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  • Writer's pictureBruce MacKay

How To Shoot Concert Photography


Concert photography is a challenging job. But it can be quite an amazing feeling standing in front of thousands of people capturing images while the crowd goes wild during a band’s performance.

I got into shooting gigs by chance. A couple of bands I’m a fan of were touring New Zealand and I knew the promoter. I had recently bought a Canon 6D at the time (I was into astrophotography) and asked whether it was okay to bring a camera. I had no idea what I was doing, the pictures came out pretty bad, but I enjoyed the challenge. From then on, it was all about honing my skills. Thankfully, the promoter was happy to let me shoot more shows. As I improved, I started shooting for a few media outlets, promoters and record labels, which also organise and provide me with media passes. 

Camera Gear 

Personally, I use a Canon Eos R nowadays, with a Canon RF 24-105mm L f/4. I also use a Canon 70-200mm IS f/2.8 and a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L. Camera technology is improving so fast nowadays, that most modern cameras will be able to get reasonable results.

The important thing is the lenses. You can use f/4 lenses, but you will require higher ISO, which will be challenging in venues with poor lighting systems. F2.8 or faster tends to be the more common choice. I also use the Sandisk 128GB Extreme PRO memory cards. The reason is, you can easily end up shooting hundreds, if not thousands of shots and you will probably be shooting in burst mode. So you want the data on your card ASAP. The last thing you want is your camera buffer full and being unable to take the magic shot. 

Camera Settings

Always shoot raw! Shoot in manual. Shooting in Auto will give you horrible overexposed blurry shots. With smaller venues using LED lighting, I tend to shoot under 1/200. This is because some of the lighting causes banding. I’m normally shooting around 6400 iso, with the aperture wide open. But this all comes down to the lighting circumstances, so expect to adjust the settings. With good quality lighting, I’m probably shooting around 1/1000 at iso 1600. It is all about knowing your camera and understanding the light. 

Post Production Process

The most important thing, back up your data! I tend to use Photo Mechanic to select the shots I want. Normally, I want 20-50 shots for a publication and Photo Mechanic is very fast for choosing and culling. I then edit in Lightroom. Editing is a personal choice and I can’t really tell you how to edit your pics. But I would suggest learning how to use Lightroom, Capture One or whichever editing program you use from YouTube. 

Tips On Getting The Perfect Shot

If you can find pictures or videos of the artist, study them and get an idea of what they do. I would suggest watching and understanding how the artist reacts to the timing of the music. Learn about composition and how light interacts with the subject. Lights can change rapidly, so learn how to change settings by heart. Also, just because a picture you took might have sentimental value to you, it doesn’t mean the same to everyone else, so look at the image from an outsider’s point of view. Accept critique, you won’t improve by thinking you are the best. 

Potential Challenges 

I have shot at most venues around the Wellington area. Different size venues have different challenges. You tend to find with smaller venues that there is no designated photo pit, so it can be a free for all, also the lighting can be more challenging. When I am shooting at events like Homegrown or venues like the Sky Stadium or the TSB, you have a photo pit to shoot from, but you will normally have strict rules to abide by, such as only shooting the first 3 songs, no putting the camera above head height and definitely not using a flash, which is a big no anyway!

The most important thing is not disrupting the artist or audience. It is very important to build good relationships with the promoters, security, techs, bands, venue owners, publications and even other photographers. Courtesy goes a long way. . . So don’t even think about getting on stage, unless you want to be thrown out and blacklisted! 

Things That You Need To Be Aware Of

Not all venues allow photography, so don’t just assume you can turn up and do it. Be aware that some crowds can be pretty wild, so be prepared to move if needed. Don’t assume that because you have a camera, you have special rights and expect the crowd to play by your rules. They have paid to be there to see the act and not the back of a camera.

Travel light to these gigs, you won’t need a tripod, your laptop, flash, intervalometer etc. If you are shooting for a publication, be prepared for fast turnarounds. They will probably be wanting the pictures by 8 am the next day, so don’t expect much sleep.

About Bruce MacKay

Music Photographer Bruce Mackay has been shooting concerts and events for over 5 years. He has shot a wide variety of bands including Queen, Crowded House, The Streets, Th’ Dudes, Shihad, Shape Shifter, The Exploited, Fat Freddy’s Drop and The Stranglers. Some of the events he has shot include Homegrown and most recently the record label, Flying Nun’s 40th-anniversary celebrations. Bruce has had pictures featured in exhibitions and has shot for several publications and artists. He regularly photographs for Under The Radar.

Check out more of Bruce’s work here!


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