On stage

Who would not be proud as a photographer if they could take a photograph of their favourite performer on stage rather than cut out their picture from a magazine? Shooting at concerts, however, comes with quite a lot of difficulties. As a general rule, the more famous the performer, the harder it is to take a photo. Stars are usually very particular and self-conscious about the way they look.

At a concert of the local band in the local community centre you can get on the stage and shoot the performers up close and personal with a flash. You have enough time for experiment, no one is bothering you, but rather you are bothering the musicians.

Hippie fest, Sha Sha – Canon 6D, Canon 135/2
Hippie fest, PBB – Canon 6D, Canon 135/2

You can play around with low shutter speeds, for example, blurring the background and the movement, while focusing on an interesting moment using the flash.

Things will be quite different with a world famous mega star.

Ian Gilan – Deep Purple – Sony Nex7 + Sony E 18-200/3.5-6.3

As a rule, there is double security at such concerts – one organised by the welcoming organisation and one organised by the performers. It is not allowed to take large cameras and video cameras with you at such concerts. The most common criteria are the colour and size of the camera. If the camera is big and black, what you will get is ‘you cannot, it’s forbidden to take professional photographs at the concert’. If the camera is small and silver, you stand a chance of passing through security with it.

Roger Glower – Deep Purple – Sony Nex7 + Sony E 18-200/3.5-6.3
Steve Morse – Deep Purple – Sony Nex7 + Sony E 18-200/3.5-6.3

There is some logic to this distinction, because smaller-sized amateur class cameras cannot take more than a general view of the stage where the performer will look as small as a dot and often blurred. Though there may be certain exceptions – a well-chosen compact camera with ultrazoom and stabilisation will perform relatively well in such situations.

Another difficulty is the large distance from the stage and the poor lighting at most concerts. I could never understand why stars need to perform in semi-darkness and how they see their notes in the dark, but that is a topic for another conversation…

In order to make a better picture, it would be best to have a lens with good light power (preferably with image stabilisation) and an option to shoot with high sensitivity. It is also important to have maximum magnification.

Roger Waters – Sony Nex7, Sony 55-210/4.5-6.3

The best solution would be a DSLR camera or a compact ultrazoom (or hybrid) camera with stabilisation. A DSLR is the better option, but only if it is equipped with a suitable lens – one with long focal length and high light power. The biggest advantage of a compact camera is its noiseless shutter (and tilt screen for some models as you do not need to bring it to your eyes in order to shoot).

Ken Hensley – Uriah Heep – Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 135/2

Of course, stabilisation is not a universal solution to all problems, it can only compensate to some extent the vibrations from the hand when shooting, but it cannot compensate for the movements of the performers.

Using a flash at a concert is not a good option. On the one hand, you will likely not be at the right distance from the performer in order to be able to use the flash to illuminate him or her (especially an in-built one, which has a range of up to 5 metres). On the other hand – the flash bothers those around you and gives away the fact that you are shooting, which might cause trouble with the security.

Glenn Hughes – Fujifilm S5Pro, Nikkor 70-210/4-5.6

My advice for shooting under such conditions is to take a ticket for the front rows or the fan area, as close as possible to the stage (of course, the best option would be official accreditation, but if you were a photographer of such renown that you were invited to shoot at the concerts of stars, you would hardly be taking interest in this article). Do not turn on the flash. Do not hold your camera close to your eyes at all times. When you are not shooting, it could be in the bag over your shoulder. It is a good idea, after all, to enjoy what is happening on the stage.

The Fondation – Canon 5D III, Canon 135/2

Select the highest possible ISO setting which would still allow you to produce a quality photograph. Select the highest possible shutter speed which would allow you to take photographs without blurring the image. Be careful not to move when pressing the shutter button, and, where possible, support yourself or support the camera onto something. Try to capture the performer at the right moment, when he is still on the stage.

Try to avoid as much as possible microphones in front of the face. Converting to black and white can hide the colour noise which is rather unpleasant most of the time.

Of course, do not forget to delete any photos which you find are not good enough to be shared with the world, and there will surely be many.

Any good photograph is a successful synthesis of technique and art.
Andreas Feininger