The world of music is a great source for photography opportunities. The spotlight, the crowd, the smoke, and the darkness all come into play to create striking, evocative shots. And it doesn’t hurt that the lead members of most bands are exceptionally attractive people, as well.
However, it is these factors themselves that makes taking concert photography a particular challenge. During concerts, there is constant movement, the venues are generally very dark, you might be far from the performers, and most important of all, you must keep from distracting both the audience and the band. You’ve got to be as non-invasive as possible so that the band keeps its focus, and you can’t get all up in the audience’s faces, hindering their enjoyment of the music.
Concert photography is a combination of the basic techniques of photography, as well as appropriate adaptation to your immediate surroundings. In this article, I’ll go over the essentials of making the most of the limiting constraints involved in concert photography.
1. Watch the performers.
If you have permission to shoot the entire performance, don’t go into all-out shooting right away. Take a few shots during the first couple of songs, so that the band will look their best, but take some time to get into the spirit of things. Observe how the band moves during particular sequences, so that during similar instances later in the set, you’ll be able to capture the moment.
2. Anticipate the band’s (and they audience’s) actions/reactions.
This is a corollary to the tip above. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the performers onstage, you’ll be able to predict where they’ll move next, and so make your composition accordingly.
If the band is especially ostentatious and has set pieces, ask beforehand so that you’ll be able to catch those fireworks or that smoke machine doing their pyro thing. You’ll need to react fast to shoot spontaneous actions, but anticipating will help you get consistently good images.
3. Use the correct exposure.
The lighting in concert venues is especially tricky. The entire place is dark, but the stage is subject to lots of bright spotlights, which are usually moving. Getting the balance between having the frontman correctly exposed, while avoiding unsightly blown lights in the background, is a compromise.
Always use spot metering to compensate for the ever-changing lighting. Multi-shot mode is important as well—what if those lights hit the guitarist’s face the moment you shoot?
4. Use flash?
That question mark is important. Generally speaking, flash is a big no-no in concert venues—it’s immensely distracting, which is why you’ll have to rely on other techniques to get a good shot. However, during lulls in the action, or during breaks, use flash with discretion. Keep in mind that your job is to be invisible, however, and that flash will ruin the photos of your fellow photographers.
5. Leverage silhouettes.
The inconsistent lighting onstage can be used to your advantage. Exploit the spotlights by catching your subjects in silhouette. This makes for extremely iconic shots. Just make sure that they are still recognizable! Use their profile, their guitar, or the way they hold the microphone, to get compelling pictures.
6. Compose the elements.
At a concert, it is the performers that are moving around. It’s up to you to use that to your advantage. How do the band members react with the stage and their instruments? How about with the audience? As mentioned earlier, take the time to observe so that you can take these factors into account when making your composition.
7. Wear earplugs.
Worrying about your manual settings and composition is extremely difficult when dozens of decibels are assaulting your ears every second. Plug comfortable protection into your ears, and you’ll be able to concentrate on the task at hand—taking awesome pictures.
These are the most important tips to keep in mind when photographing a concert. While you might not be able to get prime access to the biggest names in music yet, there are plenty of places to practice your craft. Smoky bars with live music are great places to start, and you’ll be able to get used to the lighting, adjusting, and refining your camera technique.
Are there other useful tips for getting into concert photography? Let us know in the comments below!
Written by Rod Tolentino: Rod Tolentino, work as a writer and a content manager for Camerahouse.com.au