by Tracy Ritter
This is the first picture I ever took at a concert (well, since my days of going to see New Kids on the Block when I was 16). I was about 7 or 8 heads back in this general admission crowd of 20,000+ people. I held my little point & shoot camera high above my head, trying to dodge hands, heads and other cameras, zoomed as far as I could, and prayed to come back with something decent. Then I bolted for the restroom as I was pregnant with my 4th child and missed over half the show.
This was the start of my love for this band called Daughtry, and my want/need to see them more and photograph them better. Over the next few years (and a few point & shoots later) I’ve gathered a lot in my “bag of tricks” for my hobby, concert photography.
First thing I learned? Always try and bring my DSLR!
It really made a huge difference in my concert photography. My gear includes a Canon 40d with my 50mm 1.4. Some (okay, lots) of venues/bands frown upon, or just straight up don’t allow, anything with a detachable lens at a concert. I decided I was going to give it a try at a few shows and take the “big” camera with me. So far, its worked for me and I haven’t come across too much trouble. I only use my 50mm. Its short, and doesn’t stand out like a zoom, so they will usually look past it. I did have one theater-type venue tell me I had to put it away (I was already in my seat and shooting with it) but the band’s security backed me and told venue security it was fine. So, until I get that coveted press pass I dream about having some day I will continue to try and “sneak” by with my DSLR.
A few good p&s cameras if you’re not wanting to lug the DSLR around all day and night, or the venue doesn’t allow them in are the Canon PowerShot G12, Canon PowerShot SX40 or Canon PowerShot SX20IS. The SX line is a little bigger for a p&s but definitely hold their own with manual settings and their capabilities.
Second thing: Get Close!
This next picture was my second show. Yep, pretty much ON the stage (and yes, I felt sweat dripping). If you are going to a General Admission show, get there early! I’m not against paying a little extra to get close for a seated show either. It’s worth it. Makes the show that much better AND your pictures!
Shoot RAW. Whether with a point & Shoot that allows for manual settings or DSLR, it allows for so much in editing. Lighting at a concert is constantly changing, and colorful, so pictures often need adjusting afterwards. RAW allows for that.
High ISO. Turn off the flash and bump that ISO! 1600 to 3200 (or as high as your camera allows you) is ideal. Venues are dark, lighting isn’t great. Shoot with high ISO and embrace the noise, or fix the noise in post if you just have to. Play around with a point & shoot to see what works best. Sometimes the sport settings are decent, some do well on ‘night’ settings. If you know your way around manual settings that is ideal. High ISO, wider aperture (I’m usually around 2.8), as fast as you can go on shutter speed and still maintain exposure. Watch for lighting changes that are bright.
Shoot a lot! Depending on the type of concert the performers are probably moving all over the place. By capturing lots of frames you are likely to catch some awesome moments on that stage. Shooting several frames also allows for the “error” shots to be tossed (motion blur, lighting changes, etc)
Know the show. Hop on YouTube and watch some videos of your favorite performers. Know their signature moves, when that awesome bass solo comes, or cool lighting opportunities. Know which songs they may move around a little less, they (performers) are easier to shoot when they are not moving.
FINAL TIP: Just put the camera down. Seems silly to mention this one, but also very fitting. Sometimes you need to just enjoy the show. Put the camera down and take in the music. This one is tough for me, but I’m getting better at it. There you have it. Just a few pointers on how to improve your concert photography. I really just apply a lot of my everyday camera/photography knowledge to my concert photography. The more I read and practiced for my portrait photography the better my concert photography got too.
Tracy Ritter, Minnesota
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Tracy Ritter is a mom to four wonderful children, wife of 15 years, and lover of all things coffee. She provides natural light portrait photography in the Twin Cities metro area. In her free time (what’s that when you’re a mom of four?) she loves music, and concert photography as a hobbyist. She also enjoys being a “Taxi Mom”, toting her children to all of their sporting events and watching them play/perform.