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How to: Shoot Concerts

March 23rd, 2010 by admin

Rather than putting up these shots as a look what I just shot post, I’ll attack this one as how it was shot. As I have had several requests on how to shoot certain events with and rock concerts being one of more popular.


I don’t shoot a lot of music, I’m no Tony Mott or Daniel Boud, but I do get the odd request to cover an upcoming artist, or if an event is sponsored by a company I’m often asked to get PR shots. This was a Mickey Avalon concert I was asked to shoot by one of the managers.


I also don’t like to say you need the best gear to get the shot, but for dark venues for live performances, you really do need the best gear you can get. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it’s all about fast glass and low noise.

For a budget kit I would say a 50mm 1.8 (or 1.4 if you want to keep it for a while) is the best bang for buck lens, and a clean SLR such as a Canon 5D (mark I), which can be had for about $1000 now, are the best budget choices. A lot of venues and artists you will need to shoot at ISO 1600, so having a good clean SLR is the key. Most of the modern Pro bodies are still super clean at 1600, with the 1DmkIV and D3S able to go to 3200 and 6400 and still have good clean shots. It all depends on what the images are going to be used for. Web stuff, feel free to use 3200. However if its going to be printed, than 1600 would be my upper limit.


If you can get access to the photographers pool at an event than a 50mm can do the job, it will mean you are close enough to fill the frame with the performer, but if you want crowd shots, or head and shoulders, then you need other lenses. My standard even kit is the 15mm fisheye, 85 f1.2, 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8. I do have a 35 f1.4 and 50 f1.2 on the list as I find a max aperture of f2.8 quite restrictive for many venues. Flash is often not permitted at large events.


In this shot I turned the flash on, as I knew it wasn’t pointed at the stage, and I wanted to light up the crowds faces.


Camera settings, I usually run either aperture priority and vary my ISO to make sure I have a fast enough shutter speed, or manual, with the shutter set to the bare minimum I can hand hold with the lens I’m using, aperture wide open (or close to it) and as low an ISO as I can to get by, in this case, 1600 or 3200.


Using the lighting at the venue is the key, and take plenty of shots as the artist moves through the lights.


You will probably already be low, but try to have some nice lights behind the performer to lift them from the stage.


Focus settings are a personal thing, and depends on what camera and lens you are using, as well as how much the performer moves. If they aren’t running across the stage I will use one-shot modes. If they are, then it has to be continuous tracking.


I often look for contrasting colours in the lighting, and when they move into it fire off plenty of shots.


Don’t forget the supporting performers, they often make for great shots too.

6 Responses to “How to: Shoot Concerts”

  1. Dan Says:

    You are a legend! Have been shooting some events recently and have many more planned…
    Quick question, how do you ensure that the event lighting doesn’t over-expose the subject, as that is my main issue with my own photos.

  2. admin Says:

    Expose for the highlights, I usually do it a little bit via exposure compensation, if I see a shot too bright I’ll go -1/3 or more. But remember to shoot raw and over exposed shots can be saved.

  3. Dan Says:

    Ok, thanks for the tips – look forward to more updates!

  4. Carey Says:

    Do you treat noise at all? If so, how? That’s the issue I have using a entry level camera such as the Nikon D60 at ISO’s above 1600. I hate using high ISO’s because of noise.

  5. admin Says:

    With 21mpx from the 5DmkII resizing that down to 900 or so pixels means noise almost disappears, so for web I don’t do anything extra. For print Ive used the lightroom inbuilt NR, which is OK if you play with the sliders are bit. But for serious work Noise Ninja is the go.

  6. Mark Pakula’s blog » Blog Archive » How to: Shoot Food Says:

    [...] to my “How to: Shoot Concerts” post, here is a brief outline of how I photograph food. This does depend a lot more on what [...]

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