How to Photograph Live Music – We All Make Music

How to Photograph Live Music

One of the most important aspects to concert photography is being able to capture motion. In this article, I will lay out the basic steps, which will allow you to better freeze motion when shooting a show.

For the purposes of this article, I will assume that you will be shooting the show with a Digital SLR (single lens reflex, meaning what you see through the lens is what you will capture).

Camera Settings
The first thing to be sure of is that your camera is not set to a full automatic mode. Full auto is going to choose every setting for you and most likely not capture motion properly. The problem with full auto is that your settings will change on every picture. One picture may be shot at ISO 1600 where the next image may be shot at 200 because the stage lights saw something bright and tricked the camera. The camera doesn’t know that you are trying to capture motion; all it knows is that it is trying to give you the proper exposure. You are smarter than the camera, you know what you are trying to capture and that’s why it’s better to learn your manual settings.

File Format Setting
I always recommend that you set your camera to RAW. The RAW file format takes all of the “raw” data that the image sensor captures and sends it right to your memory card without edits being made. This is important as the RAW file gives you more ability to tweak your final images’ exposure, contrast, vibrancy, clarity, etc. to create a better all-around image. For example, if your captured image comes out underexposed (looks dark) but you captured the subject and motion the way you hoped, you can tweak the RAW file to change your exposure settings after the fact, offering you a better chance at a usable image. I will further discuss the RAW vs. JPEG debate in future articles.

Camera Mode
I recommend that you set your camera to its Aperture Priority setting, allowing you to open your lens to the widest f-stop available. Aperture is directly linked to ISO and shutter speed. When you open up your lens’ aperture, or set it to a lower number like 2.8 or 4, you are letting more light in, allowing the camera to utilize a higher shutter speed. The higher the shutter speed, the easier it is to capture motion. For example, if your aperture is f4 and your shutter speed is 250th and you opened up to f2.8, your shutter speed would go to 500th (1 stop change) because it’s letting more light in.

ISO
The ISO is your film speed, and is determined based on how much light is available in your shooting environment. ISO settings will directly affect your shutter speed and aperture settings. The rule of thumb is that as your ISO goes higher, your shutter speed will follow. For example, if you start with an ISO of 1600 and a shutter speed set at 250th and increased your ISO to 3200, your shutter speed would go to 500th (1 stop change).

In most concert situations you are faced with dimly lit stages and rooms, therefore you should set your ISO between 1600-6400 depending on your camera. The reason you select a higher ISO right off the bat is because you know you are in a darker environment. You also know that a higher ISO will allow you to have a faster shutter speed thus allowing you a better chance of capturing motion.

Metering
Many of today’s cameras allow you to choose from 3-dimensional metering to spot metering. 3D metering will survey the entire frame to get an average light reading helping you to determine the proper aperture and shutter speed. 3D is great for everyday general shooting to get you an initial setting. Spot metering uses the center portion of the frame only. This means that a smaller portion of the frame will be used for metering. Usually this will be done inside a very small circle inside the viewfinder. This is a great setting to use when trying to shoot a subject who may be backlit or surrounded by lights that may throw off your meter. This setting will give you a reading of exactly what you are trying to meter with less chance of the meter being tricked. As you start to understand light better you will see that all of these meter settings will give you a close reading but with your personal tweaks you will get an even better one.

If you are using a wide-angle lens and 3D metering, it is possible that stage lights will give you a false meter reading as the meter is most likely reading the bright lights. An indication of this might be your main subject coming out too dark, since the camera is metering for the bright lights. Switching to spot metering will allow you to meter for just your subject, giving you a better chance of getting a correct reading. Conversely, when you use a telephoto lens, you are gathering light from a smaller area, so either spot metering or 3D metering should work.

Focus Settings
I recommend two different focus settings, depending on certain parameters: continuous or single focus. Continuous focusing is best if the subject is moving around the stage a lot, as this will allow the focus to track the subject. If the subject does not move around a lot, I would use single focus, as it allows you to better lock on to the subject.

Shutter Speed Settings
If you’ve manually set your ISO and aperture, your shutter speed will be set automatically, however you’ll still have to pay attention to where it’s set.

There are a few rules tied with shutter speed. One is that your shutter speed should be higher than the focal length of your lens. For example, if your lens is zoomed to 300mm your shutter speed should not drop below 1/320th of a second. If you are using a 50mm your shutter speed should not drop below 1/60th of a second. The reason your shutter speeds have to stay higher than your focal length is because small movements can cause your images to blur as light travels to the image sensor.

Ultimately, a lot depends on the type of artists you are photographing. If you have an artist who does not move around too much, you can get away with a slower shutter speed in the 1/60th of a second to 1/125th of a second range to freeze the motion. If you are photographing a fast moving subject, you will want to use a lens that allows you to keep your shutter speeds at 1/250th or higher. The faster the shutter speed, the easier it will be to freeze the motion.

Here are a few tips for setting a faster shutter speed if you see that your images are coming out blurry:

—Setting your ISO higher will bump your shutter speed higher, allowing you a better chance of capturing motion.

—Lowering your aperture (using a smaller number) will let more light in, speeding up your shutter.

—Setting your ISO higher AND lowering your aperture will get you an even faster shutter speed.

Hopefully, this guide will provide you with the basic steps needed to help you capture motion. It is going to take a lot of practice to get a feel for what your camera settings should be, but over time, you will start to see how a change in one setting will affect another setting, and you will become more adept at capturing motion in the future.