Concert Photography for Amateurs

If you’re taking concert photos professionally, you will get access to the pit area and will be able to photograph there for the first three songs. Put your camera into manual mode and, depending on the lighting, manual focus and try to get original and heartfelt shots. This blog post is for the rest of us.

First of all, unfortunately, you probably (MOST LIKELY) won’t be able to take your SLR and the lenses you’d need to properly photograph the event. The reason the photographers get to take photos for only the first three songs is to make sure they don’t disturb the people behind them so they aren’t going to take kindly to an amateur ruining things for others. At best you can bring in a premium point and shoot like the Canon S110 or G15. At worst you’ll be using your cell phone. The most important thing to know is that you need to turn off your flash and pump up your ISO. Anyone more than a couple rows back does not have a flash powerful enough to reach the stage and all you’ll be doing is lighting up the heads of the people in front of you.

Five Iron Frenzy (1999 Concert) - This venue was bright enough that it didn't matter that my flash didn't reach, but you can see that I've blown out the heads of those in front of me
Five Iron Frenzy (1999 Concert) – This venue was bright enough that it didn’t matter that my flash didn’t reach, but you can see that I’ve blown out the heads of those in front of me

So everyone you see shooting with flash is just getting really crappy shots while bothering everyone around them. In reality, the stage lights are enough to light up the performers. The reason to bump up the ISO is to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze up the performers. (Although there are times where you might want them blurred to capture the dynamism of the concert) Here are some examples of otherwise good photos made worse by too slow a shutter speed.

When things work out and you’re able to get the ISO high enough to get the action reasonable frozen, you can end up with reasonably good photos even if you’re far away. They won’t be amazing, but you’ll be able to remember the event and share the experience with other concert-goers and friends.

If you are in a venue where you’re standing and you can move around the stage, try to get different angles for your photos. Nearly everyone is going to be content with a straight-on shot so that’s BORING. You can get some neat shots from the side – usually only the band’s photographer can get shots like this:

Alternatively, get the shots that the pros do by getting right up on the stage:

Also, don’t forget to capture photos of the fans:

Fan at Sometime Tomorrow Show
Fan at Sometime Tomorrow Show

Finally, if you know the musician, you might be able to arrange from some special access shots before or after the show:

Piano Concert
Piano Concert