How To Make Concert Images

by William Lulow

Recently, I had an opportunity to shoot some additional concert images to update my Rock ‘n’ Roll musician’s page. The trick to getting good concert photos is to anticipate the lighting as well as the performer’s style so that you are in position to get great expressions as well as any unforeseen actions that might take place on stage.

My procedure is as follows:

  • I spend time listening to the performer’s music so that I’m pretty familiar with the songs ahead of time.
  • I try to study previous pictures of the performer so that I can anticipate what angles might work best.
  • I arrive early to the venue so that I can get an idea of what the level of the stage lighting will be. I take measurements from the stage position with an incident meter so that I will have a place to start. Keep in mind, that when the musician finally arrives on stage, the lighting may change.
  • I know that I will have to bump up the ISO rating a fair amount, but I don’t want to push it too much. I like to try to keep it at ISO 1600 or so.
  • I use the fastest lenses I have. (One with an f/stop of f/1.8, f/2 or f/1.4 usually works fine. Then I can stop it down to f/2.8 or f/3.2 to try to get a little more depth of field. When I used to shoot film at large concert venues, I used a 200mm f/4 lens and often shot wide open at 1/100th of a second. With lighter cameras, you might be able to hand-hold it at 1/60th of a second or so, but I usually use a monopod as well. Those settings were fine for a place like a large arena where there is more direct light on stage. But, these days, many clubs like to keep the ambient lighting more “intimate” without using a lot of light on stage. So, you need really fast lenses so you are not shooting wide open all the time. Occasionally, I’ll use an ISO setting of 2000, but that’s the limit if I’m thinking of being able to make 16×20 inch prints.
  • I choose various angles from all around the room. I can see how those angles look on the performer and zero in on which ones look best. Just like in studio portraiture, every performer has a “best” side.

The most recent concert images I made were of the singer-songwriter, Lucy Kaplansky. Here are a few:

Lucy Kaplansky Lucy Kaplansky Lucy Kaplansky