How To Take… Concert Photography

Novice photographers are often disappointed with the shots they get from their cameras at concerts and other low-light situations. This is usually due to the fact that, if left to it’s own devices, the camera will decide what ISO speed to use, and can also insist on using on-camera flash.

If you’re at a concert, using flash can be enough to get you thrown out of the venue (to say nothing of it being pretty rude going off in the artists’ faces). It also results in very harsh, flat lighting, which completely drowns out any of the colourful stage lighting, ruining the atmosphere.

In order to capture the colours to full advantage, turn your camera to manual – or at least, alter the ISO-setting to the highest it will go – 800 or 1600 if possible, and turn off the flash. This should force the camera to choose a wide aperture and fastest shutter speed possible, which will help capture the colours and action on stage.

[The Rumble Strips – stage lighting effects are good to capture with the wide angle lens]


Alexandra Palace, for a private gig by The Rumble Strips. Because it was a private show, photography was allowed, but this isn’t always the case at concerts. I was right in the front row, so no-one’s head was in my way!


  • Canon EOS 30D set on ISO 1600 and Programme AE
  • Canon 17-85mm f4-5.6 EF IS lens for wide shots
  • Canon 75-300mm f4-5.6 EF IS lens for closeups/portraits


Try to get the musicians “doing something” or at least, appear to be in the middle of singing!

[Tom Garbutt on bass, with a green spotlight picking out some highlights]

[Henry Clark on trumpet, with a magenta spotlight backlighting]

If you can, try and fill the frame for some interesting shots of the instruments:

[Closeup of the poor old battered guitar Charlie was strumming]

It’s always good to be right at the front of the crowd, to get the best pictures. And if you can turn off you flash and wind up the ISO sensitivity of your camera, you’re likely to get more interesting pictures than the bloke next to you holding up a camera phone!

Thinking Around The Subject

I take a lot of photos at rugby matches, but sometimes during the break or after the game can provide some really interesting subjects, not just the players on the pitch. This is particularly true when it’s a big Cup Final game.

On 19th May, I saw Bath vs ASM Clermont-Auvernge play the European Challenge Cup Final at Twickenham Stoop. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and by the time the game was over, and the trophy was being presented to the victorious ASM team, there was some great side lighting which really brought things alive.

So rather than show you any of the match photos, here are a selection of fans and player shots, to show what else of interest you can see by thinking laterally. (You can see more after-match photos too.)


One thing I love about rugby is the fans – whichever team you support, there is always respect for good play and each other. We all sit together around the ground – there is no need for segregation. Yes, you’ll hear plenty of good- natured banter amongst the opposing crowd, but I’ve never seen any trouble of the sort which is all too common in and around football grounds.

[Left, La Dame d’Auvernge]

This lady was just on her way out of the ground after her team had won. I complimented her team on playing well (in my best French) and she rewarded me with a lovely beaming smile – which really summed up the spirit of the game and it’s supporters.


The winning team lined up on my side of the pitch for the press shots – fortunately, I was a few rows higher in the stands, directly behind the press corps, and got some great shots of the players celebrating their victory:

[ECC Champions – ASM Clermont-Auvergne]

Some shots you know are going to be special when you press the shutter. The picture below was pure serendipity – I had no idea the ticker tape was due, but just as I pressed the button, it exploded around the cup, lit from behind by the low sun:

[Ticker Tape Explosion]

Of course, being in the right place at the right time is also vital. Often after a game, players will mingle with the crowd, or at least get close enough for you to get some nice portraits. The ASM team were keen to show off their trophy, and gulp champagne out of it too! The shot below was taken with the 400mm end of my 100-400mm IS zoom lens – it has superb quality, and this is about half-frame cropped from the middle of the picture:

[Drinking a toast – Loic Jacquet guzzles champagne out of the trophy, while his team mates look on in the reflection]

If you find you’re getting the same shots from familiar situations, why not try thinking around the subject a bit, it’s surprising what you can come up with, given a little thought and a little luck!