Musicians, magazines, fans, and record labels alike turn to skilled photographers to tell a story of a momentous performance and return unique concert photos.
Concert photographers are often on assignment for a publication that has sent them out to capture meaningful pictures that could very well go down in music history. Otherwise, music photographers are individually hired by the performing artists. Whatever brings you to the photo pit, your goal is to capture something wonderful.
That being said, the music photography industry has become surprisingly saturated in recent years. In order to stand out amongst the crowd, you have to take live music photographs that differ from others in your photo pit. Here are 11 tips on how to take more unique concert photographs.
#1 – Don’t Forget About the Detail Shots
Although you want to focus heavily on the musicians performing on the stage, the detail shots are just as important.
Many bands put in a significant amount of effort into their live show productions, from stage props to lighting schemes. A unique and effective statement to your live concert gallery are some close-ups of the epic stage props that the band uses.
At the very least, the artist who created the props or the instrument company will thank you!
#2 – Play with Art and Distortion Lenses
Though concert photography is often an assignment from a journalistic outlet, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a couple of minutes to yourself to do something vastly different. You do not have to be afraid of using artistic or distortion lenses at a live show. If anything, they make the frame exceptionally cool!
The fish-eye lens became very famous by well-known concert photographers by being used at live shows. I, myself, love using the Lensbaby lenses at live concerts. The manual focus can oftentimes be much more effective than relying on autofocus.
Try using a copper tube to create very cool swirls around your subject.
You can submit the standard shots to the outlet, and the unique ones to the band. I am telling you, the musicians will love a new take on their live performances.
#3 – Tons of Flying Hair is Great
Naturally, try to capture the facial expressions of the performers. However, you are dealing with rockstars here, and part of the cool factor of these rock gods is their wild style.
Take advantage of the flying hair and fun headbanging, they can sometimes make cooler shots than your standard singing portraits.
#4 – Perspective is Everything
Although concert photography can be very limited, between shooting time restrictions and limitations on your shooting location, you can still play with perspective.
The key to being different is viewing life through a lens that is more diverse than those around you, no pun intended. Get low, low, low to the ground and shoot up or move yourself to the very far side of the photo pit and shoot from there! Photograph in between the heads of fans or get up on the balcony.
Whatever you do, find new angles, views, and compositions to take advantage of to create more unique concert photos.
#5 – The Musician Doesn’t Always Have to Look at You
It is true that the viewer connects best when the subject is looking at or engaging with the camera.
However, you don’t always have to fight for that type of shot during a live concert setting. It’s okay for the musicians not to interact with you as a photographer. Shots of them looking away or down can be just as eye-catching.
#6 – Embrace the Light, Don’t Avoid it
Having a good grip on lighting will aid you in your concert photography journey. Stage lighting can differ tremendously between shows, venues, and even what lighting is available for that evening. The lighting can range from bright white strobes to deep reds.
Understanding how lighting is photographed by your camera, how it reflects on the instruments and equipment, and how the bulbs affect the performer’s skin tones will change how you take the photograph.
Most incredibly safe and tame images come from the photographer being wary of taking advantage of the lighting situation at concerts. Don’t be afraid to jump right in there and take advantage of whatever bizarre lighting scheme the performers have cooked up for you.
At the end of the day, the lighting is a part of the concert experience, and your job is to capture that.
#7 – Lens Flares are Rad
On the topic of lighting, lens flares can be very cool!
This is, of course, an aesthetic choice, but I personally find them to be quite fun. You can cause a flare in a similar fashion to photographing during sunset or golden hour. When the light hits the front glass element of your lens at a specific angle, a flare will appear.
#8 – Overexposing and Underexposing Can Work
To help accurately capture the emotion and feel of the show, it is alright to overexpose or underexpose your frame. This can also create a rather unique and uncommon type of photograph.
Use your best judgment and common sense here to determine when such exposures are appropriate.
#9 – Don’t Be Afraid to Get Close
Guitarists don’t bite (not hard anyway)! Don’t be afraid to get close to the performers on the stage. Take a wide-angle lens, such as a 16-35mm lens, and get right up in there. The perspective distortion can make for a very cool shot.
However, that being said, be aware of your surroundings. I cannot reiterate this point enough. Absolutely be aware of your surroundings!
It is easy to get lost in the moment and fall into a creative bliss when shooting, but a live music event is not the place to lose yourself.
If you’re not growing eyes in the back of your head, you’ll most likely get clonked right in the temple by a crowd surfer, tangled in a microphone cord, or smacked by a flying guitar. This will help you avoid injury to yourself and others.
#10 – In-Between Moments Tell a Story
The band may have put their instruments down for a moment, but that doesn’t mean that the job of the photographer ends there.
Some in-between moments can become incredible iconic images through their powerful storytelling ability.
#11 – The Moment is More Important than Technical Accuracy
Let’s face the facts, we all pixel peep. I believe that over time, passionate photographers get a bit anxious about technical perfection in their images (I know I sure do sometimes). However, some niches such as event photography are not as fussed over technical mistakes as long as the moment captured is important.
There is be a fine balance between taking a good photograph by technique and taking a good photograph by design (aka a great and powerful moment). However, if you have to choose between capturing a fantastic story and ensuring equipment perfection, pick the story.
Many wonderful images are overlooked because the focus is too set on ensuring that an image is tack sharp rather than what the subject portrays.
Of course, this isn’t meant to be interpreted as disregarding technical proficiency. You should aim to take exceptional photographs, but don’t get lost in your pursuit and forget your purpose for photographing the event.
Now that you have these tips in your photography toolbelt, go out there and take some wicked shots!