Recently, I've had a few inquiries about concert photography. When I first got started out in photography I was shooting a lot of sports and concerts. I really love concerts, and to this day it is still probably my most favorite thing to shoot, even though I don’t shoot a lot of it any more. I've had the opportunity to photograph main stream artists like Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and the Jonas Brothers to name a few, as well as smaller market artists at local shows and conferences. My motto when photographing concerts is "Shoot tight and use the light". Stick with this plan and you'll come away with some amazing pics. Let's look into this.
- Shoot Tight – I'm a fan of tight cropping when shooting photography. Why? Because I can and the general public can't! As a photographer at a concert you have a 'Press Pass', and this will gain you most of the time better angles and options for covering the concert. Plus hopefully you have the gear, and John Q Public is shooting with his cell phone. Speaking of gear, my favorite photography lens of the past was the f/2.8 400mm. However, since I only had access to that lens when I was shooting with the local media, my current lens of choice is the f/2.8 70-200mm. As a photographer you want to create images that showcase the subject in a way they aren't seen normally. So in concert photography, most people are going to walk away with pictures where the artist is a little spec in the frame, so when you take an image you want to give the viewer a sense like they are right on stage with the artist.
** Side Note ** When shooting a concert with a media pass, you are often limited to what songs and how long you can shoot. Usually main stream artist restrict shooting to the first two songs. One time I was photographying Carrie Underwood and I was only allowed to shoot songs 2-4. When I arrived at the venue I was assigned a security guard and given my position on the floor. I was about 3/4 of the way down a stage that extended out into the crowd. In the first song Carrie came right over to where I was and she sang half of her first song right in from of me. So close in front of me I would could have grabbed her ankle without hardly extending my arm. However, due to her rules, I had to keep my camera on the floor and couldn’t shoot anything. I had to wait for song 2, which of course as planned, she proceeded back to the main stage, which forced me to use the f/2.8 400mm to crop in tight.
Take a good look at the picture below… Anybody know who is pictured below?
- Use the light – When shooting a main stream artist, they have professional lighting crews, don't fight it use it. Lighting in concert photography is always changing, so you are best to shoot in one of two modes: Manual or Aperture Priority. I really recommend Manual mode. The reason I prefer manual mode is because when using Aperture Priority in a drastic light changing environment such as a concert is that your meter can have a tendency to slow your shutter speed down thinking you need more light due to the often large areas of 'black'. This leaves your subject, in this case the artist, way over exposed. Typically at a main stream concert the lighting on the main artist will remain pretty steady, it's everything around them that's changing. It doesn't take more than about 15 seconds into the first song for me to figure out my exposure. When I shoot concerts my aperture is always f/2.8 or as wide as it will go. This means I only have to think about my shutter speed, and I can vary this by 1/3 stops as I'm shooting.
Another rule of mine when shooting concert photography is 'NO FLASH'. Sometimes artists will restrict the use of flash any way, but I don't like to use flash as it can create a different mood than what is at the concert. The image of Keith Urban below, I think is really cool with all variation of lights.
- When To Go Wide – There is a time and place for wide-angle shots in concert photography. Two times I use my wide angle lens (17-55mm) are
- Capture the crowd.
- Create environment
This coming weekend is Vision Conference, a Christian teen leadership conference with Bible teaching and worship bands here in Lancaster. In the years past I have donated my photograph services to help out, and have loved every minute of it. This year I’ll be out of town on business, so it won’t work out. However here are some compilation from a few years back that demonostrate the use of tight cropping and wide angles and how they came together.
Have a local band, know a main stream band that needs photographing? Let me know, we’d love to talk about covering your event!
- Happy Shooting!