A simple guide to concert photography

So you want to be a concert photographer? In the press pit with a few thousand hysterical fans directly behind you and your favourite band a mere few feet in front of you? Sounds exciting right? Well it is! But it is also very difficult to become an established concert photographer. This short guide will hopefully point you in the right direction and offer helpful tips and advice for your first steps into a career in music photography.

Getting a gig to shoot

First you need a gig to shoot and getting one couldn’t be simpler. Start small by shooting local bands. Check free music publications and utilise Myspace to find any local bands that might be playing a free gig in your area. Always remember to introduce yourself to the band. Email addresses, telephone numbers or some means of contact can always be found on a band website or Myspace page. Whichever route you take make sure you let them know who you are and exactly why you will be shooting the gig.

Research your band

Before any gig I consider it wise to research the band I am about to shoot. Using setlist.fm allows you view setlists from the bands’ last few gigs, giving you an idea of which three songs are going to be played first. You could then use YouTube to view live performances of these first three songs and analyse their performances. How do they move on the stage? What positions do they stand in? What are their idiosyncrasies? Being able to anticipate what is going to happen will provide you with a great advantage over other photographers in the pit.

Choosing the right lens

Firstly you will need a fast lens. Sure you can capture some good photos with your basic kit lens but to get really exceptional photos you will need a lens that can hold up well in low light conditions. My current weapon of choice is a Canon 1.4 50mm, an affordable lens that didn’t burn too big of a hole in my pocket. Saving up for a more expensive lens or a wide angle may prove beneficial in the future.

Using the right settings

Step one is to make sure your camera is set to manual mode. Shooting in manual can be a learning curve but it will give you much more creativity and influence over the final result. Also remember to always shoot in raw format. This will give you much more control of the photos when you export them into photoshop or lightroom.

The most important setting will be your ISO. Never let your ISO drop below 800. Ideally I keep my ISO at 1600 when shooting any concert. A little noise on your photos is to be expected when using an ISO that high but a little post-production in photoshop will clear that up. If noise bothers you that much it may also be with looking into using add-ons like Noise Ninja or Noiseware.

One of the benefits of using a fast lens means you can set a large aperture to capture all available light on the stage. Normally I set mine to around f/2.8 and adjust it throughout the gig. Setting your aperture as high f/1.4 will provide you a stunning depth of field…just watch that focus!

Shutter speed is simple. Set it to 400 and adjust it as you see fit. Remember not to set it too slow or you will end up with blurry over exposed photos that look unprofessional.

Getting great photos

Even with a good lens and the correct settings you can’t guarantee great photos. Here are a few things to remember to help you get that perfect shot.

• Never stand in the same place for the entire gig. The band moves about and so should you. Shoot from all manner of quirky angles. The last thing you want is a collection of good photos that all look the same.

• Keep shooting. If you see it happening with your eyes, you’ve probably missed the shot!

• Aim to shoot the performers faces. Capture their expression: give your photos some emotion. If you can’t see the face or it’s hidden behind a microphone or a sea of hair, then the shot probably isn’t worth keeping.

• Show your appreciation to the band. Turning into a screaming fan-girl-type character between songs isn’t necessary but you can applaud, nod encouragingly or smile at band members. The performers may even feel more obliged to acknowledge you by raising some devil horns at you or pointing down the barrel of your lens.

• Three songs and no flash! Remember that because you are going to have to get used to it. The majority of big venues will be strict on how many songs you can shoot and will be even stricter on the use of flashguns.

• Don’t forget the drummer! He’s an integral part of the band. Remember to shoot him too.

Respect the audience and band

Finally always remember to respect the audience and band whilst taking photos. Regardless of if you like the band or not you have to remember that the audience have paid to see them. Make sure to wear black clothing when in the pit. You will blend into the darkness better and will be less distracting to people trying to watch the show. Speaking of distracting, make sure you turn your flash off. Like I said previously, most big venues will be very strict about the use of flashes, and rightly so. The audience are trying to watch a band and the band are trying to put on a show, the last thing either of them wants is your flash being bounced into their faces. You will find that most venues will have a sufficient amount of light on stage for you to capture reasonable photos. So turn the flash off and learn to be a better photographer. Shoot without it!


  1. the-meta-knight6 May 2011 at 18:30

    I agree about 1600 ISO, I know a lot of shooters who won't go over 600 but I think most cameras can handle it. I switch between a Canon EOS 400D and 7D and both handle bands at 1600 no problem. Good article.

  2. musical-fantasies6 May 2011 at 18:32

    Great guide!

    I've never shot at a concert before but I think it would be cool to do so.

    Your tips sound very reasonable for the type of atmosphere!

  3. QueenOfTheGypsies6 May 2011 at 18:33

    This is quite beneficial to anyone interested in concert photography, whether as a hobby or as a career.

    Thanks for the tips!


  4. Shaun

    Great Advice.

    I sadly haven't had time ot get my gig and concert shots up yet but pretty much everything you said is how I shoot and I'm getting more and more offers and requests.

    For those interested, the Canon 50mm 1.4 or even 1.8f is great. I usually set my aperture full open and adjust from there with the shutterspeed.

    Good affective guide mate.

  5. freakoftheeast6 May 2011 at 18:38

    This is all quite accurate and well written :)

    One thing that differs, in my personal experience as a concert photographer, is that I have never used my 50mm lens because, at the majority of venues, I am much too close to the stage to use. I almost always use a 24-70 2.8L because I always need that wide angle. And, unless you are shooting outdoors during the day or in a large venue for a big band, chances are you will not get your shutter speed above 1/125. Often I am shooting concerts at f2.8 and 1/60 just to get light @ iso 1600-3200.

  6. Great piece of work! - Hope you'll going on with the hints.

    Have a metal day!

  7. Thank you for such an article, but... ISO 1600?????? No disrespect, but in my opinion ISO 1000 is already to much. Yes, sure, some noise is expected, but not so much noise... For example if I shoot a musician in a very dark club and set ISO 1600 it will be not a face, but some kind of noisy shapeless stain on the pictures. I believe it's better not to shoot at all, than to shoot the pictures that won't be accepted by magazines. Again - no disrespect, just an opinion

  8. @idollisimo

    Depends on your body really.

    I frequently use both 5000 and 6400 when shooting in obscure little clubs. One of my personal favourites was shot at 5000.

    Then again, the D700 is the worlds second best low light DSLR if you ask me.. The D3s is better, but I cannot really motivate the cost.