Concert photography is both fun and lucrative to produce. Not only do you get to spend an evening with a favorite band, singer, or ensemble, you will find that newspapers, websites, and even the artists themselves are willing to pay handsome rates for original and interesting photographs that capture the spirit of the event. However, there are a few tips that you will need to follow in order to get the photographs that you seek.
Hopefully you have been to this venue before and know the best vantage points, how the lighting is, and what kind of space you will have. Some venues are okay with photography, while others don’t allow it. Still others require a special pass, which is generally easy to get ahead of time. You may be given special photographer’s rights, or you may be giving crippling restrictions, but either way you need to know ahead of time what you’ll need to do and what you’ll be allowed to do.
You should also research the band in question. Some bands really dislike being photographed or are distracted by flash. You won’t get good shots if you don’t respect your subject. Also, look at other shots of the band, preferably recent ones or ones from the same tour you are shooting. This will give you an idea of what types of lighting and special effects to expect.
There are few places with as many variations as a concert hall. You will deal with extremely bright lighting, dim lighting, and every variation in between. Sometimes things may be relatively still; at other times the action will be a blur even to the naked eye. Bring fast lenses to augment your normal range, and even a tripod if you think you’ll be able to use it. However, try to pack light enough to fit all of your extras in a small backpack. There is limited space, and you may see anything left in a large bag get ruined or even stolen.
Adjust settings ahead of time.
If you can get into the venue a little early, you will find it easy to adjust your settings for the unique lighting conditions of the evening. Otherwise, you will have to make guesses and quickly correct for any mistakes later. Due to the fast lenses, you’ll need to set the ISO high. Think ahead about these issues; they’ll allow you to spend your time at the concert looking for that next great shot. However, you may want to keep your camera in manual mode during the event, as some rock concerts involve fast movement and constant lighting changes.
Look for clues.
As soon as you enter the venue, you should begin looking for clues as to how the night will go. What is the lighting like? How bright is the background? Are there smoke blowers or equipment for pyrotechnic effects? Knowing these details will allow you to plan ahead and position yourself to capture those mind-blowing moments.
Don’t be shy.
Concerts involve crazed fans, people under the influence, and just about every brand of crazy that you can imagine. If you want to get around or in front of these people, you’ll need to simply do it. Unless you are planning to take pictures of the back of someone’s head, and from the precise same angle every time, a little pushing forward might be involved. Just be matter of fact, apologize constantly, and keep our next tip in mind…
But don’t be a jerk either.
People pay good money and often spend months looking forward to seeing their favorite artists live. Respect this. While you may need to get up in front of someone for a few seconds, you should try hard not to block the view for long or to detract from the entire experience. If you keep moving, you’ll get a variety of shots and angles without ruining the night for anyone.
Mind the spotlights.
Lights can be your best friend or your worst enemy. They can provide interest effects or turn great shots into pieces of junk. Notice lighting trends—do the lights increase during the chorus? During high moments? During up-tempo numbers? This will allow you to plan for the lighting and avoid ruining otherwise great photos. Keep in mind that lighting tends to be cyclical—what it does during the first chorus is identical to what it does during the second—and that bands often save time by reusing certain lighting effects in similar songs.
Keep processing to a minimum.
Concerts are interesting in themselves, with colored lights, high contrast, and special effects galore. While your shots may need corrections and a little noise reduction, they shouldn’t require much more. Coloring should be limited to an occasional black and white or sepia print. Try to capture the spirit of the night, not invent a storyline. You’ll probably have a little noise due to the settings, so you’ll have plenty to work on, anyway.
You may have heard this from your parents, and they weren’t wrong (that time at least). If a venue or band asks nicely for a copy of one of your shots, give it to them with the caveat that you get credit. Believe me, this will do more for your career and your income than a single sale would. Many bands are operating on small budgets and can’t afford to pay a photographer, but it can be great exposure.
Enjoy the ride.
If concerts weren’t so fun, so many people wouldn’t pay to attend them. Enjoy yourself, enjoy the evening, and be part of the crowd of screaming fans. Get to know the music and really experience the show. You’ll have better luck capturing the feeling of the night if you are actually a part of it, and you’ll have more fun as well. Rock concerts are one of the most challenging but most rewarding photographic opportunities, so don’t be afraid to enjoy the ride!