A while ago I asked my friend Natalie if she’d help me put together a guide to concert photography. We each shoot scores of shows a year and have talked a lot about the various issues with concert photography many times before, so it made sense to me to put together a how-to guide together.
Concert photography, particularly that in small clubs, is its own beast. It shares some things in common with other types of photography, but it has its own concerns and problems.
Neither Natalie or Adrian claim to be the best concert photographer, but we’ve shot a few hundred shows between us and we’d like to share what we’ve learned.
Despite all the recommendations below, the best thing to do is to shoot a lot. Go to shows, bring your camera and just experiment and figure out works for you.
The overwhelming limitation to concert photography is how dark most of the clubs and events are. This drives a lot of equipment choices.
Point and Shoot vs. film SLR vs DSLR
Point and Shoot
Point and Shoot cameras tend to have very small image sensors. In terms of concert photography, this translates into lots of noise at high ISO speeds (which are necessary for shooting in low-light situations). A little bit of noise is acceptable in an image; however, the amount of noise created by Natalie’s Canon SD1000 at ISO 800 and 1600 makes the photos essentially useless. In addition, most point and shoot cameras only allow for minimum (if any) control of shutter speed and aperture settings, which gets very frustrating very quickly. Another frustrating feature is the lag between pushing the shutter button and actually triggering the shutter – not great when trying to shoot a moving subject with a small depth of field.
Point and shoot cameras are also limited by their maximum aperture value (how big you can make the opening that lets light onto the sensor; to make this confusing, the smaller the aperture number, the larger the opening). This is incredibly important for concert photography, as there is usually not much available light, and you want to let as much in as possible.
That being said, some people have made point and shoot cameras work for concert photography, especially cameras such as the Canon G10, which allows you full manual control and the option to shoot in RAW instead of JPEG file format. And on the plus side, these cameras are allowed at most venues without requiring any sort of photo pass.
(by Natalie Kardos) Sigur Ros at Copley Symphony Hall, shot with a Canon SD1000 point and shoot – noise due to the high ISO can be seen in the dark parts of the image.