Concert Photography 101 : Getting Started

9 01 2010

Greg Taylor Concert Photography Gear

So, you want to combine your love for music and photography but don’t know where to start. I’ve developed a series of weekly articles will help you get started.

The first place to start is with a Digital SLR (DSLR) camera. Sounds simple enough but many people don’t realize that the typical point and shoot camera will not produce the shots you want. Sure point and shoots are great for snapshots of you and your friends but not of the show. I use the Canon EOS xsi with two different lenses. The lenses I almost always use are a prime 50mm f1.8 and a 24-70 f2.8. I find that very rarely do I go into my bag to grab a different lens.

Why these two lenses? The 50mm prime (sometime referred to as the nifty-50) is a lens every photographer should have. The 50 is an inexpensive way to have something that is fast enough for the poor lighting conditions of concert venues. F1.8 is more than enough when shooting at ISO800 – 1600. The 24-70 allows me to frame the shot differently. Whereas the 50mm is prime (no zoom in or out) the 24-70 gives me some more freedom. F2.8 is fast enough with a shutter speed of 1/60 – 1/125 while using ISO800 – 1600.

If you notice I haven’t mentioned using a flash. I never use a flash when taking concert photos. Why? Unless you are on assignment from the band or band’s management the artists really don’t appreciate a flash popping in their face during the set – or even the three songs you’re allowed to shoot (we’ll get to that part later in concert photo etiquette.) Many times the conditions of using a photo pass is “NO FLASH”.

Basic equipment needed: DSLR Camera (which has at least ISO1600) and a f2.8 lens. (Above is a photo of my primary concert gear.)

So you have the gear – now what? You have to know your camera and know the settings. I’m not saying before getting started you need to be the most technical photographer. The knowledge needed is how your gear responds in different lighting situations. What shutter speed? at which ISO? what f-stop? This is what makes or breaks the picture. Get the lighting right and your chances increase dramatically of getting a good photograph. Below are samples of my photos with various camera settings I rely on:

(Links to more of my concert photography with photo settings can be found at www.flickr.com/grtaylor – select image and click on properties)

Know your camera, know your settings, trust your instincts and have fun – chances are you have the best seat in the house!

The next post in this series will discuss ambient light and basic camera settings. The article will also include metering, aperture, determining ISO, and shutter speeds. (Other upcoming posts will include how to get the shot, framing – concert photography composition, post processing digital images, getting your photo equipment in the house and photo credentials.)

I want to know about your concert photography experience. What was the first concert you shot? How did the images turn out? Please leave a comment and show off some of your music photos.

To view my complete photography portfolio please visit www.grtaylor2photo.com

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9 responses

9 01 2010
Ben

Thanks for posting this blog/series. I’ve done a handful of concerts and would like to get better at it. Here are the best results from a concert I shot about a year ago, some friends of mine in a Phoenix band called Mr Meeble. (they’re friggin awesome too)… I’ve only shot maybe 2-3 concerts. http://www.flickr.com/photos/razorwriter/3259808560/in/set-72157613427628319/
Aperture priority to let in the light.. didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it beyond that. One of the reasons I got the D700 is because I can shoot 1600-3200 ISO without terrible noise problems for situations like this.
Greg, my biggest question to you beyond the technical points which you are mentioning going into more.. is how do you get access to great bands like these with a good angle and letting your equipment in? For bigger bands I imagine you need connections or some sort of press pass…

9 01 2010
GRTaylor2

Thanks Ben – access and photo credentials will be a part of the concert photography series. Before I touched on those points I felt a responsibility to at least give a 50,000 ft. overview of everything else it takes to get a great live music photo.

Here is a coule of quick tips on photo credentials or how to get gear in the show: befriend bands or band management, find venues in your city that are photo friendly (if you’re in AZ I can email you my list) – many times bands are really cool about photography, it’s the venue holding them back, build a strong portfolio and display in a professional manner, sometimes to start play dumb and just walk in the show with a small photo bag.

Thank you for reading and sharing your photos. I will keep my eyes open for Mr. Meeble.

9 01 2010
Ben

Yeah, I’d appreciate that list – I live in Phoenix. It’s ben at woodcreative dot net.

If you want to check out Meeble: http://twitter.com/meeble

10 01 2010
jasonoliva

I’m digging this! Looking forward to all the rest.

10 01 2010
Yaggi Photography Kent Wedding Photographers

What’s up Greg,
I, too, us a D700 for concerts as it’s almost essential to have a full frame sensor, in my opinion. I did, however, photograph Thievery Corporation with a D300 and a cheaper 18-200mm f/3.5 lens. I accomplished this by being really steady and waiting til the performer froze. Now, I’m fortunate enough to have higher grade equipment which makes the job so much easier…relatively.

I do agree with Ben for using Aperture mode as it locks in the f/2.8 speed I want. As for metering, I tend to use spot metering if the subject has hot spots on say, the forehead. I will meter for the forehead and let the rest fall in place with lighting. I hate to have hotspots on the subjects skin, therefore, I like using spot metering if they have strong lights shining on them.

Since I enjoy photographing DJ’s, I tend to get away with flash a lot. This gives me more flexibility and creativity that I can add to the scene. Not only can I make my own light, but playing with ambient lighting is wicked! I’m getting off subject, aren’t I? Anyway, that’s my basic dealio with concert photography and no flash.

~yaggi photography

10 01 2010
GRTaylor2

Thanks Brent for you input – over the last couple of months I’ve become a big fan of your work.

Since I can’t use a flash and I rely on ambient light – I am almost always shooting at 2.8 – so I’ll make more adjustments on the timing than anything.

I’d love for you to weigh in with your experience as this blog series develops.

10 01 2010
Yaggi Photography Kent Wedding Photographers

Greg,
I’d be more than happy to keep posting any Q&A’s, thoughts, etc. I did check to be notified of follow-up comments, but haven’t received anything on email about your comment. I just came back to read some more…

10 01 2010
GRTaylor2

I’ll look into the technical gliche

22 01 2010
Concert Photography 101 : Camera Settings « Concert Photography | Landscape Photography | Portraits

[…] Speed and Lens Aperture: As I mentioned in my previous Concert Photography 101 post, before I was comfortable shooting in manual mode I relied on TV (or shutter priority […]

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