Tips for Concert Photography

With the summer concert season upon us, many photographers are turning their cameras towards musicians.  Chris and Todd Owyoung are brothers who love music and love photography. What started as a hobby of bringing their cameras to concerts led to successful career photographing musicians everywhere from private clubs to sold out arenas.

Here, Chris and Todd share their top five tips for getting started in concert photography.

Start Local

Many photographers think that there are all kinds of barriers to entry for live music photography, and if you’re talking about big shows, you’re right. But, the opposite is true when working with small venues and local bands. Smaller music venues often have few or no camera restrictions, so it’s possible to build a strong concert portfolio shooting at these clubs and dives – no photo passes required.

Shoot in RAW

Shooting in RAW will give you the most flexibility and the best image quality. With flash memory and harddrive space as inexpensive as it is, there’s no reason not to shoot RAW. If you must shoot JPG because you’re more comfortable with that format, at least shoot RAW + JPG so you’re covered on all fronts, now and in the future, for maximum quality.

Shoot in Manual Mode

If you’ve ever photographed a concert using aperture priority, shutter priority or even automatic, you probably came away with a lot of under or over-exposed images. This is because cameras, even the most expensive ones, can’t make sense of stage lighting. The key to creating consistent, repeatable results at concerts is to shoot in manual mode. Except for strobes and other very short duration lighting effects, most concert lighting doesn’t actually change that much in terms of overall brightness. Take a few shots to dial in your exposure and keep shooting. Only adjust your settings when you notice a big change in the brightness of the production as a whole.

Shoot Everything

Music photography isn’t only about what’s on stage. It’s about documenting and participating in a lifestyle that includes the bands, the fans, venues, equipment manufacturers, sponsors, record labels, press agents and much more. If you’re only shooting the show, chances are you’re missing out on a lot of great photos and very valuable clients.

Don’t Worry About Your Camera

So you have an entry level DSLR and a kit lens. That kit lens is probably horrible for concert photography but it’s totally fine for portraits and everything else (so don’t throw it away just yet).

Having the best lenses and cameras only makes the technical exercises of music photography easier; they don’t make you a better photographer, and they certainly won’t teach you composition. Save your money and shoot with what you’ve got until you’re absolutely certain that your equipment (not your skills) is what’s holding you back. If the worst thing someone can say is that your photos are a little noisy or have a little motion blur, take it as a compliment. It means you have perfect composition and the lighting looks great.

Think like a fan

Think of your favorite band. You probably know the first name of each musician, where they stand on stage, all of the hit songs and maybe even the setlist for the tour. All of this knowledge means you’ll naturally take better photos of your favorite artists than the ones you haven’t heard of. Whether you’re shooting concerts or portraits, if you want to get serious about photographing musicians, you need to think like a fan.  A little research before the shoot can make a huge difference in your photography so think like a fan even if you aren’t one.

Wear Earplugs

If you’re shooting shows, you need to wear earplugs. Chris and Todd recommend Hearos Extreme Protection earplugs to start out – they’re cheap, comfortable and reduce a nice -33dB of noise. If you’re shooting several shows a week without earplugs you will go deaf.

Learn more about photographing musicians from Chris and Todd in their CreativeLive class Getting Started in Concert Photography and follow Chris here  and Todd here on Instagram  and check out their website ISHOOTSHOWS.

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