#1. Shoot at the widest possible aperture. It’s easiest to think of the aperture (F-stop setting) on a DSLR as the pupil of your eye. In bright light it must contract to keep too much light from flooding in. Likewise, in the dark it expands to its maximum circumference to glean any light that it can from dim surroundings. Similarly, the aperture of the lens you use for shooting a concert should be able to dilate wide enough to accept the often inconsistent and indirect lighting of the stage. Lenses with fixed apertures ranging between 1.4-2.8 are best for this. Your focal point will be narrow (only one performer will be in focus as a time), but you’ll avoid having to compensate with the graininess associated with a high ISO or the blur of a shutter speed that is too slow.
#2. Stop using your flash. This tip is more of a personal philosophy. If you’re with a band, if you’ve been hired to take professional photos of their show, flashes are awesome. They give you flexibility and more control over what you can capture. However, as a general show-goer, avoid using a flash. At small shows it’s distracting to the audience and the performers. At larger shows (especially if you’re using a point-and-shoot), the light is unlikely to reach the performers to give you the effect that you’re looking for. Be polite to your fellow listeners and find a way to use the existing lighting if possible. It will make your photos more interesting, and it gives you’re the chance to exercise your ability to be creative with what you’ve been given.
#3. Frame your shot, get your settings just right, and then wait. It’s easy to get caught up in the energy of a good show and shoot sporadically and a distractedly. Digital photography makes in easy to get lazy with creating the ideal image in the moment, instead of piecing something together in post. I’ve found great value in taking time to set up the shot carefully in real time. Part of setting up the perfect shot is waiting. I’ve seen a lot of well-lit, well-framed photos (my own included) that are catching a musician at the absolute worst time. They’re slack-jawed or blinking or strumming dully. Once you’ve got your settings right, wait and watch for the perfect moment to trigger the shutter. Wait for screaming or laughing or dancing. Wait for the explosive chorus or a performer to interact with the audience. Wait for the powerful human moments that distinguish a live show from any other listening experiences.
#4. Ditch center stage. A good way to capture these magic moments, especially if you’re focusing on 1 or 2 front-men, is to find a spot a little to the left or right of center-stage. Maybe this tip is a little obvious, but it’s a great spot to capture both an artist’s full-face (sans microphone), profile and audience interaction. In smaller venues, like Velour, this spot also gives you a little more flexibility to move around without having to push your way through a mass of bodies.
#5. Get Creative. There are so many photographers in the world today. At the average weekend show at Velour you’re likely to see half a dozen prowling the stage (and that’s not counting the iPhone wielders). It can be difficult to create an image that looks different than that of someone with the exact same camera right beside you. Once you have a hang of the basics, try unique compositions and methods. Try utilizing negative space, focus manually, shoot in black and white (it’s a different experience than de-saturating on your computer, I can assure you), give film a go, use motion blur intentionally, shoot from low to the ground, shoot the audience, shoot through the audience. Branching from the traditional concert photography styles will give you a fresh perspective and a more interesting image.