Concert Photography

Jennifer Knapp, singing in concert

I had an opportunity to photograph one of my favorite artists last night.  Jennifer Knapp (website here) played to a much smaller, for her, than normal audience and in a venue more comfortable hosting local up and comers than this million plus album selling, Grammy nominated singer- songwriter.  It was an enjoyable evening of acoustic music and engaging dialogue from a performer seemingly equally at home in moderate-sized stadiums as well as intimately proportioned coffee houses such as last night’s.  But those lighting conditions were tough

Such is the typical challenge of concert photography: uneven and rapidly changing lighting conditions, relative and often unpredictable darkness, and quickly moving performers.

Here are some tips:

As stated, the lighting can be a real challenge as spotlight equipment, designed to modify the intensity, color and location of the light can be unpredictable and widely varying.  I used evaluative metering as the smaller coffee-shop setting was fairly tame compared to a larger venue, arena-style show.  Still, though, I had spot metering at the ready, prepared to aim for the eyes/face and then let the meter make a quick and localized reading.  I was also ready for some trial and error, thinking I’d need to make quick modifications by adjusting EV up or down as needed.  In reviewing my shots, I see that most of the snaps taken without adjustment are fine.  Nice job by the metering system of my camera (Pentax K5).  My kit included a few fast primes and though I was sitting in the front row, I found my Pentax Limited 70/2.4 to be just the right focal length and the relatively speedy f2.4 was typically fast enough.  There were times when I wished I had a f1.8, however.  An f1.4 would have been particularly handy.

Because of the need to freeze action under the mostly darkened conditions, I shot at ISO 3200 most of the evening.  The above shot was f2.4, 1/40 second, and ISO 3200.  The Pentax K5 is the APS-C cropped sensor class leader right now, so I couldn’t ask for a cleaner image.  I did need to boost up on noise reduction in my Apple Aperture software, however.

Jennifer Knapp, singing in concert

Additionally, I shot only in RAW as I wanted to make sure I had the greatest degree of latitude in making adjustments and because I worried that achieving proper white balance might be overly tricky.  Shooting in RAW allows for greater post-processing flexibility in terms of white balance than a JPEG approach.

Jennifer moves around the mic and her aggressive guitar playing has her small frame rocking abruptly, forward and side-to-side.  I was looking to gain a sharp focus and so made sure that I was in continuous auto-focus mode.  I also worked the focus selector quickly as I tilted my DSLR from horizontal to vertical orientation, always making sure that the selected focus point was closest to her eyes.

In the case of the photo below, I was hoping to capture her feverish strumming, and so I slowed the shutter speed down quite a bit.  This image was taken at 1/4 second (f2.4).  In order to drop the speed that low, I needed to increase the sensitivity of the sensor and so this image was taken with an ISO of 200.

Jennifer Knapp, singing in concert

It’s also important, particularly if you’re close to the performer, to be respectful.  That means no flash.  I also deactivated my focus assist light, which on the Pentax is highly effective… but also highly offensive – emitting a harsh green beam on the subject.  I deactivated the rear LCD for quick review of shots, not wanting to annoy those behind me.  I did occasionally inspect my shots to make sure I was getting a decent percentage of keepers, but whenever I did so, I made sure the camera was sufficiently lowered so as to not block anyone’s view or create a distraction.  Finally, I shot single frame only, not wanting to introduce the click-click-click-click machine gun sound of continuous shooting.

Also, since I was right up front at this concert, I made sure to make eye contact with the performer and to make sure she understood that I appreciated being able to get these shots.  Because she had authorized my taking photos at the show, I wanted to make sure she understood that I was grateful.

In reviewing the photos, I also realized just how important cropping can be as there was a glowing, obtrusive exit sign just over her right shoulder.  Fortunately, my angle of view allowed me to take it out of the final versions.

Finally, it’s important go grab some environmental shots, such as audience and some broader venue views.  Before the concert began, I walked around the stage area and familiarized myself with the environment.  I’m glad I had my Pentax 35/4 macro lens to grab this shot of one of Jennifer’s guitars.


All in all, a great evening…

Posted by Rey

This entry was posted in Images, Learning and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Concert Photography

  1. Rodney Daly says:

    Thanks for the tips Ed. I have a friend who is an up and coming artist in NYC and I can’t wait to try some of these techniques at her show.

  2. iansoliva says:

    Thanks for sharing! This blog is a right fit to my needs as a hobbyist. I will surely visit this frequently.

    • 2guysphoto says:

      Thanks for visiting and for your comment. Don’t hesitate to let us know what you might like covered…


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