Settings for shooting concerts and recommended lenses

It’s time for outdoor concerts and festivals, and you may need some tips on how to shoot at a concert with basic settings to guide you in most situations.

As you will understand, there is no Holy Grail of settings to take pictures in a concert, it all depends on whether it is daytime, the power of the spotlights, their placement, if there are spotlights behind the musicians, smoke, if the singer is hitting jumps like crazy or on the contrary it is a piano concert in which you could shoot freehand with speeds of 10 seconds (exaggerating).

The best thing is that you learn the basics that you will need in a concert so that you can play with the settings and get the photo you are looking for.

It is important that you practice at home before going to the event, as once you are there between jostling, tight space and the movement of the artists, you may not have time to test camera setups without missing the highlights. The concert photography requires a high level of handling the camera to be the winner.

This guide is designed to photograph concerts with a reflex camera or at least one with manual controls, so you can also use your mobile phone with an application to take photos that allows you to control the exposure.

Basic concert camera settings

Take these settings as a guide, not something that will always work for you. At first this configuration will be of great help but you will have to “play” with the settings to get a correct exposure or at least the one you are looking for.

  • Shoot in manual mode
  • Shutter speed 1/125 to 1/250 minimum.
  • Sensitivity ISO 800/1600/3200 at night and ISO 100/200/400 during day
  • Diaphragm aperture f / 1.4 to f / 2.8
  • Shooting in burst mode
  • Spot metering mode .
  • Shoot in RAW
  • AI Servo autofocus (focus area tracking)
  • Auto white balance

Shoot in manual

Set the camera to manual mode. With so many changes of lights and movements, it is best that you have total control over the camera, so as not to suffer lights burned on the artists’ skin or photographs that are too dark because the camera has measured the light in areas with a lot of light.

I know that setting the camera in priority to aperture or speed can be interesting but as I tell you with the changes of lights and constant movement I prefer not to trust the measurement that the camera can make.

Shutter speed

Set the shutter speed to 1/125 or 1/250 as a base and increase depending on the scene. This setting will be the one that you will have to modify the most throughout the concert and will depend on whether there is a lot of movement on stage or not.

In a slow concert, in which the artists are almost always in the same place and do not jump continuously, you can set a slower shutter speed and gain light but in a frenetic concert you will need higher speeds.

Try to try slow speeds below 1/100 to capture the movement of the musicians , you can achieve spectacular effects by leaving the shutter open longer. Don’t be shy when it comes to experimenting.

ISO sensitivity

With ISO sensitivity you will provide enough light to avoid having to reduce the shutter speed. If the concert is at night in a place with little light, set a sensitivity as high as your camera allows it within the noise levels that you tolerate.

If your camera is low / medium range try not to exceed ISO 1600, cameras like the Canon 750D  or Nikon D5600 do well in those figures, if you need a little more ISO or a camera with a good sensor for concerts take a look to the Canon 6D or the next Nikon D7500  with which you can reach 6400 .

If the concert is in broad daylight you can configure very low sensitivities such as ISO 100/200.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by so many controls you can leave the automatic ISO but limited to 3200 ISO , consult your camera manual to see if you have this function. This way the camera will adjust the ISO automatically without going beyond the value set as maximum.

Diaphragm aperture

The aperture is also especially important, a bright lens like the ones we will see below will be of great help. Wide open apertures of f / 1.4 to f / 2.8 would be perfect, if your lens allows it, use them, since you can set a lower ISO sensitivity and a shutter speed according to the movement of the artist.

It will also depend on the distance you are from the stage, remember that if you set a very wide diaphragm aperture you will lose depth of field and the musicians behind will not come out sharp.

Spot metering

Adjusting the light metering in point  for this type of photography is the best option, since what interests us is the face of the artists or specific areas of the scene. If you choose another type of metering in situations like this where the light is constantly changing and there are too many contrasts, the camera can misinterpret the light or at least not how you want it to, much better to have control over it.

Focus mode

The focus leave it in automatic and AI Servo mode in Canon or AF-C in Nikon, with this you will achieve a continuous focus on one point. Imagine what it must be like to focus with the lens wheel manually at a concert while the musician keeps moving from side to side. I would end up going up on stage and fixing it with duct tape to the ground as long as it was still.

The AI ​​Servo mode will take care of fixing the focus point and following it as it moves so as not to lose sharpness on it. It is also recommended to disassociate the focus button from the shutter button to focus with a button other than the shutter button. In the instruction manual you will surely find this option on your camera.

Shoot in RAW

I know it goes without saying but remember to shoot RAW. With the light changes in both intensity and color, you will surely need to lighten shadows or reduce highlights in development.

White balance

Personally, I prefer to leave this setting automatic, since if you shoot in RAW you will be able to modify it later in Lightroom or the development program you use.

Bear in mind that if there are colored lights that “bathe” the entire stage, you would have to be changing the white balance all the time, so it is much better to leave it automatic and adjust it in development.

Shoot in burst

Set the continuous shooting mode to shoot in bursts, this way you will ensure more photos that are worthwhile. Shooting in bursts you can capture gestures and looks that would be impossible with a single shot. Burst shooting at concerts is 100% recommended.

Lenses for concert photography

70 – 200 mm

One of the most versatile, you can find it for all brands, remember to look for the one that is compatible with your mount, Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, etc. to see the price.

It is also an excellent lens for shooting in theaters or shows where you are away from the stage.

50 mm lens

If you are close to the stage, you will be able to take 90% of the photos with this objective. Keep in mind that if your camera is APS-C or DX the crop factor makes it 85mm. In that case, look better for a 35mm lens so that with the conversion it stays at approximately 50mm.

Angle lens 17 – 50 mm

Perfect for photography with wide angles, in which to capture the entire stage or shots of the audience enjoying the show. If you use Canon, I recommend you take a look at the Canon 17-40mm , which will also be useful for photographing landscapes .

Concert flash photography

Although near the stage a flash in a concert could be very useful or even fixed in strategic areas and trigger them remotely, many times flashes are not allowed and musicians are quite bothered by flashes in the face while they perform, but you can always ask Before the performance if it is in a small venue or the group is communicative.

Personally, I don’t use flashes when shooting concerts, I like to capture natural light or the atmosphere created by the colored lights and smoke in the room. Take advantage of your camera settings to get good lighting without the need for a flash.

Typical problems when shooting concerts

These are some of the more or less difficult situations that you will find yourself when you go to photograph a show, be it night or day. Think about them before attending the event and how you could solve them, above all do not lose your calm and enjoy.

  • Noise from high sensitivities
  • Too much movement of the musicians.
  • Light changes
  • The target is too long or too short.
  • Changes in white balance
  • Smoke
  • Humidity
  • Shoot from the same angle the whole concert
  • Jostling