Concerts are designed specifically to be a listening experience where you get to hear music coming out in it’s rawest form. Instead of having a compressed sound file play out of your speaker you have the true source in front of you blasting the sound for the entire room to move to. This experience however is not built for photography.
The lighting is often dim, made to be highly stylized for the audience’s enjoyment but not so much for a camera sensor. You are confined to a space where you can’t get up close and personal with the subject, whether you’re in the pit or back stage. You’re compositions needs to be tight in order to keep gear and moving band member out of the way to get the shot. So at the end you just have to work with whatever you’ve been given and try to get the best shots possible.
The first thing you have to keep in mind when shooting live music is time. Major bands will normally only give you 3 songs to shoot and then you’re done. Others are just short set list where they only get 3 songs to begin with. The main way around this is to not only shoot when the band is playing. You should be willing to shoot during the set up, between songs and get the band members interactions between songs. The one thing you always have to do as a photographer is to be ready for anything and capture the moment.
The time tip is relatively situational being that if you’re shooting a smaller band you might have more than 3 songs. But one thing you will have to deal with is the lack of space to work with. If you’re in the photo pit with tons of other photographers you have multiple things you need to consider; Where are all the other photographers, What gives you the best shooting lanes to get a variety of shots and what lens you want on your camera. In the pit the best lens choice that I can think of personally is a 70-200 2.8 to give the sense that you’re right there up close to them with your shots. However using a wide angle can be useful in order to get the entire band in frame and give the photo grander context. But at the end of the day you got to do the best with what you got.
The biggest pain in the ass is going to be getting photos of the drummer. The drummer is all the way at the back of the stage with the worse lighting and with the most of amount of thing in your way. If you are able to get good shots of the drummer more power to you but it’s one of the most difficult things to shoot and often they are out of the way of the action.
So we discussed getting your shots in and getting them composed properly now how do we get the proper exposure. Most shows are going to have terrible lighting. Most show lighting is built around to be a visual experience but it doesn’t translate well on camera. The two work around to this problem is high ISO and processing the images in black and white. Shooting at high ISO will of course bring in the grain and cause problems in the color detail. So when the light is so dim and giving off strange colors the the sensor can’t process, well black and white is a great solution.
Just because the lighting is a challenge doesn’t mean you can’t use it creatively. When a show does use some kind of creative lighting can cause creative flaring and even hair line highlights. and when processing in black and white it you don’t have to worry about the tones.
The main thing to remember is to have fun and not every shot is going to be perfect. You’ll take some good ones some bad ones but every now and again you’ll get some great ones. You just got to keep shooting.