5 Essential Music Photography Tips

Photos of Bassnectar performing at the Pageant in St. Louis on April 9, 2011. (Todd Owyoung)

New to the world of live music photography? Here's five basic and essential concert photography tips that every new live music shooter should know, whether you're just shooting from the crowd or have just scored your first photo pass.

Think of this as a follow-up to the completely non-technical post, “6 Tips Every New Music Photographer Should Know” – but if you are new to music photography, be sure to check out that post as well.

What follows are 5 technical tips, but don't worry – they're all simple and things that just about anyone can incorporate into their shooting, even without a fancy camera.

Live Music Photography Quick Tips

1) Shoot in RAW

Shooting in RAW will give you the most flexibility and the best image quality. With flash memory and harddrive space as inexpensive as it is, there's no reason not to shoot RAW. If you must shoot JPG because you're more comfortable with that format, at least shoot RAW + JPG so you're covered on all fronts, now and in the future, for maximum quality.

2) Crank the ISO

Don't be afraid to crank the ISO on your camera. Yes, it will produce more noise, but frankly if noisy or grainy images are the worst parta of your issues, then consider that you've done everything else right. I don't know about you, but I'll take a sharp, grainy image over a blurry, noiseless image any day.

3) Shoot in Manual Mode

Short of strobes and other very short duration lighting effects, most concert lighting doesn't actually change that much in terms normal levels. Shooting in manual mode is the easiest way to control your exposure and create consistent, repeatable results. Read my tutorials on exposure and metering and practice before using manual mode at a show. You'll love it.

4) Auto White Balance

People are always asking me what white balance setting I use for my work, but it's no secret kelvin temperature. I use auto WB almost 100% of the time. For most indoor shows, auto WB will get you ballpark most of the time, with the rare exception being mono-color LED lighting or mixed-source lighting. If you're shooting RAW, you can always adjust color temperature later without a huge hit to image quality.

5) Wear Earplugs

This is the one gear recommendation I'm going to make. Don't worry about a better low light lens unless your ears are filled with something besides eardrum-crushing decibels. I recommend Hearos Extreme Protection earplugs for new shooters – they're cheap, comfortable and reduce a nice -33dB of noise. Read my review of these extremely effective plugs.

 (Todd Owyoung)


So there you have it. 5 essential tips that I guarantee you most pros are practicing every single time they're in the pit, but which might not be obvious to new music photographers. Better yet, these are tips that don't have anything to do with camera gear (unless your camera doesn't support RAW), so you can implement these even if you're using a point ‘n shoot camera.

Looking for more technical tips? Don't worry, I've got those for you as well:

Music Photography Technique

Happy shooting, guys.