Concert photography 101: Working with low light venues

As a concert photographer you must
be prepared to get good shots in a number of lighting conditions.
One you will be working with some of the best and most dramatic lighting
you could ask for, the next you’ll be photographing a band at the back of
your local pub.

Not every venue makes it easy to get great concert photos, but
here are some tips that will help you get the best shots possible not matter
the light situation.

Primes lenses 

Prime lenses are your friend when it comes to low light
situations, and if you’re just starting out, you don’t have to break the bank

Photo by Brighton concert photographer Charles Shepherd at Room.C Photography | The Dome, London

Though primes lenses have a
fixed focal length, their wide apertures make them a must have for concert
photography. You can pick-up a brand-new 50mm 1.8 lens for as little as £100,
or even cheaper if you go for a second hand one. 

The Nikon AF-S 35mm 1.8 has proven itself time and time again
to be one of the most versatile lenses in my arsenal.  

Use a high ISO, but not too high

Depending on your camera body, working with a high ISO (2000 or
above) is no issue, but with older bodies like the Canon 5D Mk II or Nikon D90,
any ISO above 800 can introduce ugly amount of noise to your shots, which can
render them potentially unusable. 

Photo by Brighton concert photographer Charles Shepherd at Room.C Photography | Hope and Ruin, Brighton, West Sussex

Keep your ISO as low as
possible by keeping your aperture wide open and dropping your shutter
speed. Depending on the performance this can be easier said than done, but
that’s where the next step comes in.

Analysis your surroundings

As soon as the set starts, make a mental note of the lighting
patterns, how the band moves, and where they’re positioned on stage. Don’t get
into a mad rush to get as many shots as possible, slow things down (at least
for the first song) and take a bit of time to look around a see what’s going
on. This will make finding better compositions and dealing with the lighting
the venue offers much easier. 

Why not just use a flash gun?

“Surely it doesn’t matter if the lighting is bad, I can
just you a flash gun!”, unfortunately for most of the time, this isn’t the

A lot of bands and even some venues these days have a strict
no flash guns policy during performances, meaning you can never truly
rely on your flash gun to save you when the lighting gets rough.

Photo by Brighton concert photographer Charles Shepherd at Room.C Photography | Sticky Mike’s, Brighton, West Sussex

But if you do get the chance to pull out your flash gun, for the best results be sure to bounce your

What are the benefits for bouncing your lighting? Direct flash can
leave you with uneven highlights and harsh shadows in your images (as
well as blinded band members), whereas bouncing your light off a wall or a
ceiling can help the light evenly spread across the frame, giving you softer
shadows, even highlights, and less annoyed band members.

Still worried about blinding the band? Keep your
aperture wide and your ISO high so you can reduce the power of your flash

Words and concert photos by Brighton based photographer Charles Shepherd at Room.C

Copyright © All rights reserved.
Using Format