Whether you're in the crowd or have a backstage pass, taking great concert photos can be tricky. The lighting is interesting but can often be dark. The action is quick. If you don't have the right equipment and use the right settings, your entire session will be a blur – literally.
These basic tips will help you take better photos at concerts whether you're out in the crowd or shooting backstage.
Dealing with the Low Light Conditions
The biggest challenge when taking concert photos is working with the venue's low light conditions. Have you ever been to a concert where the entire venue is lit up? Neither have I.
But you can make the lighting work for you.
Use Aperture Priority Mode
If you're just getting started with photography, shooting in Aperture Priority will save you stress and frustration. Simply set your desired aperture, and the camera will choose the appropriate shutter speed for you.
Bigger apertures (smaller aperture numbers) are best for low light situations like what you'll find at concerts. Use the lowest aperture number your lens offers – f1.8 or f2.8 is ideal.
Larger apertures allow more light to enter the camera's sensor, and you'll need all the light you can get when shooting at a concert.
If you're shooting backstage, a larger aperture (lower aperture number) is still ideal because it will allow you to focus in on the subject while blurring the background. The lighting will likely be better backstage, so use that to your advantage. If you get a chance to shoot the stage before the show starts, you can use a big aperture number to bring the entire venue into focus.
Boost the Shutter Speed
Some artists are animated on stage. Movement is difficult enough to capture in bright light, but it becomes even more challenging when shooting in low light conditions.
A faster shutter speed will allow you to capture the moment clearly. A shutter speed of 1/200sec or faster is ideal for concert settings. Slow shutter speeds will leave you with blurry photos if there's a lot of action on stage.
If you're backstage, you don't necessarily need to use a quicker shutter speed. You can probably get away with shooting at 1/60 if the band is posing for photos. You may need to boost the shutter speed if you're taking candid shots and everyone is moving around. But generally, you can go with a lower speed if you're backstage.
Work with Higher ISO Values
If you're taking photos from the crowd, you'll want to use higher ISO values. ISO refers to the sensitivity of your camera's sensor.
Finding the right ISO setting can be a challenge. Higher values allow you to capture more detail, but they also introduce more noise into the photo.
Start out with an ISO setting of 1600. Take a photo and check it on the LCD monitor. If the photo came out blurry, that means the shutter speed is still too slow. Keep adjusting until you get the right balance.
If you can, boost the ISO to 3200. Again, keep in mind that this high of a setting may introduce too much noise, so you may need to lower the value.
Keep the ISO setting as low as possible, but as high as necessary.
When shooting backstage or behind the scenes, keep these points about ISO in mind. If the lighting is low, go with a higher value – but take care not to go so high that you have a lot of noise in the photo. ISO shouldn't be as much of an issue here, so you can likely get away with setting the ISO to 800.
Use Spot Metering to Your Advantage
This particular tip is really more suited for shots of the stage while the artist is performing. It's not uncommon for artists to be lit up by spotlights and for the rest of the stage to be completely dark. Spot metering can help prevent overexposed shots.
When in this mode, make sure that the artist's face is in the center of the viewfinder. This will ensure that you get the right exposure for the shot.
If you have the camera set on evaluative metering, the camera will take a reading of the light at several points in the scene, which means you'll likely wind up with washed out faces and dark backgrounds.
Spot metering can also be advantageous when shooting backstage, but generally, you can stick with evaluative metering, especially if the lighting is halfway decent.
Shooting concert photos can be a challenge, but they're also one of the most fun events to photograph. The lighting is interesting and the effects on stage can make for some truly amazing photos. A higher ISO, higher aperture and quick shutter speed will help you take the best possible photos. And don't forget to use spot metering to prevent overexposure of the faces on stage.