Concert photography is one of the most exciting and interesting photography styles I have shot. It can be incredibly challenging and rewarding if you are willing to put in the time to develop your concert photography skills.
Concerts offer some of the most challenging lighting conditions you will deal with as a photographer and this is compounded as almost all concerts prohibit using a flash. Because of this you have to be prepared for the unique challenges before starting out on your concert photography adventure.
Essential Tips for Shooting Concerts in Low light Conditions
Have a fast lens
One of the most important steps you can take to ensure your concert shots are high quality is having a fast lens. A fast lens provides you with the aperture you need for low light. The opening is larger allowing for more light to come into your cameras image sensor. A larger camera aperture also lets you shoot with higher shutter speeds. This enables you to take clearer shots. Note: a smaller f number indicates a larger aperture.
Lenses ideal for concert photography do require a decent investment on your part, but remember that you must have the right lens for the conditions or your images will suffer. To see lenses ideal for you shooting in these conditions check the recommendations in the best lens for concert photography article. Once you have the right lens you are well on your way to taking great band and concert shots.
Learn to use manual exposure mode
The very lighting conditions that make a concert immersive and exciting to watch make it incredibly challenging to shoot for photographers. The more elaborate the lighting of the show, the more challenging it will be to take awesome shots. Because of this it is imperative that you learn to manually adjust your exposure. You should always shoot concerts in manual mode as this will give you complete control over adjusting for the lighting conditions of the show. Because an elaborate show will have frequent and sudden lighting changes, manual mode will allow you to quickly adjust for the optimum settings. If you are just beginning with concert photography it is alright to use aperture priority mode but you should be practicing using everything in manual mode as it will dramatically improve the quality of your shots. And the more you use manual mode the faster you will master it.
Use the correct aperture settings
When shooting concerts you should always keep your lens wide open. By taking all your pictures with the lowest possible aperture you will allow the maximum light to your image sensor which will increase the quality of your shots. The most commonly used apertures for concert photography are f/1.4, f/1.8, and f/2.8. A faster lens will again be your best route to high quality concert shots.
Optimize your shutter speed
When shooting large concerts with elaborate stage production you will want to maintain shutter speeds of 1/250 or faster. This will help you maintain clear images with minimal blur. If you are shooting a slower moving show then you can adjust to a slower shutter speed. The majority of concerts people shoot will require the faster shutter speed but feel free to experiment based on the particular show you are shooting. Remember that the general rule is that the more activity there is on stage the faster the shutter speed you need to use.
Get your ISO right
ISO refers to how sensitive to light your camera is. A higher ISO setting means your camera is more sensitive to light while a lower ISO setting means your camera is less sensitive to the lighting conditions. Because of the challenging low light conditions of most concerts you will want to have a higher ISO setting. This will let your camera respond to lighting changes quicker. As a general rule, you will want to set your ISO to 1600 to start and adjust from there. Raise your ISO if there is image blur until there is no more blur in your shots. The trick is that higher ISO leads to more image grain so you want to adjust your ISO to the lowest setting possible for clear images to keep grain as minimal as possible. Remember that you can adjust the noise in your images later with photo software so make sure to take clear no blur images as that is the most important thing to consider when setting your ISO.
Do your research
I cannot not emphasize this point enough! If you want to take your concert photography to the next level you must know your venue and shooting conditions before arriving at the show. Research what the lighting conditions are before arriving so you have an idea on what the optimal settings will be. This will allow you to spend less time tuning in your settings and increase the number of great shots you will take. You also want to know where you will be shooting from. Taking shots from the stage is very different from shooting from the back the venue. Also think about what kind of show the band puts on. Is it a elaborate stage production with tons of movement or a stripped down minimalist style show? Check out past shows of the band and even the venue if you have never been there. Putting all this together before you arrive at the show is going to dramatically improve the quality of your shots.
Be prepared to grow and be patient
Shooting concerts is incredibly exciting and if you are new to the style be prepared to spend time learning how to shoot under the challenging lighting conditions. Be prepared for not all of your shots turning out and know that is okay. Take the time to really learn what works and what doesn’t. You may get very few good shots when starting out and that is to be expected. As long as you are honing your skill you will be taking great shots in no time. Practice finding great spots to shoot from, as this will dramatically change the quality of your shots. Be patient and understand that learning to shoot concerts takes time and practice!
Concert photography tips checklist
- Always shoot with a fast lens
- Shoot with a low aperture number
- Use fast shutter speeds of at least 1/250
- Start with an ISO setting of 1600 and adjust from there
- Use manual mode as much as possible
- Research the venue and the band before arriving at the venue
- Be patient and learn as you go
Concert photography is a serious rush and is easily one of the most exciting photography styles you can pursue. Getting started can feel a bit overwhelming but with the right tools and preparation it is truly fun and not nearly as challenging as most people think. With the right concert camera and lens and by using the ideal settings you can take amazing concert shots. The most important thing to remember is to get out there, take shots and adjust as you learn!