How to Shoot Better Concert Photos With A Point & Shoot Camera

Atmosphere during Steve Aoki's performance at the Pageant in St. Louis on February 1, 2012. (Todd Owyoung)

You've seen it before. A sea of point and shoot digital cameras and cell phones held aloft during concerts, snapping away for posterity. In fact, there's a good chance you've done it yourself.

Here are six simple tips for making better live music photos when you're shooting from the crowd, especially with a cell phone, P&S or other consumer camera. Take it from me, a professional music photographer. If I were shooting my favorite band from the crowd at a gig, this is what I'd do.

Trust me. I'm a professional. 

1) Get Closer

Professional music photographers almost always shoot from the front of the stage, if not on the stage itself. This is not a coincidence – the best rock photos are so often made up close and personal.

If you're a fan shooting from the crowd, getting as close to the stage as possible improves your chances of making great concert images. The ideal spot is often right at the security barricade at the front of the stage if there is one, otherwise along the stage itself.

A close position to the stage not only gets you (and your camera) closer to the action, which is essential for high-impact images, but it also reduces distracting elements in between you and the band. You know, stuff like heads, arms, and people in general.

2) Turn Off Your Flash

The flash on your P&S is minuscule at best. There are basically two scenarios with a small, on-camera flash like those on P&S cameras:

  1. The flash is so weak it's not even going to light up the stage.
  2. If you happen to be close enough (think first couple rows), it's going to kill the stage lighting and generally look awful.

More than likely, if you use flash and you're shooting from the crowd, you're just going to get a great photo of the back of someone's head.

Turn off your flash for the best results capturing the stage lighting as the lighting designer – and the band – intend. This is especially true of your position is far away from the stage.

3) Wait Until The Lighting Is Brightest

Your P&S camera has a much smaller sensor than that of professional DSLR cameras, and, as a result the image quality is generally much worse. This is particularly true for low light situations. One way to compensate is to try and time your images for when the lighting is brightest on stage.

Waiting until the lighting is up will help make for less blurry and better exposed images. Moreover, attention to timing will help with making better photos in general. If there's any design to the lighting at all, the brightest lighting will often correspond to highlights in the song when the musicians are doing interesting (photogenic) things.

4) Shoot A Lot

One “secret” of professional music photographers? We generally shoot a lot – perhaps hundreds of frames for a single band if the activity and lighting on stage are diverse. Shooting more individual images not only can help compensate for technical aspects such as motion blur, but shooting more in general will increase your chances of bringing home memorable images, if only by virtue of a little luck.

5) Use Both Hands on your Camera

Camera shake is often a big problem with low light photography, and concerts are no exception. Compact cameras often suffer even more badly from camera shake since they're light weight and held out at a distance with support. This goes double for a cell phone.

Using both hands on your camera and tucking your elbows into your body will provide better stability, which will make for clearer images in low light.

6) Share Only Your Best Images

You're only as good of a photographer as you show others you are. If you only shoot one amazing photo from a concert, you're an amazing photographer based on that one image. It's all the other blurry, poorly exposed and mis-timed snaps that make people think  you just got lucky.

The dirty secret of many types of photography, including concert photography, is to shoot a lot. After all, you don't have to show anyone the bad photos – or at least, you shouldn't.

7) Put Down Your Camera

This is a serious recommendation to just put down your camera, stop photographing, and just to enjoy the show. (Especially if you see me at the concert – I promise you, I've got it covered!)

You might not have as many images to prove it, but by putting down your camera, you might just enjoy the experience just a little bit more. And after all, isn't that the point of live music?

Recommended P&S Cameras

  • Canon S100: This camera is tiny and has relatively amazing performance for a P&S. Totally pocketable.
  • Panasonic LX-5: This camera splits the difference between the tiny Canon s100 and the bulkier Canon G1 X – great image quality, great lens, in a small package.
  • Canon G1 X: It's pretty huge for a P&S, but the image quality is fantastic and the manual controls will make for much better shooting if you're really going for it.
  • Your iPhone: For a phone, the iPhone takes great photos. And chances are, you already have this camera phone. And if you don't, use whatever phone you do have. After all, the best camera is the one you have with you.

Conclusion

And there you have it. Six tips to help you make better concert photos with a P&S and one bonus suggestion to help you get the most out of a show.

If you shoot from the crowd, do you have any suggestions to share in the comments section?

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon D750:
I use two Nikon D750 for my live music photography. Amazing high ISO performance in a compact body with tons of pro features.
nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 24-70mm f/2.8:
For most gigs, the 24-70mm is my go-to lens. Exceptional image quality at wide apertures and super-functional range.
Nikon-70-200-squareNikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.
nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.
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