There’s no hobby I love more than photography. Marrying that with my enthusiasm for live rock and metal music is a passion of mine. So how do I go about my live music photography?
We’ll talk a little about equipment and cover how to get the best out of it. After reading this article and with a little practice, you’ll be getting great shots in no time.
Live Music Photography – The right Camera
There’s a few important things your camera needs to have to really get great photos in such conditions. You’ll often be dealing with low light, fast movement and a crowded stage.
While you’ll certainly get usable photos out of a compact, if you really want the best results you’ll need something with interchangeable lenses. That means a DSLR (The D7200 is a good mid-range one) or a mirrorless system camera.
Compact cameras simply don’t cut it here, you won’t get enough light through a fixed lens onto their tiny sensors.
Don’t Carry too much Gear! Picking Lenses
You absolutely don’t want to be fumbling about in the dark trying to change lenses. So, pick a good lens and stick with it. You can choose either a prime at your preferred focal length, or a suitably fast zoom.
The amount of light you get on that sensor is going to be of utmost importance. You need a lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or bigger ideally. My favourite is this Tamron model that can stay at f/2.8 across it’s entire focal length.
It’s available for a variety of camera systems including the most popular Nikon and Canon models. Personally, I like having a zoom as it means on crowded stages you can get closer to the action without being in the way.
Get to Know your Camera – Auto Mode is not your Friend
While your camera is perfectly capable of making decisions for you in auto mode, you’ll never get the best out of it that way. But in the interests of balance, going full manual isn’t necessary either.
For live music photography, your best bet is aperture priority mode. This is usually represented with an “A” on the mode dial. But what exactly does it do?
Aperture priority allows you to set your preferred aperture, while the camera automatically controls the shutter speed. Therefore, you can tell your camera to stay at f/2.8 (or lower depending on lens and circumstances) and allow it to choose the appropriate shutter speed depending on the lighting.
This is a great way to handle things. In most live situations the lighting will be constantly changing. Using aperture priority means you can concentrate on taking the photos.
Live Music Photography – Picking the Right ISO Setting
ISO is covered in more detail in my camera settings guide. The most important thing here, is finding the right balance between light sensitivity and visual noise. I always use manual ISO so I get the effects I want.
A good DSLR is very capable of handling noise at slightly higher ISO settings. So while for landscapes and pictures with fine detail you’ll always want to keep it as low as possible, here you have some breathing room.
A bit of grain in a dynamic photograph from a live event can actually add character. So experiment with it.
If you want to freeze the action, dial the ISO up a bit. If you want to have a little artistic motion blur, turn it down a few notches and let the shutter slow down to compensate.
Move Around, Stay on Your Toes, Find Interesting Angles
My number one tip to new photographers is to keep moving. If you’re standing still, you’ll miss all the interesting stuff!
Get in close, take some further away, kneel right in front of the stage. Take some shots from behind the band out over the crowd, get up close to the drummer too.
Variety is the spice of life as they say. So keep you’re photography as interesting as possible by finding the angles the audience doesn’t usually see. That’s where you find the really great stuff!
Shoot in RAW and Get your Postproduction Head On
When you take a picture with a camera it usually compresses the image, strips away all the data about it and spits a JPEG file onto your memory card. Shooting in RAW stops that happening.
A RAW file contains all the data and settings that the camera used to take the photo. Why do we care? Because it makes postproduction as flexible as possible. If you learn a bit about using Photoshop, Lightroom or GIMP, you’ll end up loving RAW files.
I’ve rescued some almost unusable photos from their RAW files in the past, when I didn’t get it quite right in the moment. You can do wonders with noise reduction, colour correction and a myriad other thing if you use RAW.
Have a go at it. You’ll thank me later.
Live Music Photography – Most of all Have Fun!
If you follow my recommendations, it won’t be long before it all becomes second nature. Try to enjoy yourself more than anything, you’ll take better pictures if you’re having fun doing it!
If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer in the comments.