Concert Photography: 7 essential Tools to get started

Apr 30, 2015

Matthias Hombauer

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Concert Photography: 7 essential Tools to get started

Apr 30, 2015

Matthias Hombauer

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Join the Discussion

Share on:

Skunk_Anansie_Hombauer

Concert photography is probably one of the most challenging fields in photography, but also one of the most rewarding. I can clearly remember the first time I stood in the photo pit, getting ready to shoot the alternative band, Tv On The Radio. I was still trying to figure out the right settings on my camera when suddenly the lights in the venue went off. The band got on the stage, hundreds of people started screaming behind me and I thought, “Am I dreaming or is this real?” Then it hit me – damn, it’s real and I’d better get back to reality quickly and take some great photos! That was how concert photography felt for me the first time I did it. 7 years later, every concert I shoot still gives me an adrenaline kick and there´s always a new challenge to deal with.

Concert Photography is the dream of many passionate music and photography lovers out there. However, there isn’t much information around detailing how to succeed at concert photography. You won´t be able to find many books about concert photography. Something else that holds people back from starting to live their dream is thinking that they need the expensive gear that pro photographers use. In this article, I’m going to show you 7 tools that will help you to get started and bring your concert photography career to the next level.

Your 7 must-have tools in concert photography:

Tool 1: Camera

Miley_Cyrus_Hombauer

If you want to get into concert photography as soon as possible, get yourself a good DSLR and don’t think about it anymore. It doesn’t matter which brand you choose. I use Nikon, others use Canon and there are others who use Sony or Fuji. Nikon and Canon are (still) the biggest players in the market and offer a wide variety of lenses, so you might want to consider one of these brands. Just go to your local photography store, hold some and decide which camera body best fits in your hands.

The ISO capability of your camera is key in concert photography. Depending on your budget, try to buy a crop sensor (entry level) DSLR camera with a maximum ISO setting of at least ISO 3200. You will be faced with low lighting conditions on stage and therefore need the option to set high ISO values. Remember, the higher the ISO setting on your camera, the warmer the camera sensor will become, which will lead to higher noise levels in your photos. Therefore, it´s important your camera has the ability to deal with high ISO settings to get the best quality photos. For concert photography, I would suggest starting with either the Nikon D3100, D3300, D7200 or the Canon EOS Rebel T5, T3i or T5i.

Crop sensor DSLRs are mostly available as a kit package together with a lens. You can get a decent camera body with a lens such as an 18-55mm f3.5-5.6. This kind of lens is good for “everyday” photography purposes, like travel and birthday parties outside, but they are absolutely useless for concert photography. So, as well as your kit lens, you will need to get another lens, or save some money and opt for a “body only” purchase.

Tool 2: Lens

(C) Matthias Hombauer 2009

When starting out in concert photography on a budget, I would recommend the cheap 50mm f1.8 prime lens (it’s available for all brands and is a no-brainer!), because of its ability to shoot in low-light at its highest aperture setting. This lens is made of plastic, is small, lightweight and unobtrusive. The “Nifty Fifty” – also called the “plastic fantastic” – has saved me more than a few times when the lighting technician seemed to be asleep and the stage was almost pitch black. This lens is a prime lens, which means it has a fixed focal length of 50mm. So, if you want to get closer, you have to use your feet.

What´s the problem with your kit zoom lens? As you might have realized already, the 18-55mm zoom lens has aperture numbers of f3.5-5.6, whereas the 50mm has an f-number of 1.8. The smaller the f-number, the more light can hit the camera’s sensor. This means that small f-numbers are perfect for concert photography. From my experience, an f-number of f2.8 and smaller is a must for low-light, gig photography.

Tool 3: Memory Cards

La Dispute is performing on January 20th 2012 in the B72, Vienna

The decision which memory card to get should be based on the format, the storage capacity and the read/write speed. There are two main formats: SD (Secure Digital) and CF (Compact Flash). SD cards are becoming more popular in consumer cameras and are cheaper than CF cards. CF cards are still used in high-end, full format cameras such as the Nikon D800 and upwards. A good storage capacity is 8, 16 or 32 GB. Instead of getting one 64GB card, get two 32GB cards in case one of them dies during a concert. A word about speed: like most things in this industry, the faster the better. The different manufacturers offer a variety of write speeds. The faster the write speed of your memory card, the faster you can take a succession of images without having to wait for the camera to catch up. One of the main players in the field I trust is SanDisk.

Tool 4: Camera Strap

Fink_Hombauer

Don´t you hate the classic camera strap that you get with your camera? If you are constantly moving the camera swings in front of your chest all the time, your neck hurts if you use heavier lenses and you always have the feeling you have to protect it by holding and stabilizing it with one hand. To avoid these issues, I use a special camera strap for two reasons. Firstly, the camera hangs upside down, over your butt. This allows you to keep both hands free. Secondly, the weight is distributed diagonally so this strap is great for carrying heavier lenses. There are two different camera straps on the market that use the same principle: California Sun Sniper and Black Rapid strap. Get one of these and you´ll enjoy shooting with your camera even more.

Tool 5: Camera Bag

Atlas_Losing_Grip

As you have to carry all your equipment to the front of the stage, you really need to have a great camera bag which protects your gear well. There are a lot of different options such as backpacks, shoulder bags, trolleys or pelicases. I personally prefer the comfort of a backpack and I use a Manfrotto Advanced Gear backpack L to carry all my equipment. Imagine arriving at the concert late with your camera trolley and having to fight your way through the crowd with it! At some shows, you wouldn’t even make it to the photopit! Make sure you get a bag that carries all the gear you need when shooting bands on stage. Mine has enough space for 1 camera body and 3 lenses.

Tool 6: Ear protection

Ear protection is a must in concert photography. Your working environment has a sound level similar to sitting on a bulldozer and if you plan to do this job for many years, you’d better start off taking the right precautions. The simplest solution would be to buy some normal earplugs from the supermarket. The bad thing about them is that you can’t even hear your friends anymore. These types of earplugs just mean you can’t hear anything and are definitely not the solution you’re looking for right now. So, the go-to option is to get the same professional ear protection musicians use. I got the Alpine MusicSafe Pro professional ear protection. They contain different sets of music filters and are comfortable to wear. And most importantly, they protect your ears to avoid long-term hearing problems. And they’re cheap :)

Tool 7: Adobe Lightroom

Nic Endo of Atari Teenage Riot

If you want to stand out from the average snapshot photographers, you have to post-process your photos. Being a photographer is not only about taking photos, but also knowing how to handle special software to get the best out of them. There are many applications available, but the ease-of-use of Adobe Lightroom nailed it for me.

Speaking for myself, the post-production process should be as painless as possible, because I don’t want to spend hours in front of my computer. I’d rather go out and shoot concerts instead!

What Lightroom handles very well is the fact that you can manage your files (you can rank them with stars, flags or different colors) and process them in one application. Lightroom is intuitive, fast, and you can even set your personal preferences as “presets”. So, next time you can make your photos look awesome with only one click. Recently, Adobe released Lightroom 6 as part of the creative cloud and also as a stand-alone package.

Using these 7 tools, you’ll be ready to kickstart your career in concert photography right now. Keep in mind that this article is aimed at beginners on a budget. I agree that full-frame cameras make tons of sense for a concert photographer, but it’s absolutely not a must-have item when starting out. It ´s more important to first find out if concert photography really is your passion.

Tell me what tools you like using for shooting concerts in the comments section below.

About The Author

Matthias Hombauer is a self-taught music photographer and the founder of How to Become a Rockstar Photographer where he teaches people how to start out as a concert photographer. He has a Ph.D. in molecular biology, but soon realized he wanted to combine his two passions – music and photography – instead. Currently, Matthias is based in Vienna/Austria and works for international artists such as Iggy Pop, The Prodigy, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello and Fink capturing amazing moments during their on-stage performances.

Filed Under:

Tagged With:

Find this interesting? Share it with your friends!

DIPY Icon

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Join the Discussion

DIYP Comment Policy
Be nice, be on-topic, no personal information or flames.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

23 responses to “Concert Photography: 7 essential Tools to get started”

  1. Matthias Hombauer Avatar
    Matthias Hombauer

    Let me know: What are your essential tools you use for concert photography?

    1. Matthew Kozovski Avatar
      Matthew Kozovski

      Research. If the band has already played other dates on their tour, there may be images or video footage of their show. This proves to be valuable so you can identify great positions to be in at certain moments. A good example was a band that I shot last year relied heavily on being backlit for most of the set except for key moments in the songs. By knowing when it was going to happen beforehand, I was able to get the best possible shot.

      1. Stereo Reverb Avatar
        Stereo Reverb

        That is an excellent observation and one that i’ve never seen anyone mention in any article on shooting concerts! I’ll also do background research on youtube of a band’s current tour, since larger bands typically perform and do the same things from show to show.

    2. DeShaun Craddock Avatar
      DeShaun Craddock

      I’m usually in a mid-sized venue, so I usually don’t need more than a 24-70mm f/2.8, and if I want something close, I’ll switch to a 105mm f/2 for close-ups. I’d really like to try a 14-24 or a fisheye on occasion, but I don’t consider either one to be essential.

      Oh, courtesy! That’s essential. Being courteous and aware of other people, other photographers and their equipment is really essential. It lets you and everyone else do their job better.

  2. Marius Vieth Avatar
    Marius Vieth

    Great article Matthias! Keep it up!

    1. Matthias Hombauer Avatar
      Matthias Hombauer

      thanks Marius

  3. Arn Avatar
    Arn

    Excelelent article, but,:
    ” For concert photography, I would suggest starting with either the Nikon D3100, D3300, D7200 or the Canon EOS Rebel T5, T3i or T5i.’

    … yeah of course, there is no other option than Canikon :)

    1. Matthias Hombauer Avatar
      Matthias Hombauer

      Hi Arn, thanks for your comment. Of course there are other options like Sony, Fuji, Pentax, Olympus, Samsung, Panasonic,…BUT, Canon and Nikon offer the most versatile lens line up. Once you decided which system you`re going to invest in you should stick to it, otherwise it will cost you a lot to switch. Fuji has a fantastic new mirrorless system with the X-T1, but I wouldn´t recommend a $1800+ camera + lens to start with. DSLRs are still the way to go in concert photography and up to date Nikon and Canon are the ones who offer you from 14mm up to 500mm every focal length you need.

    2. Gvido Mūrnieks Avatar
      Gvido Mūrnieks

      Mostly, it doesn’t matter, what is the brand, as long it is DSLR with decent autofocus.

      Mirrorless cameras won’t work, for concert photography, because of relatively bad autofocus. Of course, in good lighting mirrorless, these days, can compete with DSLRs autofocus. But, when it comes, to shooting moving subjects in dim and strobing lighting – current mirrorless cameras have no chance.

      1. Matthias Hombauer Avatar
        Matthias Hombauer

        Picture Nr.6 was done with the Fuji X-Tq + 23mm f1.4. So it is possible to shoot with mirroless systems, but the AF of DSLRs are still superior

      2. Chris Hutcheson Avatar
        Chris Hutcheson

        I’ve been experimenting with an XT-1 and 16-55 lens I borrowed. It’s not the idea lens IMHO, but the camera has worked well enough for me in dark situations. I find it’s not all that great for shooting completely manually, which I usually do, but otherwise it’s OK. I wouldn’t be replacing the Nikon with it, though.

  4. Gvido Mūrnieks Avatar
    Gvido Mūrnieks

    TOOL 8: Flickr.

    It can be quite challenging, to make sure, that your photos are first ones, that are posted on facebook.
    Usually, concerts happen in late evenings, so, editing photos, when you are tired, is really bad idea.
    So, here is my workflow, for concerts.
    #1 Right after concert, I choose best photos and do some quick editing, by using custom presets.
    #2 Upload them to Flickr and share album on Facebook ASAP.
    #3 Go to sleep.
    #4 Right after waking up, eat breakfast.
    #5 With hot cup of coffee and fresh head, do complete retouching(usually, I finish final tis, right before lunch)
    #6 Use “replace photo” feature on Flickr, to replace early photos, with final edits.
    This way, I make sure sure, that my photos are first ones, posted on facebook, and I don’t have to delete my first post, to create separate post for new photos.

  5. Nikos HansSchnee Emmanouilidis Avatar
    Nikos HansSchnee Emmanouilidis

    oo skin from skunk anansie .. wooow!!

  6. Chris Hutcheson Avatar
    Chris Hutcheson

    Great post. My concerts have been mostly of the classical opera variety as well as burlesque, dance and wrestling(!) Can’t quite get close enough for a 50mm to do the trick (except for wrestling) and I mostly use a 70-200 f2.8 sometimes with a 1.7 teleconverter. Admittedly that’s more expensive, but it does the trick. I also bring a small collapsible stepstool that lets me get above head level. Since I’m usually shooting from the side of the house, I’m not blocking anyone’s view that way. The 50’s a challenge with wrestling, as I’m right up against the ring. You learn to dodge and duck pretty quickly.

  7. BillK Avatar
    BillK

    A 50mm prime is wonderful if you’re in the press pass first row, but for ordinary humans you’ll need at least a zoom that goes to 300mm or preferably something like a 150-600. I’ve yet to be at a concert where f2.8 or lower would be way too open; most concerts are lit at daylight-like levels.

    1. Gonzalo Perkelepozechartea Avatar
      Gonzalo Perkelepozechartea

      Daylight levels? Have you ever shot a concert at ISO100? Even most theaters require ISO1600 – 2000 with 2.8 glass. I used to shoot Fuji’s Superia 1600 film with a 1.7, and sometimes even that enough.

    2. patiferoolz Avatar
      patiferoolz

      if you are an ordinary human, don’t take a pro camera to the concert, just enjoy it.

  8. kiwithing Avatar
    kiwithing

    I just wanna give a quick shoutout to tool #6: earplugs. Your hearing is so valuable, and you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

    It’s crazy how many times I’ve went to photograph a loud, thrashy punk rock show and noticed that other photographers and concert-goers don’t even bother using earplugs. An excuse I keep hearing from friends who tag along with me is usually something along the lines of “It’s not punk rock enough” or “It’s better to experience the music without them”. It’s unfortunate.

    I invested in some custom earplugs and a hearing check-up a couple of years ago. Before then, I just used swimmers earplugs that were about 8 bucks a case and were reusable a decent amount of times. Though, I gotta say that custom earplugs are the best. They sound fantastic and are pretty discrete.

    1. Stereo Reverb Avatar
      Stereo Reverb

      Yes. And yes. THE most important part of shooting bands. It really is scary to see photogs without protection shoot the entire show. The highest rated is 33 (though i’ve seen one for 35) and they are dirt cheap at amazon. $12 bucks for a box of 50 pair. I keep them in little plastic baggies in my camera bag and in my car.

  9. Ralph Hightower Avatar
    Ralph Hightower

    Aren’t the lasers used in light shows prone to frying the sensor? I saw a video on Petapixel where photographer was recording a concert and the scene slowly disappeared.
    I shot a concert with an 80-205 f4.5 lens. Before the concert started, I did some metering and ISO 3200 was good. But when the lights dimmed for the concert, I had to bump the ISO up to 12,800 and have the TMAX 3200 film push-processed 2 stops; the film grain exploded, but that’s what I needed for the concert.

    1. Stereo Reverb Avatar
      Stereo Reverb

      I’ve seen that footage also- whenever i see lasers used in a venue (raves are big on those), i shoot downward whenever i shoot in that light’s general direction so that the chance of my sensor getting damaged is minimized.

  10. Matthias Hombauer Avatar
    Matthias Hombauer

    Learn about the best Nikon and Canon cameras & lenses here: http://www.howtobecomearockstarphotographer.com/tools/