graduation, a trip to the zoo, and especially a free outdoor concert is definitely an opportunity for me to break out the camera, get creative and get snapping.

My last opportunity was at the Bank of the West's annual Celebrate America concert in Omaha Nebraska. This years line up was Loverboy and Pat Benatar, and I'm a child of the 80's so perfect music, perfect night for combining my favorite hobbies: photography and music.

Pat Benatar
Pat Benatar

Photography Tips to Get the Most Out of your Camera

Tips for Night time photography

My camera is a Canon DSLR Rebel XS and more than a few years old. Yet, over the years I've learned some tips to get the best performance out of a non-pro camera. It took some time, but now I can shoot in Manual mode and not even think about it. I just read the meter (the little red light at the bottom of the viewfinder window should be in the middle) and my fingers naturally adjust the aperture and shutter speed.

I can't stress enough how important it is to your photography results to learn to shoot in manual. The control you have in managing your bright areas (whites) and dark areas is unsurpassed. For example if I had shot the below photo in Automatic the camera would have tried to set the exposure for the overall darkness of the photo and either tried to use the flash or drastically over exposed the image to get the details in the darks.

Digital DSLR Cameras - Digital Single Lens Reflect Cameras

I know people can get good photos with iPhones, and I do admit to having iPhone envy at times. But there is not substitute for quality and photographic control than a DSLR camera. Which ones are the best? Should you buy a Canon or Nikon digital camera? That is a personal choice. But, I work at a pro photography printing lab and the owner swears by Canon.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III 22.3 MP Full Frame CMOS Digital SLR Camera with EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens
Canon EOS 5D Mark III 22.3 MP Full Frame CMOS Digital SLR Camera with EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens

The top of the line Canon SLR camera. The top professional photographers use this camera and it really does have a quality you can see in the photographs.

 

Huey Lewis From Behind the Camera - Huey still rocks in concerts

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Tips on Night Time Photography - Photographing with limited light

These tips are not from a professional photographer, but they are my tried and tested methods that have worked for me and my camera and I've gotten some good results.

  1. Increase your camera's ISO setting. Don't be afraid to use a 1600, 2400, or even 3200.
  2. Use a tripod, or a monopod to decrease blur. Especially if using a shutter speed less than 1/160th. Without a monopod practice bracing your arm against your side and breathing out when you press the shutter.
  3. Push your aperture lower than 5, mine only goes to 4.5, but some lenses will get down into the 2.0 and 3.2 range. As you decrease the aperture number you will notice your meter light moves to the right, giving you the ability to increase your shutter speed.
  4. Expose for the lightest area of the stage. Press your shutter halfway and if you have a center weighted exposure setting move your camera around from light and dark areas of the stage. Notice how the red dot either moves from the right to the left.
  5. Get closer to your subject instead of using the zoom lens. I love my 70-300mm lens, yet your shutter speed needs to be higher on a higher zoom to prevent motion blur.
  6. Shoot in RAW, get your camera off strictly JPG mode. RAW is a file format that is, in simple terms, an unprocessed image. Think of it like a film negative. It's a lot bigger than a compressed JPG, but contains a much wider range of colors. I cannot stress this enough. SHOOT IN RAW.
  7. Edit your photos afterwards can clean up any noise from higher ISO levels, darken shadows to accent the light areas, or open the shadows to see more detail. I use Lightroom 4 for almost all my photo post production and Photoshop for any graphic manipulation if I want to add words or clone areas.

Huey Lewis and the News - Heart of Rock and Roll

Whats a song about concerts and music without a little music. Here's Huey Lewis in the Heart of Rock and Roll.

Don't Forget

It's not the camera that makes the photographer, but the skill of the photographer that creates a great photo.

Rules on Concert Photography - Okay, not hard fast rules, more like guidelines

These are not hard and fast rules on concert photography, more like guidelines. Since I'm not a professional photographer, nor a official "press" photographer for the music industry, I have had some artistic success in capturing singers, musicians and bands.

Sometimes what works, works. A lot is common sense, but it's easy to forget when you get wrapped up in the moment.

  • Research the concert venue before deciding to take your camera to the performance. Most indoor concerts don't allow photography unless you are cleared as press or media. Outdoor concerts are more informal.
  • Have your camera ready. That means fresh batteries, an empty SD memory card, monopod, cleaned lenses at the ready.
  • Arrive early, before the bands start to scope out a good spot. If going with a friend set up base camp camp away from the stage to store extra gear that friends can watch. You may not want to be up at the front the whole time.
  • Unless there are barricades blocking access to the area near the stage, work your way close to the stage for close ups.
  • Change position from one side of the stage to the other for different viewpoints. Some angles are better than others for each musician. For example the drummer sits in the middle of the stage typically and the cymbals often block his face.
  • Shoot close, focus in on facial expressions, if shooting on auto focus press the shutter halfway down to activate the focus and be ready for a good moment to click the shutter. Sometimes the performers will recognize a photo opp and look directly at you and point.
  • Smile! Really. With a large SLR camera and a 300 mm lens you will attach attention. The musicians will know you're taking their photo, remove the camera from your face. When they acknowledge you, smile. It will work wonders and they may even play to your camera giving you even better photos.

Pat Benatar

I'm a child of the 80's and Pat Benatar music was all the rage. Thirty years later she still has the look and the voice to really rock. My favorite and the favorite of the night was "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"

I changed very little in this photograph. Lightroom 4 processed, with opening up shadows and increasing clarity.

Photo Editing Programs - The best photo editing programs

Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 [OLD VERSION]
Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 [OLD VERSION]

Photoshop Elements is ideal for most people just getting into photo editing and cost less than $100.

It will process RAW images, just like Lightroom and the CS6, and is very intuitive and easy to use.

 
Adobe Photoshop CS6 Classroom in a Book
Adobe Photoshop CS6 Classroom in a Book

I still have Photoshop CS2, yes old school, but the newer version of Photoshop is priced out of my budget.

If I was a professional photographer or a graphic artist and needed the additional power I would buy the updated version.

 
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 [Old Version]
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 [Old Version]

I'm totally an Adobe Lightroom convert. If your photographs have great composition already and just need lighting adjustments then Lightroom is the place to start. It's also very reasonably priced.

 

Cameras on eBay - Find a Cheaper SLR Camera to Get Started

Don't want to buy a new camera? That's ok, there are several people who have gently used cameras for sale. They are either people who thought they wanted a high end camera and once they got it realized it was more than they really wanted, or bigger than they wanted to carry.

What Kind of Camera Do You Have

So what kind of camera do you use? Doesn't matter we won't judge, I'm just doing a survey on the general population. Remember it's not the camera that takes the pictures, it's the person behind it. A great chef could fix a gourmet meal on a campfire with a cast iron skillet.

What Type of Camera Do you Use?

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I know I don't have all the answers, so if you have a good photography tip on either photographing concerts or night time photography post them below.

Do You Have Good Photography Tips - Share our photography tips

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    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 3 years ago from Lakewood New York

      Sorry I don't have any good tips for you, as I'm just a point and shoot kind of guy!!! Thanks :)

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 3 years ago

      I'm not much of a photographer but a massive Benatar fan - great to see your wonderful concert shots!

    • john-doornkamp profile image

      john-doornkamp 3 years ago

      Make sure that any venue officials know what you are doing - you don't want to have to explain yourself in the middle of a concert.

    • English-lion profile image

      English-lion 3 years ago

      great advice!

    • zentao profile image

      zentao 4 years ago

      Great tips here. I really love your shot Pat Benatar. Awesome.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great tips. Thanks!

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Think I'll have to take your advice and use the camera more, and maybe read the manual again! :-)

    • profile image

      RoSelou 4 years ago

      I am learning how to properly took photograph and videos.