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Photo Tips > Concert Photography


Pianist Josef Hofmann at the old Metropolitan Opera House

November 28, 1937

Concert photography is demanding!

To get to photograph in Carnegie Hall, you have to practice.

Do the following.

1 - Camera Settings


Use a high ISO.

The trade off with high ISO settings is more noise.

But, if there's not enough light to photograph at ISO 400 or lower, you have go higher.

You can always use Noise Reduction.

And, noise doesn't always detract from a photograph.

Exposure Mode

Use the shutter priority exposure mode (S or Tv).

Set the shutter speed to 1/125th.

Use faster shutter speeds if possible.

If you're using a 50mm lens, you may be able to use 1/60th.

You can use slower shutter speeds to blur the performer's movements, to zoom during the exposure, and to move the camera during the exposure.

Light Meter Settings

Use the center weighted or the spot light meter setting.

Center Weighted

The light meter will "see" the light in the central area of your viewfinder.


The light meter will see the light in a smaller central area of your viewfinder.

Check your instruction manual for the size of the area.

There are often markings in the viewfinder for this area.

Multiple Zone

Don't use the multiple zone light meter setting, such as Matrix (Nikon) or Evaluative (Canon).

These multiple zone light meter settings measure many parts of the scene, and are apt to be confused by the lighting.

Shutter Release

You can set the shutter release to Single Shot or Continuous.

If you use the Continuous setting, the shutter will trip repeatedly as long as you hold the shutter release down.

Realize though, that an "intelligent" shutter finger is more likely to get the photograph.

Holding down the shutter release and hoping often doesn't work as well.

Also, the focus is set when you first press the shutter release.

The focus will stay there if you're using Continuous, even if the performer moves.

So, the first photograph in the sequence may be sharp, but not the subsequent photographs.

The Single Shot setting may be best, except when you're photographing a performer diving off the stage.


Set your camera to focus in the center of the viewfinder, rather than having the camera choose where to focus.

Do the following.

1) Point camera at the performer.

2) Press and hold the shutter release down partially.

3) Recompose the photograph, if necessary.

4) Press the shutter release.

Raw & JPEG

Many cameras can save photographs as both raw and JPEG files.

The advantage of raw files is being able to process them yourself.

You can make adjustments to the exposure and white balance, as well as other settings.

JPEG files are raw files that have been processed by the camera.

They're convenient.

Saving in both file formats may slow down your camera, however.

White Balance

Stage lighting uses tungsten lamps.

Use the tungsten white balance, the light bulb icon.

2 - Lenses

Fast lenses are great, but except for one type, are usually expensive.

Get a 50mm f/1.8 lens.

They're compact and inexpensive.

A 50mm f/1.8 lens gathers over two stops more light than the typical zoom.

Let's say you're using a zoom.

At f/4, the shutter speed is 1/30th.

That's too slow.

So, you switch to your 50mm f/1.8.

Now, at f/1.8, the shutter speed is 1/1/25th.

You do have to be closer to the performer, of course, when using a 50mm lens.

Go to A Great Lens for Portraits & Low Light.

If you're doing lots of concert photography, get a f/2.8 fixed aperture zoom.

3 - Preparation

Batteries & Memory Cards

Bring spare batteries and extra memory cards.

Theft Prevention

You need quick access to your equipment, but don't want others to have the same access.

Consider using a camera bag, that fits under your arm, with a flap secured with Velcro.

4 - At the Concert

Autoexposure Lock

The lighting will probably be changing rapidly.

Unless you're doing a silhouette, measure the light on the performer.

1) Point camera at the performer.

2) Press and hold the AEL (Nikon) or * (Canon) button.

3) Recompose the photograph, if necessary.

4) Press the shutter release.

You can become adept at the above process.

Using autoexposure lock can quickly become automatic.

Exposure Lock + Focus Lock

You may be able to set the autoexposure lock feature to also lock in the focus at the same as the exposure.

Then, when you point the camera at the performer to set the exposure, the focus is locked in as well.

Light or Dark Clothing

You measure the light on the performer.

However, if he or she is wearing light or dark colored clothing, the exposure will be incorrect.

The light meter will darken light colored clothing, causing the scene to be underexposed.

Similarly, the light meter will lighten dark clothing, causing overexposure.

Use spot metering, and measure the light on the performer's face or another more average toned/colored area.

Or, use exposure compensation to adjust the exposure.


Most venues don't allow flash photography.

If you can use flash, don't.

Why wash out the beautiful stage lighting?

Flash may be useful if you're close to a moving performer.

Use the Night Portrait exposure mode.

The Night Portrait exposure mode combines two images.

• A frozen image of the performer, created by the fast blink of the flash.

• A blurred image of the performer's movement, created by a long shutter speed.

5 - Printing

If your photographs are printed by a lab, their printers may overexpose photographs with expanses of dark areas.

If this occurs, most labs will reprint the photographs at no additional charge.

6 - Book

Concert Photography: How to Shoot and Sell Music-Business Photographs by Jon Sievert

Published in 1997, the books discussion of the technical and business aspects of concert photography are out-of-date.

7 - Finally . . .

Wear ear plugs!