6 tips to take great photographs at music concerts

The Bryan Adams concert here in Limassol was my first music concert ever. So, it is obvious that it was my first ever attempt at taking photographs at one. Prior to this, i had attempted to take photographs of musicians on dimly-lit stages during the various festivals which happen here in Cyprus and needless to say, the outcomes were not so good. So, this time, i did a lot of ground work and i was happy with the photographs of the concert. So, i decided to pen down few tips which might help anyone take good photographs at such concerts.
  • Avoid using Compact Cameras, the point and shoot type. They are slow to start up, slow between photographs and have a shutter-lag. Even the latest point and shoot cameras suffer from these drawbacks. If you want good photographs, go the SLR way. Better still, go for a digital SLR so that you can immediately check whether the photo you captured is good enough for your liking.
  • Use High ISO. Most of the concerts would have sections of the stage well-lit, but the rest of the area would be dark. There will always be some kind of a spotlight on the artistes on stage. But this light is not enough to get a good exposure. So, use a higher ISO to get a good picture in spite of the little light. Avoid ISO 1600 as it can get too grainy. But, take many practice shots to get the exposure you like. A high ISO would help you get photographs like the one below where you can see the lights from the all the mobile phone cameras in use.

  • Use Shutter Priority Mode. I have had good success with Shutter Priority mode on many low-lit situations. You can customise the shutter speed based on your capability to hold the camera still. Using the program mode will make the camera try to get the best possible picture and in most cases (for concerts), the shutter will be opens for many seconds! Override this and use shutter priority. The Big Ben photo below was shot from a running open-top bus. I used a shutter speed of around 1/20s (don’t remember exactly) and ISO 1200.

    london big ben

  • Use a Zoom Lens, unless you are a good friend of the rockstar and manage to get a seat on the stage. Of course, not having a zoom lens would give a different perspective of the concert like the first photo below. I carried both the 18-70 and the 70-300 lenses with me and i switched them from time to time to take different views. From the first photo, you can kind-of guess where i was seated – far away from the stages and yet, with the zoom lens (and some cropping), I managed to get some decent close-ups of Bryan Adams.

    bryan adams cyprus bryan adams cyprus bryan adams cyprus

  • Don’t use Matrix Metering. If you don’t understand what I am saying, then it is time you take out your manual and look up on this. Matrix metering will work for many landscape shots but will mostly fail in concert shots where a small section is brightly lit and the rest are almost pitch-dark. Switch to Spot Metering and meter for the person whom you want to take (if you want to get the rockstar in focus).

  • Obviously, Flash is useless. Ok, in some situations I am wrong. When you want to take a photo of yourself standing in front of the dimly-lit stage, you need to switch to the night-portrait mode or if you don’t have one, manually enable the flash so that you are also well-lit. But, in other situations when you want to take the photo of a far-away rockstar on a stage, a flash is useless as it can light up, probably a few feet away from you. Worse still, if you have any object close to you, it will show up in your photograph in deathly-white. When i was in egypt, i had been to the sound-and-light show at the pyramids (first photo below). At that time, i had the “relatively ordinary” Nikon Coolpix 2500. I put in on a tripod, disabled the flash and let the camera decide its own exposure and I got pretty decent pictures. There were people around me pointing their cameras at the pyramids and shooting in auto mode with the flash. All they would have got is the chair in front of them with a white colouring!

Even if you follow these tips, you might not get it right the first time. So, practice a lot (another reason to move to Digital-SLR cameras) when the local artist comes on stage before the main act. Find the correct exposure (shutter speed/ISO) needed to get a decent image of the rockstar.

Digg my article

Hope you find these tips useful. Feel free to add more in the comments. Would also love to hear about your shooting experiences in music concerts.

Posted in cyprus, photo
9 comments on “6 tips to take great photographs at music concerts
  1. Mercury says:

    Cost is prohibitive for digital SLR. Btw I hoped to hear a bryan adams song on the blog :)

  2. Mercury says:

    Hey cant stand music for a long time.. cant you make it optional?

  3. Rajaram S says:

    mercury ..ihave corrected that post ..yup, even i found that sound too much to handle for a long time :-)

  4. kRiZ cPEc says:

    ah great! thanks very much for the tips!

  5. elsietee says:

    Great tips!! Thanks for your help!

  6. Jairzinho Morris says:

    Hi there, Wow, let me start by saying i am very impressed and congratulate you on the skills you posess so far.

    I myself am all new to this, however I have been the nominated photographer for all family functions for the past… well let just say many years. I now also take pictures at various events around london, I should add that this is only a hobby which is getting myself recognition around my peers. I have been told that I need to take this photographer business seriously as many people have said I take a good photo. No self recommendation here though. I think my pics are ok but not that good. I wonder could so many people be wrong?

    Anyhow! I have read your article time and time again and have now purchased the following…. Canon EOS 450D with 18-55mm lens – Tamron AF70-300mm Lens – Canon Speedlite 430EX II and of course a Good Tripod..

    Previously I was using a Panasonic Lumix until it got stolen resulting in me having to use my very handy Canon Digital IXUS 75..

    God Only knows how I got good pics before purchasing what i have now.

    I’m hoping to get the best pictures I have even taken in my entire life and take this business a little more seriously.

    Just wanted to share with you that I admire your focus to photographer and hope to submit an article like your one day.

    God speed to you & your family and Happy Snapping

    Jairzinho Morrris

  7. Petrov says:

    HI,

    i was Googling music stage photography and came across your post. I don’t want to be to critical but if you’re going to give someone advices you should know what you are talking about, and please do forgive me for saying this but judging from the photos you posted, you don’t.

    I couldn’t help but laughing as i read some parts of the post.

    You are right about the compact cameras, they are not reliable enough to garantee a good job.

    You are also right about the ISO, but even with the best of digital SLR you shouldn’t go beyond 800 ISO as you risk to much digital noise in the darker sections of the photos.

    The shutter speed…. well…. if you spent the money to buy a digital SLR why on earth would you give the camera control over your photos? Use it in manual, and i mean FULLY MANUAL, that way if someone takes you’re advice about spot mettering (totally correct, by the way) you measure light to the artist’s face or a brighter piece of clothing and it’s done, only once, unless there are some dramatic light changes. But the rockstars as you call them usually have a follow spot on them and that light is constant.

    The Zoom lens is very bad advice, i’m not saying that it is not handy some times, but if you want good photos (without being friends with the band, manager or organization) you should be willing to work for the photos, and this means getting to the venue early so you can get as close to the first row as possible and from there the 18-70mm lens (or something similar) that came with your digital SLR will do a great job.

    Flash can be useful (if you take my previous advice) as it can do a great job in countering back light from the stage, so you’ll get all the colorful lights in the background but still the artist well lit. But you might get in trouble with security because big stars usually don’t like flashes shot in their faces.

    The advice about using the support band to get you light right for the main artist is also not a very good one because the big artist will have his own light engineer, meaning that the light will be different.

    I know this post has a few years, but anyway this is what shows up in Google when you search for this subject and i just didn’t wanted people to be fooled.

    All the best and i hope you are still taking (better) concerts photos.

  8. Rajaram S says:

    Thanks Petrov for the comments.
    if you see my other photography posts, the expected audience is not someone who wants to be a pro or make money out of photography.
    It is for the casual hobbyist who wants to take better-than-casual photographs.
    i agree that “one should be willing for the photos”, but my write-up is aimed at someone who went to enjoy the concert and “also” plans to take some photos.
    An example would be someone who goes to a concert and then puts up photos on facebook for his friends.

    But, i do agree to your point about the quality of zoom lens (unless of course it is a prime lens) or the point about flash.

    thanks again for your detailed comment.

  9. Petrov says:

    Well, concert photography is what i do for a living and i am in no way afraid of competition. In my opinion with more concert photographers are out there we all gain, the artists will have better images, and the photographers will have to stay sharp and always at their best.

    I understood that your post was aimed at the taking-some-photos-to-put-on-facebook kind of amateur photographer, but there is nothing wrong with giving good tips that can serve everyone.

    Keep your interest in photography,
    cheers

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