Some of you may remember I am a huge fan of the Smashing Pumpkins, and may remember my story about their sold out concert in Phoenix last December. I recently donated a few shots to an archive documenting the band’s history, and I thought it might be a good time to share a tip or two for concert photography from the fan’s perspective (if you are a pro concert shooter you certainly don’t need my advice!).
- Lose the battery grip. A single battery is more than adequate to shoot a single concert and the grip makes the camera look more “professional”. Often times security will not let you in with gear if it looks “professional”. If you have a big Nikon D3x/D3s/D3 or Canon 1D Mark IV you are basically screwed. That is your punishment for having a nice camera.
- Bring 1 fast lens. For the most part, lighting will be dim so fast glass is a must. I like to bring a 50mm 1.8 or 1.4 (or 1.2 if you shoot Canon).
- Lose the lens hood. Like the battery grip, a lens hood makes you look more “professional”. I am more concerned getting in with my gear than with the effects of lens flare.
- Switch camera to spot metering. I am only concerned with the exposure of my focal point, not the entire scene. With all the constantly changing concert lights and massive dynamic range on stage, matrix metering will simply confuse the camera as it tries (and fails) to balance everything to make a decent exposure.
- Switch camera to spot or single point focus. You want to be able to place your focal point on a face or mic stand or whatever and be confident it will be in focus. Stages are cluttered with amps, and pedal boxes, and other cool looking stuff with blinkie lights. With the other modes (3D, multi area, matrix, etc.) you run the risk of the camera becoming confused and focusing on something closer than your intended target.
- Shoot in aperture priority mode combined with auto or variable ISO. In auto or variable ISO mode, you tell the camera the minimum shutter speed and the maximum ISO. The camera then chooses the lowest ISO needed to achieve your minimum shutter speed. I typically put in 1/125 sec as my minimum shutter speed (at 50mm, if you bring an 85mm lens jack this up to 1/200) and ISO 2000 as my max ISO (My Nikon D90 doesn’t like to go above 2000. Dear Nikon – Please hurry up and release the D800 so I can raise this to 12,800!). In Av mode, the aperture remains constant (set to wide open) while the camera adjusts the shutter speed to make a proper exposure. When you combine these two settings, you will most likely never have an underexposed shot, and with the shutter speed at more than twice your focal length (125 > 50×2) you shouldn’t have to worry about camera shake.
- Keep the flash off. First, the lighting guy for the band spent hours and hours planning and setting up all his gear. Do you really think your little pop-up guy is going to do anything other than show all the cables and gaffer tape all over everything? Actually it will, which brings me to my second point: It will piss someone off and enhance your chances of getting the boot or being told to no longer take pictures. A DSLR pop-up flash, while crappy and only really useful for triggering/commanding other “real” off-camera flashes, is still much more powerful than the teeny point and shoot flashes. For all of our sakes, leave the pop-up flash closed.
- Anticipate. You know the songs. You know the words. Use this to your advantage and anticipate when the guitar player rocks out or the lead singer gives the crowd the “I am so much cooler than all of you” look.
- Don’t shoot the entire time. After all, you are there to see a show right? Enjoy it. Besides, you will look weird with a camera stuck to your face for 90 minutes.
Smashing Pumpkins Concert Pictures
On to a few concert pictures: