Last Updated on March 16, 2021
The life of a pro concert photographer is pretty damn exciting. They get the best seats at the show, don’t pay (they get paid!), and really feel like a part of the show. If you are looking to get into the pro concert photography field then you have to be prepared to work hard and get yourself out there. But in this article I am going to show you the exact stuff you need to focus on to get you to that level as fast as possible. So get ready for some truth and take notes because it’s time to get serious.
When shooting a live event like a concert you must (and I can’t emphasize this enough) understand how to shoot in poor lighting conditions. If you don’t figure this out you won’t make it very far in this field. Learn how to best adjust your settings for shooting a concert. It is challenging but once you have it down you are half way there. So let’s get right down to it and read on for the concert photography hacks that will help you become a pro.
Know Your Venue
The very first thing you need to do before heading out to the show is research your venue. What size is it? What is the lighting like? Do they allow flash photography? Where are you allowed to shoot from?
If you are shooting a large arena or music hall or even a huge outdoor festival then there is a decent chance that you are going to be dealing with a more complex lighting show. Knowing this will allow you to be better prepared with the right equipment for complex lighting conditions. Often times when shooting in a large venue you will not be allowed to get close to the stage. And if this is the case you have to be prepared with the right lens with a longer focal length.
What if you are shooting in a small club or even photographing a basement show? These shows are often very low light meaning you better know how to shoot in these conditions or your shots won’t turn out for crap. In a small show you are much more likely to be able to get right close to the stage meaning you will be wasting time and space by hauling your huge lenses with you.
Research your venue before you leave for the show! Just a little bit of knowledge will help you be prepared for the venue which will be a huge boost to the photos you shoot.
More on Lighting
When you are shooting a show at a small venue the lighting is particularly challenging. (and by that I mean a PITA). The lights are usually right behind or right in front of the stage. This can make all your shots turn out to be silhouettes. This may be cool once in a while but when every shot is like this it gets old, and fast.
To fix this problem you will want to be on the look out for spot lights and where they shine. These lights can give you what you need to avoid being the photographer who only shoots creepy shadow people.
One little tip on how to avoid being surprised by the lighting setup is to shoot the opening act everytime there is one. Even if it is some group that you don’t care about, it gives you another opportunity to get a handle on the lighting before the main act goes on. This will allow you to have everything locked in as soon as it matters. And you won’t spend the entire time the main act is performing trying to figure the lighting out.
Camera & Lens Tips
Alright now we are getting to the part everyone is interested in. When you are shooting in a low light situation you must have the ability to set your aperture setting wide open and crank your ISO up.
When it comes to concert photography it is a huge benefit to be shooting with the latest technology as your equipment will be much better at handling these settings. If you are looking for the top gear for shooting live shows then go check out my guides on the best concert camera and the top lenses for concert photography.
When it comes to aperture, you are going to want to go with f/1.8. Remember that the lower the aperture number means a wider opening. This is super important as you need to let in as much light as possible.
You should also be shooting in RAW as this will give you the top image quality while giving you the ability to work your photos in post production.
Shoot with your white balance set to auto. You should also be shooting with a camera that offers a high burst shooting mode. This is going to up your chances of getting the perfect shot especially because of the changing lighting conditions that accompany a stage light show.
Shoot in AL Servo mode if it is an option as it will allow you to keep focus even between your shots. In concert photography it’s all about being efficient to up your good shot hit rate and this is a great feature to utilize if you have it.
Shoot with a fast shutter speed! This is a huge deal when shooting a band or artist who likes to run around the stage. But don’t be afraid to throw in some slower shutter speeds as this can give you that awesome motion blur that can be pretty cool too.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to auto and manual settings. There are times when I shoot full manual but I also will use aperture priority and shutter priority at different times.
While manual is the way to go if you are dealing with lighting that isn’t constantly changing, while aperture priority is the way to go with a dynamic stage lighting situation. If the artist is running around like crazy I may decide to shoot with shutter priority set.
Another quick tip is to go with a wide aperture zoom lens (a popular one is a 24-70 2.8). Prime lenses have there place, but if you can’t bring a ton of lenses a zoom is going to produce a larger number of quality shots. It’s also not a lot of fun switching out your lenses multiple times during a show. Prime lenses have their place but a high quality zoom is definitely going to be your new best friend.
Know Your Subject
When shooting a band it is important to know which members are the favorites. Let’s face it, not every member of a band is as popular and as a concert photographer it is your job to give the people what they want. Do some research if you are not familiar with the band so you know which members are the most popular. Take the majority of your pictures of these members. Get them from different perspectives and get creative. These shots will make you more money and that is kinda important.
Use Your Time Right
Ok so sometimes you will be able to shoot for the entire show, but the reality is there will be shows where you will only be allowed your position for a very short amount of time. Sometimes as little as a few songs. That means all the tips I covered before become even more important. When you have limited time to shoot you need to make every shot count that you can. Focus in on the right gear and settings for the show right away and take the shots that people want. If you end up with more time then you can get experimental.
Respect The Rules
Don’t be an a-hole! Be respectful of the band (that usually goes without saying) but also the rest of the venue staff and the crowd. Security has a tough job and they won’t take kindly to you if you come in with an attitude. Listen to what they say and be kind. As you shoot more and more shows you will start to run into the same staff and they will remember if you were cool or a dick. Don’t be the latter. You just might get treated a little better in the future and that’s a good thing.
How to get Started When You’re New To Shooting Concerts
Just like most things in life, getting started is the hardest part for would be concert photographers. When you are brand new you don’t have a reputation and nobody really has a reason to believe you are any good. It’s what everyone faces when they are starting out.
There is no quick way around this. Sorry, but I’m not going to lie just to save your feelings. If you really want to be a concert photographer then you need to be prepared for a tough start and getting rejected. It’s part of paying your dues and it’s what separates the successful from those who aren’t cut out for it. But if you really want this you can do it.
One way to go is to start by going through an agency that handles photographers. This can take time but you will get the chance to shoot shows and build a resume. Another option is to directly contact concert promoters for small to medium sized acts and offer your services when they are playing in your area. This tactic has a low success rate but at the beginning you are just looking to start making traction.
A better success rate will come from contacting local media that covers shows. This can be newspapers, magazines, local radio and TV station. There are times when they won’t already have someone shooting the show and if you are in the right place at the right time you might get the gig.
Ultimately the key here is to keep putting yourself out there. It is a numbers game at first and you will be told no A LOT. But persevere and you will start getting some yeses. And if you can produce great shots when you do get a yes the positive responses will increase and you will start to build momentum.