Mark Sexton of The Sextones playing live at Wingfield Park
Mark Sexton of The Sextones playing live at Wingfield Park in downtown Reno, NV

THINGS TO CONSIDER

A long-time music photographer once told me, “If you can make the drummer look good on stage, you can make anybody look good.”

Photographing concerts and live music events can be tricky.  There are a lot of factors to be taken into account when shooting an event such as a concert.  For instance, live music events (especially at smaller local venues) are notorious for being poorly lit, the musicians move quickly, and the backgrounds are not always the most flattering for the stunning “rock star” look.

THE GEAR

I typically like to be as close to the band as I possibly can. This helps me get separation from the background and intimacy with the performers as well as I’m able to achieve angles that I would otherwise be unable to capture from the crowd.

With those elements in mind, the equipment I bring to a concert shoot is pictured below.

Nikon D500, Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art, Promaster Rugged 64 GB SDHC Card, Sony 64GM XQD Card, Promaster 170SL Flash, Promaster Flash Diffuser for SB900 
Nikon D500, Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art, Promaster Rugged 64 GB SDHC Card, Sony 64GB XQD Card, Promaster 170SL Flash, Promaster Flash Diffuser for SB900

Modern DSLR cameras can operate very quickly as well as handle extremely well in low-light situations.  By taking advantage of the XQD capabilities of my Nikon D500 I’m able to shoot 10 frames per second at full RAW+JPEG.  This comes in handy especially when combined with the amazing ISO capabilities of the D500 as well as the 1.8 aperture on the Sigma 18-35mm lens. These things together enable you to keep your shutter speed high enough to freeze the artists in motion while also softening the background and maintaining a proper exposure. Depending on how minimal the lighting is, having a nice TTL flash to throw a little light onto your subject can be extremely helpful to lighten up their faces.

 

FINDING YOUR ANGLE

As mentioned before, I prefer to be as close to the band as I possible to get the most striking and intimate images as I can. Before the band goes on, I like to ask the members and/or the venue if I may go onto the stage during their set to capture photos. Photographing members of the band from behind or from side can be a great way to get a more striking shot than if you were to photograph them straight on from the perspective of the audience. (also this makes it much much easier to get a more flattering shot of the drummer and separates your photos from any other photographer’s in the room)

Cat Downs and Mike Thompson of Sit Kitty Sit performing at The Saint, Reno, NV
Cat Downs and Mike Thompson of Sit Kitty Sit performing at The Saint, Reno, NV

Whether or not you’re able to get on stage, look for unusual angles that you’re able to use for photographing bands. Try from down low, up high, from the side, or at eye level to see the different effect it has on the dynamic of the photo.

POST-PROCESSING

So you’ve done it, you went to the show, you got close to the band, you used your camera gear to the peak of its ability and you’ve got the shot!  Now you’re at home and it’s time to sit down and look at the images on a computer.

Editing live concert photos can often times be difficult due to to the lighting situation. This is why I ALWAYS SHOOT IN RAW when photographing bands. The singer may be over exposed while the drummer is in total darkness.  The guitar might have a bright green light on it, while the rest of the stage has a bright red cast. Fret not, if you shot the photo in raw there are a lot of tools that can help you correct your photos to the way you’d like them to look.

Carter Stellon of The Grimtones wailing on his harmonica at Third Street Bar in Reno, NV
Carter Stellon of The Grimtones wailing on his harmonica at Third Street Bar in Reno, NV

For this I primarily use Adobe Photoshop and/or Lightroom.  The hue, saturation, and luminance as well as the dodge and burn tools can save your images. Play with these tools and try to come up with a color scheme and exposure that you like. Remember not to overdo it in the post processing. Thats a common mistake I see in photos of concerts, they’re too saturated, too contrasty, and in general over-edited.

There are hundreds of tutorials online to teach you how to achieve the perfect look you want for concert photography.  If you’re unsure on what you’d like your images to look like, search for a tutorial, follow the directions and really familiarize yourself with the options you have in photoshop and lightroom and over time your own style will shine through.

 

Thank you for reading this blog and good luck in your concert photography endeavors!

Joshua Saltsman

Action Camera Reno