Capturing the raw energy and electrifying moments of a metal concert requires more than just a keen eye - it demands technical finesse. Dive into this guide for concert photographers, where we'll have a look into specific camera settings and techniques to ensure your shots stand out.
The article is quite beginner friendly. However, if you have no idea what so ever about aperture, shutter speed or ISO, just go check out the end of the article for a quick explanation first.
Mastering Low-Light Environments:
Metal concerts often embrace dimly lit atmospheres. Set your camera to a high ISO (generally 800-1600) to enhance sensitivity in low-light conditions. Combine this with a wide aperture (f/2.8 or lower) to allow more light into the lens, ensuring crisp shots even in the darkest corners.
Sunny Pro Tip I go up to ISO 6400 if I have to (e.g. covered faces, continuous red stage light only from the back and fog all-over) and reduce noise in post production. I set my ISO manually but if you don't, make sure to limit ISO in your camera settings up to a number you still feel comfortable (depends on your gear), so it doesn't switch automatically too high. For my style and my equipment I won't waste an ISO 12800 shot and delete it later anyways.
Nailing the Fast-Moving Action Metal shows are synonymous with high-energy performances. Opt for a fast shutter speed (1/250s or faster) to freeze the intense movements on stage. This prevents motion blur and allows you to capture the drummer's rapid beats or the guitarist's lightning-fast solos with precision.
Sunny Pro Tip To be completely honest I shoot mostly around 1/80s. I don't mind motion blur on hair, hands etc. as long as my main focus point is sharp. It can give your images more dynamic and more of an artistic aesthetics. Of course you can go a lot faster at open air gigs or big venues with bright stage lights. But for extreme metal and most of the locations I shoot at I would keep it way lower. This means you need to practice an extra steady hand to get crisp shots with my settings (if that is your intention of course).
Tackling Challenging Lighting Scenarios
Metal concerts often feature dynamic lighting setups, from intense spotlights to rapid color changes. Experiment with your camera's metering modes to adapt to varying lights. Spot metering can help maintain proper exposure on the artist's face, ensuring they're not lost in the shadows or overexposed in bright lights.
Sunny Pro Tip I pretty much use spot metering for all my concert shots. In my opinion it gives you the highest chance to get the exposure right. It's the first thing I change whenever someone is handing me their camera while asking for settings advice.
Adapting to Crowded or No Photopits
Metal shows can be tight spaces with limited access. If there's no photopit, maneuver through the crowd with a compact lens and shoot from different angles. Alternatively, bring a telephoto lens to capture close-ups of band members even from a distance.
Sunny Pro Tip Please don't be as insane as me, trying to get pictures from within the mosh pit etc. I have several scars to proof - it is not a good idea. Also you'd be very sorry if your camera or lenses get destroyed within the action. Further advice (maybe because it has happened to me way too many times): always observe or inform yourself beforehand about the stage performance of the band so you won't get yourself plus equipment covered in blood - mostly artificial, fire, ash, dust, beer etc. Also be aware of microphone stands and aggressive/drunk musicians. Same goes for the audience. I pretty much have always an eye on my surrounding while shooting with the other. Always be more careful than very sorry later.
Perfect Timing for Emotive Shots:
Timing is everything in concert photography. Anticipate climactic moments during songs and be ready to click. Capture the vocalist mid-roar, the drummer in a powerful strike, or the guitarist at the peak of a solo. This requires familiarity with the band's music and stage dynamics.
Sunny Pro Tip Anticipating for me is key. I set the focus point always to where I think it will be in a second and not where it is right now. Especially when musicians are moving around like crazy. It is probably the most challenging task in concert photography as you need to release the shutter in the exact moment the object is in your focus, the lighting is awesome and the object in your focus is doing something spectacular. But once you start hitting those 'notes' it gets highly addicted and over time you get a feeling for it.
Bonus Tip: Shoot in RAW:
To retain maximum detail and flexibility in post-processing, shoot in RAW format. This allows for adjustments in exposure, color balance, and other settings during the editing process without compromising image quality.
Sunny Pro Tip Nothing to add here. Just shoot in RAW. Always.
So in short, how do I set up my camera?
My standard is going in with spot metering, format RAW, f.2.8, 1/80s, ISO around 1600/3200 inside / around ISO 100-250 outside. Then adapt during the first shots and adapt continuously throughout the shoot.
If you are overwhelmed with adapting all parameter all the time, set your camera to shutter priority (Tv mode) with for example 1/80s or whatever feels right to you starting from and let ISO (within your set limit) and aperture adapt automatically. Then you only adjust the shutter speed faster or slower (freeze or motion blur) and all the other parameters will be adapted by the camera. Or you can try out aperture priority (Av mode) on your camera and set it to for example 2.8 and let the camera do the rest. You can then see on your computer later which combinations gave you the best results in which circumstances and next time try to manually set your parameters to combinations you learnt that work for you.
These technical tips serve as a foundation for elevating your concert photography skills. Embrace the challenge, and go out and shoot as much as you can. You can read a million articles about the theoretical stuff but it is really best to learn with your camera in your hand shooting in different settings seeing immediately results. What are your preferred settings? 📸🤘 #ConcertPhotography #MetalMusic #TechnicalTips
Understanding how these settings work together allows photographers to achieve the desired exposure and creative effects in their images. Experimenting with different combinations in various shooting scenarios will deepen your understanding of these fundamental camera controls.
My name is Sonja Rodríguez, a concert photographer with over a decade of experience, specializing in the intense landscapes of Black and Death Metal.
If you enjoy my content, don't forget to tip me a coffee ☕ via Paypal.Me/sunnyshotmedown