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5 Quick and Easy Concert Photography Tips

Self-Portrait in Pembroke, Ontario

A few years ago, concert photography was pretty much off-limits for amateur photographers—unless you knew the band. Nowadays, it seems that most venues have given up on banning cameras.

Indeed, they probably realized that to do things right, they should search people for cell phones and smartphones, which can both record and take pictures, as well as confiscate tiny point-and-shoot cameras.

In the last few years, I was able to get in with my DSLR and a couple of lenses. At the Metallica concert, I was asked to leave the DSLR at the door because it looked too professional, but they had no problems with the point-and-shoot camera I also brought! Other venues either didn’t look at my bag or didn’t care. Suits me. It allowed me to experiment with concert photography.

This is what I learned about concert photography so far.

Don’t rely on a flash

I know it’s very tempting to flash, but it’s the same as for night pictures, it won’t be much help. The flash will bounce off the closest thing (usually someone in front of you) and the background will be pitch black. Not to mention firing the flash repetitively can be seriously annoying for people who just want to enjoy the show. Because you are dealing with low-light conditions, the best way of to use a slow shutter speed. But chances are you won’t have a tripod with you, and the slower the shutter the more camera shake you will have. It’s all about balancing the two. Either way, dark shots can also be interesting.

Bump the ISO

The higher the ISO the more sensitive the sensor is to the light. However, the higher the ISO, the more “grainy” the picture will be—this is called “noise.” I can usually get away with a little bit of noise, sometimes it actually adds to the picture. You can bump your ISO to 800 and even 1600 to capture as much light as possible.

Aim for steady shots but embrace motion blur

Even with a fast shutter, there will likely be some motion blur. You can hardly ask for the band to pause or for the players to stop playing! Embrace it and make it meaningful.

Anticipate and participate

To take good shots, you have to be in the mood and enjoy yourself. If you know what’s going to happen, you can anticipate and capture the moment. For instance, when Billie Joe Armstrong grabbed a toy gun, I was looking forward to seeing what he had in mind and took this funny picture. Anticipate the end of a song and capture its last few seconds, when the singer encourages the audience to sing along. Shoot the leader singer under the spotlight. On a side note, I always pay attention to the lighting during shows because I want to take advantage of white/yellow light (usually the brightest and the best for pictures).

Don’t forget atmosphere shots

Some of the best pictures I took at concerts weren’t pictures of the band, but rather pictures of the audience. Among my favourites are a shot of a couple wearing the devil’s horns at the ACDC concert and an excited crowd. I also have a rainy picture that reminds me of how bad the weather was at the Radiohead concert in Montreal, where we stood in the mud for hours.

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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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