5 Tips for Better Concert Photography

Updated: Apr 19, 2018

Here are 5 tips that helped me learn to take great photos of artists on stage. For fun, I am including examples from two very different types of artists.



Before you even bring your DSLR to the venue, check their camera policy online or call them to find out whether you are allowed to take photos.


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1. Put away the speedlite

Sorry speedliters, but we need to know when it's time, or not time, to get out our speedlite. Flashes are often not allowed at this type of performance and the stage generally has at least one spot if not tons of other light to help make your photo interesting. Using only the stage lights also helps you capture the atmostphere and feel of the performance.


2. Use the right gear

I am an advocate of using what you have to make great images. If you're creative and try different techniques, even an old or cheap camera can make great images. However, I can't deny that better gear will help in situations like this. A lens with a wide aperture like 2.8 or wider will allow you to capture more light. A camera with a larger sensor will allow you to increase ISO without producing a lot of noise. Both of these things help produce a better exposure without waiting for the brightest stage light to illuminate the artist.


For this shoot, I used my Canon 6D and Sigma 70-200 2.8. I bought the 6D because it does a great job in low light. I'm comfortable cranking it up to 2000 or more ISO without too much noise. The Sigma 70-200 2.8 provides a wide 2.8 aperture along with the ability to zoom. It also has Optical Stabliziation (like Image Stabilization, IS, in Canon lenses) that helps produce a sharper image at slow shutter speeds. Even better, it's $700 cheaper than it's Canon equivalent IS lens.


3. Use the right settings

You need to be strategic about your camera settings in order to let enough light into your camera's sensor without losing sharpness or creating too much noise.


APERTURE: I used the widest aperture, 2.8, on my Sigma 70-200 2.8 to let in the most light. While this lets in the most light, your depth of field will also be more shallow. This means that less of your subject will be in focus at any given time. To get sharp photos, you'll need to release your shutter when your subject is moving the least. Alternatively, you can try AI Servo mode in your camera and let your camera do some guessing and calculating to pick the right focus.


SHUTTER SPEED: The rule of thumb for shutter speed is to match your shutter speed to your focal length. When using a 200mm lens and zooming to 200mm, 1/200 sec or faster is best. At the end of the day, faster is better. If the venue lights are bright enough and/or your camera allows a higher ISO, use a faster shutter speed. The bright spotlight and high ISO of the 6D allowed me to use 1/320 sec which made me feel much more comfortable about how sharp the photos would be.


ISO: The higher the better. Test out your camera first to see how high you can get without producing too much noise. Even then, noise isn't terrible if it gets you a better shot. Some people even add noise to photos to give them a certain feel. I used 2000 and 2500 ISO for these shots. If you want to reduce noise later, Lightroom does a great job of this and segways us into the last seting.


SHOOT IN RAW: RAW allows the most flexibility during editing while maintaining details. RAW files are large because they capture more detail than a JPEG file. There are a lot of great resources out there on RAW vs JPEG. You can search it yourself or check out one of these top resources: Digital Photography School, SLR Lounge.


4. Wait for the light

Since we are relying on venue lighting, we need to wait until it's just right. Observe where the light is coming from and position yourself where you can get a photo where the artist is well lit and the light is interesting. In the first photo below, the light is hitting Flo Rida head on, so I position myself to the left to get a shot of him as the light hits his face and falls off towards the side of his head. Also, on the left side his face is not blocked by his left arm.

GEAR: Canon 6D, Sigma 70-200 2.8

SETTINGS: 1/320 sec at f/2.8, ISO 2000


Sometimes the light may not seem like enough for an ideal exposure, but you can still produce an intersting image like the photo below.

GEAR: Canon 6D, Sigma 70-200 2.8

SETTINGS: 1/320 sec at f/3.5, ISO 2500


5. Wait for the expression

Artists or speakers are expressing themselves and communicating a message. As a photographer, we usually want to capture an image that syncronizes with the message or expression. Keep your camera up and ready for the artist to make an expression that conveys their emotion and their passion. It's interesting how many different expressions you can capture.


Here is an example of Bernadette Peters. The facial expression and hand position portray the sassy attitude she puts on during this song.

GEAR: Canon 6D, Sigma 70-200 2.8

SETTINGS: 1/320 sec at f/3.5, ISO 2500


Let's look at an example from Flo Rida. In this photo, you can tell Flo is into it. His finger is wagging and his eyes are closed.

GEAR: Canon 6D, Sigma 70-200 2.8

SETTINGS: 1/320 sec at f/2.8, ISO 2000


In order to get excellent photos, you need to be ready for whatever happens next. Who knows? The artist just might pull out some champaign and start poppin' bottles!

GEAR: Canon 6D, Sigma 70-200 2.8

SETTINGS: 1/320 sec at f/2.8, ISO 2000


What questions can I answer about concert photography?




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