A lot of you have been asking me questions about photography and how to achieve certain effects. While I’m by no means an expert, I’m an avid photographer and I had to chance to experiment a lot. I’m also always a teacher at heart and yes, I like talking about photography, because I’m sure I can give you some tips and learn from you as well.
A few years ago, concert photography was pretty much off-limits for amateur photographer—unless you knew the band. Nowadays, it seems that most venues gave up on banning cameras. Indeed, they probably realized that to do things right, they should search people for cell phones and smart phones, which can both record and take pictures, as well as confiscate tiny point and shoot cameras.
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.
So this is what I learned about concert photography so far:
1. Do not 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, such this one of Greenday singer and of Metallica.
2. Bump the ISO: the highest the ISO the more sensitive the sensor is to light. However, the highest 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, like in this shot I took at a Metallica concert. You can bump your ISO to 800 and even 1600 to capture as much light as possible.
3. Aim for steady shot 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! So embrace motion blur. This shot is not very sharp but hey, he was jumping around like crazy! Same goes with Billie Joe Armstrong from Greenday, he didn’t pause for a second.
4. 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 this end of a song and capture its last few seconds, when the singer encourages the audience to sing along. Shoot the leader singer under a 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).
5. Don’t forget the atmosphere shots: some of the best pictures I took at concerts weren’t pictures of the band, but rather pictures of the audience. For instance, I love this shot of the couple wearing the devils horns at the ACDC concert. Similarly, I’m proud of this picture of the passionate crowd at the same venue. I took this one at the Manu Chao concert in Ottawa a few years ago, waiting for the show to start. And this picture reminds me of how bad the weather was at the Radiohead concert in Montreal, where we stood in the mud for hours. And don’t forget to take a couple of overview shots, it show how big the venue is.