5 tips for concert photography (and more)

This month, YLovePhoto will try an help in shooting photos where many think that only a pro can succeed: A live music concert. This is where many a difficulty converge to make the work of the photographer more painful. However, experience shows that a few tips (Y-tips, of course) will help a lot. Most of these are semi-obvious, some cannot be discovered with real-world experience.

Howard Johnson
Copyright Yves Roumazeilles

  1. There is no light: In most small concert venues, light is just not there. As a concert-goer, you make think that the stage is flooded in light. This is really not the case. While lighting techniques may be sophisticated, they are very expensive and even the biggest international-level stages are insufficiently lit. Bring a prime lens with a pro-level large-aperture: f/2.8 is OK, if you can get a f/2 or better, you will perceive the difference. We would recommend to start with a cheap second-hand 50mm or 80mm lens.
  2. Always shoot in RAW: The processing software will allow to compensate for the wild color balance of lighting and to use the most sophisticated noise reduction algorithm (since you will use high ISO, you’ll get too much noise).
  3. Use either Aperture priority mode (or manual if you feel comfortable with it): You want to use the widest aperture and you want to stick to it.
  4. Use the fastest ISO that your camera allows while keeping noise level low enough for you. Anyway, you will feel that it’s not fast enough, so stick to this value.
  5. Use central AF: This is the most efficient AF sensor and you will need that to cope with the weird contrasts and low lights that are trying to make your autofocus trip.


There is one little secret that concert photographers do not usually share with you: Live music photography is mostly all about etiquette. Or should I say rules? Or even regulations? It is not immediately apparent to the public, but there are rules to stick to. Know them, use them.

  • Don’t be a burden on Security: The security guards are there for a purpose, they need to ensure safety both for the public and the artists. But you are going to be in the way. So, be polite and obedient. One of the worst things would be to continuously move around; Stick to your place an never leave the pit or the security people will perceive you as a pain in the neck.
  • _DSC6479w - Mona
    JerkSystem at Elysée Montmartre
    Copyright (C) Yves Roumazeilles
  • Don’t be a pain to other photographers: Again, moving around is usually difficult and it will come as unpleasant to the other photographers. Even if they know you and like you, rushing around will get them annoyed (to say the least). Choose you spot and don’t move (mostly).
  • Don’t piss off the fans: They paid for it; Don’t get in the way or make it very very short and move out. If there are times when music is very quiet, just don’t shoot. You don’t want your shutter to be heard (no problem during heavy metal live performance, a major issue for classical music and some jazz). It’s quite easy to be forcefully removed from the pit…
  • One rule to rule them all: 3 songs, no flash. Some concert may accept exceptions to this universal rule, but NEVER break this one, without an explicit and repeated confirmation from the concert hall management. In most cases, security will come to you at the end of the third song. Just pack you gear and move out. Don’t complain, don’t argue, don’t try to steal one more shot. And be sure that your camera not even has a flash, to be sure not to break the “no flash” commandment.
  • Your pit access badge is not a backstage badge. So, don’t try to piss off security walking in the wrong direction.

When you’re done, you may leave politely, but it is usually acceptable if you stay and I suggest you do so. 3 songs of intense shooting is too much for you to take the music in. Stay and share the concert with the fans. You may be one, you may become one.

1 comment for “5 tips for concert photography (and more)

Comments are closed.