How To Capture Live Music Photography
When thinking of pursuing a certain style of photography, music might not be the first one that comes to mind. Although intimidating at first, from everything to do with photo passes to media credentials to etiquitte, the barrier to entry for music photography actually seems to get lower every year with the increasing number of resources and technology available. Cameras that work well in low-light are no longer crazy expensive, starter prime lenses are easily accessible, and it’s easier than ever to start working for online publications and get access to photo passes.
The Right Gear & Settings
The first challenge of music photography is getting used to low light settings. As most live music and concert venues exist in dark spaces with strobes as the most common light source, it’s important to be equipped with the right gear. Fast lenses, those with a low aperture (ideally f/2.8 or lower), will be your best bet as they will be sensitive to more light. The Canon 50mm f/1.8 is a fantastic starter lens as it is compact, lightweight, and cost-effective for those starting out.
Settings, on the other hand, are more difficult to pinpoint as your subject and the lights are always moving simultaneously. As a rule of thumb, it’s ideal to start with a fast shutter (around 1/160), low aperture (around f/2.8-3.5) and adjust as needed.
Catching the Moments
The beauty of music photography is non-stop action on stage offering endless ways to capture the moments. Renowned music photographer Greg Noire (who has worked with the likes of Coachella, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, and Chance The Rapper) advises in his interview with Billboard:
If it’s a slower set then you want to shoot that tight because they’re usually singing directly into that microphone and they’re gonna pour all that emotion directly to that microphone. If it’s a rapper who’s jumping around and stage diving, you want to shoot a little wider because there’s no telling where they’re going to go.
More Than Just the Artist
A common mistake that starting music photographers make is focusing solely on what’s happening on stage. While it’s exciting to photograph your favorite artist, there is much more to music photography than just the main subject. What makes good music photographers stand out from the great ones is the ability to capture an experience, one that brings the atmosphere and action to life. A great way to get used to this is to study documentary-style photographers and see how they take in their surroundings. It’s usually the spontaneous, candid moments that end up being the best ones.
Taking photos of artists is only half the battle, editing the photos after the fact is a completely different beast. Editing low light photos come with a handful of different challenges from dealing with excessive noise due to high ISO settings to blurring or missed focus as a result of subjects moving quickly across the stage. Some of these issues are easier to alleviate than others. Adobe Lightroom is a great tool for editing a library of photos as you can easily create presets for photos that contain the same settings.
Lighting can be completely out of your control at times, and every music photographer dreads the inevitable red light. Thankfully, black & white can be your best friend in these situations and still allow you to retrieve any details that may have been washed out or overexposed while shooting.
This video is a fantastic resource that shows music photographer Matty Vogel’s post-processing workflow from start to finish.
For more inspiration, check out some of our favorite music photos on Pexels.