Tips on how to shoot a concert

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Recently, two other photographers and I went along to a nice concert at Port Noarlunga in South Australia.  The performer was Jen de Ness, a singer who does cabaret-style shows based on the theme of love.  With her were a guitarist, sax player and string section, violin and cello. 

Here are some tips on how to shoot a concert like this where you can get fairly close (and still not bother the spectators). Also included are pictures from earlier jazz events that illustrate the points.

1)  GET CLOSE AND TRY TO AVOID FLASH.  The no-flash rule was in force here and is common.  Getting close means you need a long lens. Mine was a 300mm on my Nikon 3200.  A friend shot on a tripod. I kicked my ISO up to 3200 and hand-held. Many of the shots were out of focus (auto focus rarely works for me at this low light level, so get used to doing it manually and suffering losses). 

2)  VARY YOUR SHOTS, MEANING CHANGE WHERE YOU ARE STANDING, CHANGE THE SUBJECT, CHANGE SIZE OF THE GROUPS YOU ARE SHOOTING.  Put them in ones, twos and threes, even the entire group, but remember – too many wide shots make dull viewing afterwards.

3)  SHOOT PAIRS, IF YOU CAN .  Consider putting one out of focus, the other in. 

Don’t fear out of focus elements, people OR props.  Can you put one player inside of a frame created by a sax?

4)  USE EXISTING LIGHT FOR DRAMA.  At Jen’s concert, a blue light cast lovely rays onto the scene when I shot at a side angle.  Sometimes the light is heavily coloured – use it for drama and uniqueness. 

5) TRY TO CATCH THE DECISIVE MOMENT.  Channel your inner Cartier-Bresson and try to anticipate the cute expression, the intensity, the rapport between singer and musician. 

Try to shoot the face away from the mike;  with singers, side angle works well here).  It is not necessary to fill the frame with the face all the time  but if you can, include a few ultra-close ups.

6)  FEAR NOT THE CROP.  In post-production, go ahead and crop out all distractions and maybe some negative space (all black, for example).  Consider making the image a square. Just give us the essentials.

7) BREAK THE RULES NOW AND THEN.  Leave the subject small in the frame if the rest of the image is not taking away from it.  Place the singer far away from the others on purpose.  You can adopt a grainy look or purposely under-expose, if the scene looks good that way.  Shoot ‘standard’ shots first then get experimental.  Try odd angles, maybe tilt the lens.