Tips for Capturing Dynamic Concert Photographs

January 22, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

I had the privilege of photographing the oh-so-talented musician Kristy Chmura during a concert in honor of the release of her latest album (which, I am proud to add, sports my photos on its cover).  But, photographing any concert in near darkness at the mercy of colored lights and limited mobility means that employing the right equipment and strategies is key to capturing great photos.  

  1. Accept the conditions at the venue.  It's a given that the lighting for photography will be dismal, that the best vantage point for shooting will be inaccessible, that there will be obstacles between the photographer and musician, and that additional strobe lights of any kind are taboo.  Set your mindset to accept the conditions and make the best of them.
  2. Select the best equipment for the setting.  A camera that excels at an extremely high ISO and has an excellent dynamic range is critical to capturing the best shots.  In the photos below, my ISO ranged from 2500 to 3200. Canon's 1DX mark ii excels in dim lighting, producing crisp portrait shots at crazy-high ISO settings.  It is equally important to choose top-quality L-lenses with the widest available apertures.  Below, I used Canon's new 85mm f/1.4 IS L lens and the 35mm f/1.4L lens.  In all shots, I shot wide open at f/1.4.
  3. Choose your point of focus wisely.  With a plane of focus just millimeters thin, the focus point virtually always should be the subject's eye that is closest to the camera.   Understand that this means that props or other musicians will not be in crisp focus. I embraced this trait and love that Kristy's husband--playing the guitar in the background--is blurred out through the harp strings. 
  4. Use support.  Tripods are key to camera stability but usually are too cumbersome in a crowded concert setting.  A monopod can provide support and stability during a long concert.  I swear by Gitzo carbon fiber sticks and Really Right Stuff ballheads.  An L-shaped arca-swiss bracket on each of my cameras allows me to switch quickly between horizontal and vertical orientations.
  5. Shoot copiously.  Singers and public speakers naturally contort their face while doing their jobs.  Capturing flattering action photos where the subject's mouth, eyes, face and hands are in optimum positions means shooting and sorting through many images.  Shoot far more images than you think you will need, often in rapid fire, to catch the exact expression desired.  Don't be alarmed if it takes hundreds of photos to acquire a handful of perfect finalists.
  6. Shoot monochrome as a last resort.  The multi-colored spotlights created dramatic imagery here, but this isn't always the case under unflattering fluorescent lights.  Black and white imagery can alleviate harsh or unflattering color casts, and capitalize on the high contrast of whites and blacks in the scene.  

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Check out Kristy's latest album, "Stained, Glass Heart" on iTunes, CDbaby, Amazon or Spotify!  


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