Turn off the flash
First, you can turn off the flash. As a rule, flash photography is banned in concert venues or by the artists themselves. A flash’s bright light will bother both the musicians on stage and the crowd. If you have a press pass, the rules might be different, but don’t rely too much on your flash anyway, and favor our other tips in order to compensate for the lack of light.
Shoot your images in RAW format
If you have a RAW compatible device, select that option now. Favor the RAW + JPG option, which allows you to preview your images and which also stores lighter JPG files. Thanks to this uncompressed format, you can recover much more information in dark areas and in white. This will make things easier during editing, since there is a good chance your images will undergo strong light contrasts in post-production.
Use bright a lens
The main challenge with concert photography is the lack of light, which ultimately informs your entire approach. Several elements can help make up for the lack of light, and your equipment is one of them. A bright lens is key here. Thus, the brighter your lens, the larger its aperture (f / 2.8, f / 1.8, f / 1.4) and the more it will be able to let in light. By choosing a large aperture, the depth of field decreases. This is generally suitable for concert photography and will allow you to better highlight the subject in the foreground. Concert photography is very demanding, so using a good lens is essential if you don’t want to push your camera to its limits.
Increase your ISO sensitivity
To compensate for the lack of light, we also recommend that you increase the ISO sensitivity of your sensor more than usual. When shooting outdoors during daylight and in good light conditions, you are generally positioned between ISO 100 and 400. Here, don’t hesitate to go up to ISO 3200, or even more if your camera handles digital noise well. Pay attention to that last detail, because if you increase ISO sensitivity too drastically, digital noise will be very present; it will be unsightly, and it will degrade your images. What you want is a happy medium, but this tip will already help save you a few precious steps.
Choose the spot metering mode
When you shoot using automated modes, your camera uses a certain metering mode to properly expose your images. By default, this is the Matrix measurement that calculates an average for the entire image. If you use this metering mode at a concert, chances are your image will be overexposed. Spot metering is confined to a much smaller area and is very practical for overcoming difficult light conditions. This way, you can focus on having the right exposure for the faces or for your main subject while getting consistent exposure of the rest of the image.
Manage your white balance
The automatic white balance that comes with digital cameras is very effective in most cases. At a concert, things get trickier since the different types of lights and color temperatures all blend together. We recommend staying in automatic mode all the same, but post-production is an unavoidable step in concert photography, in particular when it comes to readjusting the colorimetry of your images, which will have been distorted by all the artificial lights.
As you can see, concert photography is a demanding exercise due to the challenging light conditions. Compensating for the lack of light will be your main goal and there are several ways to do this, such as using large apertures, increasing the ISO sensitivity or using your camera’s spot metering. With your RAW files, you can then more easily correct unattractive discrepancies and restore the colorimetry of your images for successful concert photographs.
By Céline Nebor