GIG/CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BEGINNERS

If you have been wanting to give gig/concert photography a try, here are some pointers of how to get yourself started and some good advice. You can be great at gig shots but totally pants at other photography, don’t let yourself be put off if you are not good at Landscapes like me.

First thing, if you aren’t fully familiar with what does what on a DSLR you will need to watch the following video. Knowing what the ISO is, the depth of field with Apertures and Shutter Speeds is essential for not being disappointed when you take your pics.

I started shooting live gigs about 10 years ago and everything I have learned is from observing and asking other photographer’s at concerts. I don’t make a living from this, it is pure enjoyment. These are just some of the tips I would recommend for a beginner.


PART 1 – CAMERA GEAR

DSLR’s nowadays are very inexpensive used and not too bad new. The most inexpensive set up I can think of is a DSLR with a cheap 50mm 1.8 lens.

I use Canon equipment and a cheap Canon 50mm lens can be as little as £100 new, try not to be drawn into cheap Chinese 50mm lenses because they are a bit poo.

or a 50mm made by Nikon or Sony etc, whatever is compatible with your camera

When purchasing a DSLR for shooting gigs, you need to factor in that you are gonna need a camera that has good, usable images at a high ISO. I would recommend a camera that has good images at 6400 ISO and below and at least 20 megapixel resolution or there abouts. I started with a Canon 550d in about 2012 which would be very inexpensive now used, eventually I purchased a Canon 50mm 1.8 and I used this set up for about 3 years until I upgraded. The combination of high resolution and a fast lens make it possible to get good pics in even poorly lit venues.

https://www.mpb.com/en-uk/used-equipment/used-photo-and-video/

If you are in the UK, the above is the least expensive place ever!!!

Taken at Manchester Club Academy with Canon 550d/50mm 1.8
Taken at Manchester Arena with Canon 550d/50mm 1.8
Taken at Manchester Arena with Canon 550d/50mm 1.8

As you get more used to your set up, start thinking of getting more lenses.

Nowadays I have a 5ds, 6d with 50mm 1.4, 70-200 f4 l, 24-105 f4 l and a fish eye lens.

A good zoom I bought for Festivals, the fish eye for cramped metal gigs, the 50mm for badly lit dives.


PART 2 – VENUES

Where I live the nearest decent venues are in Manchester. From the Arena down to small pubs with a stage. Usually the smaller the venue, the worse the lighting ( not always ). If you are a total beginner and don’t know any bands then if you want to get practice with no pressure if you fail, look for small venues with either Tribute Acts on or a line up of unsigned bands.

Taken at Festwich – Tribute Bands Festival
Taken at Festwich – Tribute Bands Festival
Taken at Festwich – Tribute Bands Festival

The pics above take at a Tribute Festival, bands that lap up the attention from the fans and photographers……. a great way to get a style and technique going.

Many venues don’t have a photopit and you have to be considerate to the crowd. If you start angering the crowd, best to back off. A trick I picked up a few years ago is to BRIBE someone at the front before it gets too busy, offer them a free print of the gig or beer to let you go to front for a couple of songs, usually works. Both parties happy 😊

If it is a lively crowd, be very careful as moshpits can be very dangerous if you don’t know they are forming.


PART 3 – GETTING PASSES AND PERMISSIONS

In the early days when I wanted a photopass for a band I’d try lots of different ways. Firstly, try and contact them on Facebook, it can be very productive, I got passes for Clutch, Simple Minds and Deacon Blue through Facebook. I messaged and asked if it would be possible to shoot them at a certain gig, mentioned I was learning gig photography and left a link to my past work ( that is where the practice with tributes at local venues comes in handy, you can show them what you are capable of )

Other ways are when you get a bit of an online portfolio together, contact websites who shoot/review gigs and ask if you could be a contributer. Don’t expect to be paid as most online Music blogs/sites are non profit. These are a good way to possibly shooting Festivals.

Otherwise you can open your own Blog/Website and do it yourself, the bigger you become, the more likely Photopasses will be handed out from Press Contacts.

You will get a lot of unanswered emails


PART 4 – PHOTOPIT ETIQUETTE

If you get a Photopass, there is etiquette to follow or you will become very unpopular, very fast.

DO’S

Show respect for the other Photographer’s around you, don’t just step in front of them and start taking pics.

Move around to different parts of the stage, nothing more annoying than someone stood in a prime spot for the whole 3 songs, taking just a couple of pics.

Follow the rules of the venue/band manager because you can quickly find yourself being thrown out of the pit and even the venue.

Keep your attention on the situation around you. At most venues you are in the domain of the front of house security. You can find crowd surfers coming at you from all directions, beer hitting you and also people being dragged from the crowd who needs medical attention. I have been kicked in the head a few times, hence why I chew my leg now and then.

DONT’S

Remember that the concert is about the fans and the artists. If you are annoying fans by constantly blocking their view, they will let you know in a very pissed off way, if you are interfering with the musicians performance, that will likely get you kicked from the pit.

Take food or drink into the pit, you are only in there for a short time.

Go into the pit pissed, as soon as you raise your camera to your face, your balance will go. The pit is a workplace, if you are drunk, all kinds of accidents can happen.

Wear your Backpack while you are in the Photopit for obvious reasons.

Most venues are strictly no flash. If you want to use flash I suggest to get it ok’d with the band and the venue.

Don’t overstay your time in the pit if security usher you out after your allotted songs. I’ve seen people thrown out of a venue for it and never allowed in again. The security for pit has final word, always.


PART 5 – TECHNIQUES

Now to actually taking pics. Shooting gigs is a totally different style than Wedding Pics, Landscapes etc. You aren’t in control of what’s in front of you and it will never be static unless you are shooting Lewis Capaldi.

Different styles of music require a slightly different approach in what to expect when they come on stage.

If you have a solo singer who is at a static microphone you can usually expect to use a low shutter speed, down to maybe 1/80th of a second at times, this allows you to either reduce your ISO rating to get less noise on your photo or close the aperture down to increase depth of field. For low shutter speeds you really need a steady hand and a short burst of shots ( my camera has slow continuous so it usually shoots maybe 3 shots a second ) so if your not quite steady on first pic, you probably are on following shots. Usually you will be lower down than the singer so you will have to alter your focusing point on the camera so it is on the face, different places if shooting portrait and landscape, very rarely in the centre.

Shooting continous in RAW can cause your camera to start buffering. This means that the files can’t write to your SD card fast enough and won’t take pics until it has caught up.

The problem with this is, if a wild albino gorilla runs on stage and mounts the drummer, you will miss the shot because your camera is buffering. So the solution is to buy a fast SD card. Make sure the WRITE speed is at least 50mb/s.

Focus Points
LEARN NOW!!!!!!!
This pic of Rick Astley was taken with focus point on camera over his face

If you need to look up how to change focusing point on your camera, Google it. Also notice how is guitar is pointing to the top corner, this gives the image balance.

Try different angles, but don’t forget to adjust your focusing point or just focus then reframe slightly.
Maybe even shots from the side.

Metal, Rap, Dance and Rock can be totally different. There is a lot of movement, moody lights and usually the stage can be pretty frantic.

Now is the time to crank up the ISO to your advantage because you need fast shutter speeds here to capture the action. Unless you are at a Festival in the day or a large arena with bright lighting.

To get the hair thing, you are going to have to go to 1/250 plus unless blur is your thing.

With Musicians moving all the time this can create problems with focusing, add to that the flashing lights and smoke. The extra noise that will be in your picture because you have upped your ISO is always worth it.

Remember, Crank your ISO up, fast shutter speeds and the fastest aperture you have on lens.

There are zillions of positions and angles you can shoot your subject at, you just need to find your own style. Also if you see a style that somebody else uses and you like, try it and maybe it will help.

Get in close, they may want to play
Take a cheeky shot or two if you get back stage
Try and get some of the crowd
Try a few arty farty shots
Try and get a lot of stage in
Be creative with the lights

PART 6 – EDITING

Because I have to publish my pics ASAP on my website I edit my pics on my phone with Adobe Lightroom Mobile. I’ve actually had to upgrade my phone so that it can handle editing 70mb Raw files.

Lightroom

You can also download Photoshop Express if you want a free App that edits RAW files.

I might post something about how to clean and edit images some time soon….


PART 7 – TIPS

Diopter settings. If your eyesight is a bit blurry close up, DSLR’s have a Diopter setting for the viewfinder, turn the dial until the viewfinder is sharp. My eyes have deteriorated over the years so I set this before every gig.

Diopter Dial

ALWAYS shoot the support. Muse, BEHEMOTH, U2……….were all support bands at one time and they need the support.


Be prepared for your Photopass not being at the box office from time to time. Unless you can contact whoever was supposed to issue it and ask them for help, you are probably not getting in.


Check the seat plan prior to the gig if you are shooting at an arena etc. If it is seating only it is very likely you will be very far from the stage, probably the sound desk.

Seating Plan, usually on site selling tickets

ALWAYS shoot in RAW mode. If you over expose, under expose or need to edit light or dark areas in a photo, RAW files collect a lot of detail in areas you want to recover.

Underexposed
Edited from Jpeg. Losing detail in highlights
Edited from RAW file, keeping detail.

NEVER be afraid to fail. You can go to some gigs and come away with very little. If at first you are shooting just for pleasure and the shoot is a disaster, just have a look at what you think went wrong then try to sort it out the next time. There can be loads of reasons…..back-lit stage, iso too noisy, blurry, problems focusing, hard access to shoot pics……and on. Don’t worry about it. It happens and has happened to us all. The enjoyment on GIG photography way out weighs the stresses. Just enjoy yourself because it can be one of the biggest kicks you will ever have.


If you can at first, shoot lots of bands that really don’t interest you, you may find music you never knew you liked. Most Genres are so much better live. Please leave comments if there is anything that doesnt make sense…….


The most important face expression you will ever learn when some boring Twat starts going on about how great and connected they are 😉

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