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Introphoto concertfotografie

Tips for concertphotography


Photographing concerts is one of the most challenging forms of photography. It contains almost everything; it's technical challenging because the light often changes and most of the time there is not enough light. From a creative point it's challenging because it's not easy to transfer music to a visual something. It's not the easiest form of photography.


This article does not only take you through the technical aspects of photographing concert, but I also give some handy pointers you can use to make a versatile serie from a concert.

Index

Equipment
Settings
Light
Position


First thing you can assume; you can't control a thing except two things. You have control over your camera and mayby the place where you can stand. That's it. You don't control the artist, you don't control the lights. You have to depend on your own skills and that's what can make it tricky.

And that's why it can be so difficult to take a good photo at a concert. It's not easy and could take some time to get a hold of it. It's a matter of practice and practice. Keep doing it and be persistent.

Equipment

Your camera and lenses are the most important pieces in your toolkit. You have to translate the show that's happening on stage to a photo. Of course you use your own eyes but it's your camera and lenses that needs to translate everything to a digital image.

A camera that handles high iso-values is a must. Light at concerts can be beautiful but most of the time it's way to dark. Using iso 100 or 200 is a dream; it's not going to happen. Iso 1600, 3200 or even higher is more realistic. Don't be afraid to use them.

Modern camera's like the Canon 5D mk IV and the Nikon D850 are performing well in the higher iso-range. You probably are still able to tell a photo is created at a high iso. Don't bother to much. If it's really awful you can use some post-processing to reduce the amount of noise. And if it is beyond saving; convert to black and white and call it style.

High iso-performance is your main specification when looking for a camera. All the other stuff isn't that important. A higher burstrate might make it easier but it's not a necessaty. I don't even use burst when shooting concerts; it keeps me more focussed on what's happening because I don't rely on the burst to capture the moment but on my own skills.

Most of the times the light at concerts is relative dark. Lenses are important. You probably have to look for fast lenses. Yes, the expensive ones with the wide apertures. But they have two main advantages:

On one side a fast lens has the benefit it puts a lot of light through the camera to the viewer. As long as you don't press the shutter, the aperture will remain open. That way you get the most light to the viewfinder. A lens that uses f/2.8 putts more light through than a lens at f/5.6. There is a difference of two stops. Makes it easier for the camera to focus but also for you to see whats happening.

And with a fast lens you can obtain good values. For example, when you shoot with a lens and use aperture f/2.8 and you use a shutter speed of 1/250. If you start calculating than you'll see that when you use an aperture of f/5.6 you have to use a shutterspeed of 1/60. I'll bet you that a jumping guitar player doesn't look sharp.

Fast lenses, wide apertures. F/2.8 is the bare minimum. Faster is always better. Prefer f/1.8 over f/2.8. f/1.2 is even better.

The major disadvantage is it will hurt your wallet. A Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 with IS will sett you back a whopping 2000 dollars/pounds/euro's. Quite a lot of money. It's a versatile and good lens but comes at a cost. More in a budget-range are zoomlenses from Tamron or Sigma. They also offer a 70-200 with aperture f/2.8 and are far more cheaper.

If that's still to much for you there is also a cheaper option; a fixed focal lens. Yes, they can cost thousands and thousands of dollars/pounds/euro's. But then you talk about the long focalpoints. The top of the line-lenses. But when you look at the lenses that are a bit less, prices drop quite fast. Canon has a 50mm f/1.2 in the line-up. It's very expensive. But they also have a 50mm f/1.4 and a f/1.8. The one with an aperture of f/1.4 is still a few hundred bucks but a 50mm f/1.8 is most of the times a bit over 100 dollar/pounds/euro's. Most of the times one of the cheapest lenses in the range.

Yes, the lenses you can zoom with are most of the time easier to work with. The singer can run from left to right on the stage and if you have a zoom-lens it's easier.

Settings

The settings you use depends on the way you are used to work. One photographer can do it this way and another photographer does it that way. It's the way you work, doesn't mean it has to be the same way I work. I would rely on the M-settings (Manual) on my camera. And I would choose to compensate on the spot.

The settings for shutterspeed-priority or aperture-priority are not my first choices to use for concertphotography.
Using the manual settings might be more work at a concert but it prevents that my camera chooses values that are completely wrong because there is some harsh light in the background that shines into my camera.

Lights at a concert change all the time. It can make it hard for a camera to do what you see.

But how do you choose your shutterspeed, aperture and iso when you're standing in front of a podium? It's a bit of fidling around. The first photo might be too dark or too bright. Don't worry. Just alter your settings. To start off, aperture is a good choice. Try to go as wide as possible. If you have a zoomlens it's probably f/2.8. With a fixed focalpoint probably larger. Sometimes it's more wise to pinch in your aperture a little bit. If you have a lens that's capable of shooting at f/1.8 it might be performing better (sharper) at f/2.8.

An example of concertphotography

After aperture you still have two values to decide; shutterspeed and iso. First shutterspeed.
With the shutterspeed you control the movement of your subject. A shutterspeed that freezes the artist is most of the time preferred. This starts around 1/60 of a second. Are you using relative long focalpoints (i.e. 200mm) you want to use faster shutterspeeds.

And your last choice should be iso. You want to keep it as low as you can but that's not always possible. Taking photos at concerts will mean you're going to take photos at dark places. Don't be afraid to values like iso 1600 or higher.

The photo shown here was taken with a Nikon D810 and a AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. Shutterspeed was 1/125, aperture f/3.2 and iso 3200.
The photo was taken from a place in the middle of the crowd. Just raised the camera above my head and used live-view to make a composition. In a small venue in my hometown.

Light

It is photography, it is still an image. Even when you're photographing music, you rely on the lights. It's a bit difficult to capture the notes on your sensor. How the artist looks and how he or she behaves is no problem. But you are the one that has to translate the ambiance of the concert to a kick-ass image.

An example of good light during concertphotography

Try to make photos where the light can contribute something to the image. The bigger concerts or festivals often have their own people who control the lights during the show. They often provide a complete team to build up everything, sometimes days in advance. The light itself is a show on it's own. Not showing this in your photos is a waste of their effort. But also from yours. Use it when it's there.

You can't hear the sound in your photos. You have to be creative to overwhelm your viewer.
I always try to look for a little bit (or a lot) of color in the background. When I found it, I try to use it.

On the photo as shown an artist in full lights. It was taken with a Canon 5D mk II and a EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS ISM. Shutterspeed 1/250, aperture f/2.8 and iso 2000. The spotlights made sure that the artist (In this case Mike Peters from The Alarm) was bathing in the light. It was the factor that sets the mood in this photo. The blue spot in the back put him aside from the purple/red lights.

Just something else to remind you of; don't use your flash. It's annoying for the guys and girls on stage. And besides that, you'll probably waste your mood created by the light on stage. It probably doesn't make your photos better. Sometimes it's even not allowed, especially on the bigger gigs.

Position

Where do you stand during a concert? To start; everything from the same place is boring. Try to differ with positions. It's not always easy because it can be crowded but just try. Think if you want to put all your effort in the best place if it takes a lot of time to get there. Sometimes you have to wait a few minutes to get to a good place. Sometime hours. In the first case it's worth your effort. In the second probably not.

When you got credentials as a photographer, I'll tell you more later, you often have more possibilities compared to when you have to stand in the crowd. When you have to take your photos from the crowd and you are not in front before the first song, it can be a pain in the @#$ to get up there. When there is a very big crowd (I also did shows with 20 people in the audience) you can forget it. Don't try to. It takes up a lot of value time you could spend on taking actual photos. Use a zoomlens if you have one. You'll need a bigger focalpoint for nice close-ups from the back.

With credentials you are often allowed to photograph a few songs in front of the stage or some other designated place. You have a certain amount of space to move freely for your photos. Often it's for a limited amount of songs, most of the time three. So you have to work hard to hurry up and look for the best shots.

Example of close-up and wide angle at concertphotography

When you use a wider focal point you can show more overview and with a tighter focal point more close up. Up here two example, both photographed straight in front of the stage. It's the threesome Crosby, Stills and Nash. All three are not the youngest anymore so don't blame them if the don't run around the stage. When yo have a larger stage, like this, they will stand a bit apart from each other. Can you see how important other stuff like the lights become in your photo?

After a while, during a solo for example, they will walk to each other. You have to be ready when that happens. It might be your only opportunity to catch the moment. A second camera could be very convenient. If you can afford it of course. It saves time to change your lens and gives you the change to react quick. Something like small during a solo could take up 30 seconds but can also be gone in 5.

For the statistics, both photos wit a Canon 5D mk II. On the left a 17-40 f/4.0L USM, shutterspeed 1/60, aperture f/4.0 and iso 800. The one on the right with an EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS USM and a shutterspeed of 1/125, aperture f/2.8 and iso 800.

I'm lucky that I'm often in front of the stage. On the other side; I'm there to work. Of course I like music but I'm there to do my job. Often it's a few songs and then I'm gone because I have to be somewhere else or I'm fighting a deadline. Most of the time I don't have time to just stand back and listen to the music. I often can't recall which numbers they played because I'm to concentrated on making photos.

When you're not able to stand in front of the stage, don't bother. The smaller venues often don't require any credentials and you can just take your camera with you. No, you won't see big artists. But does it matter?
A photo is a photo and a guitarist is a guitarist. A great photo of an unknown guitarist is better than a shitty photo of a great guitarist.

The next photos show some examples of concertphotography

An example of concertphotography

Dutch Sharon Kovacs is known for her fur coat she wears during concerts. Also the low lights. It suits her performance. Doesn't make it easier to take photos. Lots of light from behind and sometimes even straight in the camera. You have to be patient and wait for the right moment to push the button.

Camera: Canon 5D mk II - lens: EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS USM
shutterspeed: 1/200 - aperture: f/3.2 - iso: 1600


An example of concertphotography

With big names like ZZ-top it's not easy to do something wrong. These kind of artists know that the audience is there not only for the music but they also want to see a show. Every once in a while the guys come together to take a pose for the photographers.
The lights in the back add a bit more glamour and glitter, more than their flower-suits

Camera: Canon 5D mk II - lens: EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS USM
shutterspeed: 1/250 - aperture: f/4.0 - iso: 800


An example of concertphotography

It's not always necessary to have a photo that's straight. Sometimes a tilted horizon can be better. Ruben Block from the Belgium group Triggerfinger is everything but standing straight. By turning the camera it looks like he is standing straight. But when you look to the background or the mic-stand it shows it's tilted.

Camera: Canon 5D mk II - lens: EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS USM
shutterspeed: 1/250 - aperture: f/4.0 - iso: 400









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