Corey Talks: Concert Photography

While this is not remotely wedding related, it’s still photography related so I hope you guys let this one slide! I’ve been getting more and more emails every week from girls that find my NKOTB concert pics from Google wanting to know how I get shots so clear or wanting to know how to get a press pass. While I LOVE getting emails, I figured this would be an easy way to help people out with a tip they can use and would save me some typing time since I know once summer hits I will be a busy bee with all of my weddings! Please note this is not the only way to do things, it’s just things that I have found that worked for ME.

These are all tips for people using point and shoot cameras, not SLRs as unless you have a press pass, you will be hard pressed to get a SLR in and use it at a show. It DOES happen, but unless you are willing to get thrown out for using one, I don’t recommend trying to get one in.

Concert Photography Tips

1. Turn the flash off! I know, common sense tells you that a dark concert arena automatically means that you are going to need to turn on your flash. However, most of the time the flash actually causes more problems than you are getting rid of by using the flash. If you are further away from the stage, your flash is going to not reach the stage but actually light up the people around you instead. This results in blurred people on stage, people bright and in focus in front of you and often you may not be able to see the people on stage at all due the the bright foreground. If you are closer to the stage, if there are any “fog” machines or anything of the like, your flash is going to reflect off those particles in the air rather than the people beyond the fog that you want your camera to see. The end result is a hazed look to your images, and often blurred subjects because the camera focused on the haze and not the person.

2. Settings? I have settings? Get to know your camera before hitting a concert. Don’t buy one because it’s the “best” and take it to a show and assume because you paid a mint for it you are going to get good shots. You need to know what your camera does and how you need to set it up for a concert. Some cameras just have auto, some have a few other settings such as Program, Av (or A), Tv (or S) and M. Then some also have “scene” settings which are predetermined functions that are designed for certain situations. Some typical scene shots are Sun, Sports, Macro, Landscape, Twilight, Twilight Portrait and so forth. Get the book out and read up on your settings and what each one is for. Not all cameras have all options so just because I may say do this setting doesn’t mean you will have it.

3. OK I know my settings, what do I USE? Personally for me, I tend to stick with program (*gasp* yes, I’m a photographer that told people I let the camera think for me!). I have a touch screen that is basically impossible to mess with while taking pictures. If this were a portrait session I would change the settings but for a concert which is fast moving, there is no time to constantly go through menus to do manual settings. My top choice (when manual isn’t easy to manipulate) if I had the choice for my camera (and I do not) would be Av or Aperature Mode. The smaller the number, the more light that gets in and exposes your image. Take that down to the smallest number and let the camera choose your shutter speed. Or you can choose Tv or Shutter Mode which stops the action. Test the settings out on the opening act and see which works best for you and what numbers are your sweet spot. From the scene modes, I would choose sports first, then twilight. Most twilight portraits are going to use a slow sync or regular flash which isn’t going to help when it comes to concerts – or at least for me it hasn’t.

4. Pump up the ISO! The first thing I do for the concerts is pump up the ISO. ISO means film speed or in generic terms how fast the processing of light is on an image. The higher the ISO, the faster the light is written to the film (or disc) but the higher the number also equals more grain in the image due to the speed and not taking longer to get a better image. This isn’t exact but it will give the non-photographer somewhat of an idea of what that setting is. Each camera has a different max ISO and usually a different ISO where the grain/noise of the image becomes obtrusive. My camera goes up to 1600 but 800 is the highest it can go and still have tolerable grain. When you use the higher ISOs at a concert, it gives you a better chance of getting a clear imager rather than a blurry one. If it’s a tad dark you can always lighten it via photoshop but it’s pretty much impossible to sharpen up a blurred image. Keep that in mind when shooting!

5. Steady as she goes. The more stable you are, the better your chances are for getting a clear shot. Since it’s pretty much impossible to get a tripod into an arena for a show, you have to get creative to steady your camera. Use the back of the chair in front of you or what I do is hold my arm close to my body to make myself into somewhat of a tripod.

6. Go High! Don’t be afraid to hold your camera above your head to eliminate the people in front of you. The less things between you and your subject, the more chance of getting them in focus. When heads and stray hairs get “seen” by the camera, often your camera will decide that is your subject and choose it instead. Eliminate that and you’ll have more in focus shots.

7. Block the light or use it! One thing I kept hearing at the concert were people upset that the lights were making their pictures essentially turn into a white ball of nothing. Sometimes just a small shift to your left or right will make someone’s head or an item on the stage block the light from hitting your lens directly and allow your camera to see the subject. Another option when nothing will work is to move the camera until the light is just off to the top and create flare. I love flare as an artistic tool and use this often even with my SLR. I got a lot of shots in Columbus with flare because it was pretty darn bright down in the second row!

8. Zooming! Each camera is different in its zoom. Keep in mind that when your camera has __x optical that is what the camera actually physically ZOOMS while _x digital is actually just an in camera digital crop on the optical zoomed shot. The closer you zoom in, the steadier you have to be to get the shot. So turn off the digital zoom on your camera and only use the optical. If there is an image you want that’s closer, crop later with your editing software. The quality will be the same and the chances of the image being in focus multiply tenfold.

9. Anti Shakey Thing. If you have an option for image stabilization or as Sony calls it, the “anti shakey thingie” you DO want this on! It may take a second to activate when the image is in focus (when the button is pressed half way down) it will work if you give it a chance to. Remember that it’s not always instantaneous so you may need to give it a second to stabilize!

10. Have FUN! Above all else, have fun. Don’t get so caught up in taking pictures that you miss the show. It’s rare that your image will be the next Time cover so make sure to have photography come second to your enjoyment of the concert. It’s no fun to go to a show if you don’t raise your hands in the air and wave them around like you just don’t care once or twice!!! If something awesome happens and you miss the shot, there are many THOUSANDS of people that probably got the shot and a quick search on Google or Flickr is sure to turn that moment up if you need it on film. Especially in the front rows, it’s not often people get floor seats that close for shows. ENJOY IT! Don’t see the view from behind a camera the whole show! You may miss the best moments that only come with being that close – having the band actually see you and wave and so forth. Is that worth missing for a great shot?

Finally, press passes. I don’t get them. I honestly wouldn’t want one because I wouldn’t want it to be too much like work. Even if I wanted one, they typically are not an easy thing to get and comes down to being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people. You also usually have to be a professional with credentials stating you are a professional. You rarely can get one just being a fan with a bigger camera. #10 goes out the window if you are there to work as part of the press. 🙂 I learned after the Today Show concert in NYC that having a big camera is fun, but a liability and after my nose got broken from it (yes, my nose got broke TWICE last year while using my camera) I decided it’d have to be a low impact type setting for me to try for a press pass (i.e. a red carpet function etc). I encourage anyone that wants one to try it, but I’m not much help in that area!

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  • JeannieApril 11, 2009 - 9:20 AM

    Thanks for the tips. I’m going see Blue October in a week and I’ll use my daughter’s point-n-shoot with the tips you gave me.ReplyCancel