Concert Photography Equipment & Settings

Today's blog will be sort of an extension of the first one. While the first was basically just general equipment info and suggestions, today's will be specifically geared towards people interested in concert photography. 

Concert photography is like combining action and low light photography, which are essentially the two most challenging. Not only do you have to worry about capturing the quick movements of the performers, but you also have to do it in unpredictable and super dim lighting. You'll want to make sure you have equipment that can handle these conditions. 

I see a lot of photographers say that it's not about the equipment, it's about the talent of the photographer. I agree with this to an extent, but this is also usually coming from photographers that own thousands and thousands of dollars worth of equipment. I saw a pretty drastic change in my photos when I switched from a kit lens to my current lens and there are certain things some equipment can't do regardless of how talented you are. 

For concert photography, the main thing I would focus on in terms of lenses is the aperture. Aperture is how wide the opening of the lens is, which is directly correlated to how much light the lens lets it. The aperture of a lens is written in the form of "f/" followed by a number. It's sort of backwards because the lower the number is, the more light it lets in. In such challenging lighting, you want a lens that lets in tons of light. You can find prime lenses (fixed focal length lenses that don't zoom) that go all the way to f/1.4, although 1.8 is more common. If you want a zoom lens, f/2.8 is the largest aperture you'll find 

A Nikon 35mm f/1.8 would be an excellent lens to start off with. While it doesn't zoom, you can always crop the pictures post-production and this lens is quite budget friendly.  

If you decide you'd like to have the option to zoom, a range somewhere between 14mm-100mm should suffice. I often see people recommend the 70-200 telephoto lens for large venues and the option to take extreme close-ups. This lens isn't good for intimate venues though as having 70 as a starting point really only leaves you the option to take close-ups. The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 is basically my dream concert photography lens but it's so pricey it'll probably be another couple of years before I can afford it. 

Camera settings are just as important as equipment. I tend to use just about the same settings for both indoor and outdoor concerts as, even though outdoor concerts have much better lighting, leaving the aperture wide open helps create a nice shallow depth of field (distance between nearest and farthest object, sharpness of object in focus vs blurring of background). 

First, I set the aperture as wide open as it'll go. I then switch to "Shutter" mode and set the shutter speed to around 1/300 of a second. The only drawback of setting the shutter speed so high is that the faster the shutter is clicking, the less light it's able to let in. To make up for that a bit, I tend to set the ISO to 1600 (going much higher will make your pictures noisy (visibly grainy)). I also add around a stop of exposure compensation to help the lighting a bit. Go into the photo pit a few minutes before the band goes on to play around with settings. Take pictures of the empty stage. Photos coming out too dark? Try lowering the shutter speed a bit.  

Take TONS of pictures. It's much better to have way too many than take too few and realize they all stink when you're trying to edit them! I always leave my shutter on continuous release since the performers are moving around so much. I usually end up with at least 300 photos from just the first 3 songs of one set. 

I also shoot RAW. You'll have to do more processing with this file type but the quality is excellent and it leaves you tons of room to edit however you'd like to. RAW files record higher levels of brightness to begin with and you'll be able to correct more exposure issues when editing. Just make sure you have a huge memory card that is able to process images quickly as these file types are much bigger. You can find fast 64 GB memory cards for around $30 on Amazon. Also make sure you have an editor that knows how to process these file types (such as Adobe Lightroom) as they aren't anywhere near as compatible as JPEGs & you'll have to convert them when exporting.

I'll talk more about actually putting this equipment to use in my next blog!