Concert photography is a unique and exhilarating genre that allows us to freeze in time the raw energy, emotion, and magic that unfold on stage. It presents an incredible opportunity to blend our love for music with our passion for photography, enabling us to create captivating images that transport viewers into the heart of the performance.
The most challenging concert I ever photographed was on the side stage of Mayhem Festival in southern California. It was almost pitch black with no lighting, so I had to shoot at a very high ISO (12,500) and low shutter speed (1/60 to 1/100). Despite the challenge, I still managed to capture the story and share it with people.
When shooting concerts with limited space or a performer who doesn't move much, focus on capturing the in-between moments of emotion and take off your backpack as part of good pit etiquette. Be aware of your surroundings and respect other photographers by not blocking them and not using live view.
To capture the energy and emotion of a live performance, put yourself in the position of a fan and try to capture what they would want to relive. Get close-up shots, behind-the-scenes shots, and shots that create an environment of the concert.
Research is key to capturing the perfect moment for concerts. Knowing the band members, their movements and positions beforehand will help you anticipate and be aware of what's happening on stage so that you can get the key moment to tell the story.
I tend to stay in a basic panel of Lightroom but I also use masking to get a 3D effect. I like to pull the Shadows or the black sound a bit and throw a little dehaze on the background so that the spotlights pop a little bit more and the subject stands out.
The venue plays an important role in the composition of concert photos as it can help to create an environmental portrait. Some venues, like the Hollywood Bowl, also require a photo release due to their iconic status. Photographers should strive to capture the venue to accentuate the story they are telling and the environmental image they are creating.
When shooting at a show, you can get close to the stage by going through the gatekeepers and gaining access to the photo pit. Here, you can take photos for three songs, but it is important to be respectful of both the performers and other attendees.
Relationships are key when trying to get a job as a house photographer working in a concert or Music Hall. Introduce yourself and make sure to get to know the people involved in the marketing or PR at the specific venue. Don't be afraid to reach out with a cold email and charge a reasonable rate that is appropriate for the work you will be doing.
Respect is key when shooting concerts with multiple photographers. Everyone in the photo pit has just as much right to be there, so make sure you respect each other and take turns capturing photos.
To anticipate and capture peak moments at a concert, wear custom molded earplugs so you can hear the rhythm and patterns of the music, lights, and movements. Additionally, research the band you're photographing to better understand their sound and movements.
To handle low light situations at concerts, crank the ISO and adjust your shutter speed accordingly to get the desired shot. Ignore any noise caused by cranking the ISO as a sharp, noisy shot is better than a blurry one.
When deciding on compositions for concert photos, it is best to learn and understand the traditional rules of composition, such as the rule of thirds and Fibonacci spiral, as well as using extremes (tight and loose) with white space. Pick the techniques that work best for the genre or subject you are photographing, and rely on these tried and true methods.
Slow down and take your time to capture unique and creative shots at concerts. Think about the background, foreground, and mid-ground, and consider if the shot would look good printed large.
As a music photographer, it is important to take on whatever the gig requires. It can be beneficial to not be a fan of the band you are shooting, as this can help you create more artistic photographs. An example of this is when the photographer was not a fan of Cage the Elephant but ended up taking some amazing photos of their live performance.
When working with multiple artists at a music festival, you would not be working for them but instead capturing them. You may do this to give press coverage or to satisfy fans of certain bands. Knowing the schedule and getting to the stages is key.
When preparing for a concert shoot, make sure to charge your batteries and erase your memory cards. Research the artist and their tour so you know what to expect. Bring two cameras with an RF 15-35, 24-70 or 70-200 lens, and sometimes a Sigma 150-600 if you're shooting from far away. You can also bring a camera flash if needed.
When it comes to concert photography, don't give up and be prepared to shoot at higher ISO settings to capture the best shots. Noise is inevitable but can be minimized by throwing away data when reducing images. Lastly, use motion blur for creative effects.
To deal with distractions and interruptions during a concert shoot, I wear custom molded earplugs to protect me from the loud noise and to block out some of the ambient distraction. I also focus on what I'm doing since I usually only have three songs to shoot. Finally, Security will likely shove me out of the way on occasion, so I need to be prepared for that.
Balancing time and gear management is key when capturing an artist along with the overall atmosphere of a concert. When I'm only allowed three songs to photograph, I have my 15-35mm lens on my left hip for those spur-of-the-moment shots and the 24-70mm or 70-200mm lens on my right hip. I also use props, wider lenses and smoke to tell the story of the band and audience.
Shooting concerts can be challenging due to limited time frames, positional challenges, stage clutter, and the need to quickly understand what you're shooting. To overcome these challenges, it is important to be prepared with the right gear and be able to capture a wide shot of the scene as well as a tighter shot of the performer.
My favorite lens to photograph concerts is the 24-70mm 2.8 RF Mount. It is a versatile lens and it is part of my "Trinity" that I carry to all concerts, alongside the 15-35mm 2.8 and the 70-200mm 2.8. I also carry the Sigma 150-600mm variable aperture lens for more reach and the Sigma 15mm fisheye lens.
The most difficult concert venues I've shot in are the LA Memorial Coliseum for Roger Waters's the Wall tour and San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino. In both cases, the geometry of the stage and the crowd made it difficult to get a good angle and shot. To work around this, I moved to the sides and adjusted my angles accordingly.
Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience was the first band I photographed in 2010 at the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside, California. The first well-known International bands or show that I shot was Heart and Def Leppard in either 2010 or 2011 at the Universal Amphitheater in LA.