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Tutorial: Choosing the best camera settings for concert and live music photography

Concert photography is a style of photography like nothing else, with flashing lights, unpredictable movements and oftentimes dark venues. Getting your camera geared up and ready to shoot can be tough even for the best concert photographers, as there really is no one go-to series of photo settings.

Here is our breakdown of what you should generally start with when shooting a show, and how to adjust as necessary.

APERTURE:

The best advice here is to shoot as wide open as possible, bringing your lens down to the lowest f-stop it is capable of. Even the best lit venues are rarely as bright as the usual room, so you want to get the most light in your camera as you can. Whether it be f/1.4, f/2.8, or something a bit higher, you should always opt to shoot with as wide of an aperture as possible to gather as much light as you can.
Recommended Setting: Shoot wide open.

SHUTTER SPEED:

Shutter speed should always be the last thing sacrificed when setting up an image. Try to always shoot at a shutter speed above 1/160, unless you are certain your subject won’t be moving around much. Sometimes, you may have to boost up your ISO to a higher level than you would usually be comfortable with to reach this, but a photo with a bit of grain is always preferred to a blurry shot.
Recommended Setting: 1/160 or faster if possible.

ISO:

Shooting music is all about balance. We recommend setting your aperture as wide open as possible first, then setting your shutter speed to around 1/160, and then deciding on an ISO that gets you well exposed images last. Even though you might be apprehensive to shoot at an ISO of 1600 or even 3200 for a portrait or lifestyle shoot, sometimes these high numbers are the only option. In dark clubs, sometimes high ISOs of 3200 or 6400 can even be a benefit, giving you a nice natural grain that shows the vibe of the club better than a perfect shot might.
Recommended Setting: Whatever gets the job done.

EXPOSURE MODE:

Lighting will change constantly at most shows, especially rock, rap or electronic music concerts, but your best bet is still manual. While you may miss some shots this way because they are too bright or too dark, shooting with automatic exposure will likely capture even less images correctly. Aperture priority can be useful for shows with more consistent lighting, but for the most part we suggest opting for manual and finding the best balance for the show you’re shooting to rely on.
Recommended setting: Manual Exposure.

METERING MODE:

As mentioned, manual exposure is recommended because camera meters are often fooled at dynamic concerts. Still, it can sometimes be useful to shoot with Matrix metering (Nikon) or Evaluative Metering (Canon) if most of the stage has balanced lighting. In manual exposure mode, these evaluative metering modes can be used as a useful, passive reference while shooting, unlike spot metering, which requires actively selecting a metering point and cannot be used as unobtrusively.
Recommended setting: Matrix/Evaluative Metering.

AF SETTING:

AI Servo on Canon or AF-C (Continuous) on Nikon will track motion and keep your shots focused even when a subject is moving around a lot. Nothing is more inconvenient than having to try to track focus on a moving subject by yourself.
Recommended Setting: AF-C (Nikon)/AI Servo AF (Canon)

WHITE BALANCE:

There are very few times when shooting outside of Auto white balance will be beneficial. Even if your shots end up slightly off, lighting at shows tends to vary a lot and automatic WB tends to be easy enough to fix in post. While you may want to move to manual white balance if you have the time for a backstage shoot or pre-set portraits, when you have three songs to shoot from the pit, the last thing you want to do is spend it setting white balance.
Recommended Setting: Auto WB

DRIVE MODE:

We suggest shooting in continuous mode at the highest frame rate possible. You never know when an artist will jump, start dancing or smash a guitar, and you’d hate for your finger to be too slow to capture the exact frame you want.
Recommended Setting: Continuous

RAW OR JPG:

Everyone will tell you to only shoot RAW, and they are probably right. Still, if you have a fast turnaround or want to get an image on social media at the venue or night of, there is no shame in shooting JPGs. Memory cards are pretty cheap, but know what workflow will work best for you and don’t be ashamed to shoot JPG or RAW+JPG if you trust your ability to get sharp, clear images that don’t need much post-processing.
Recommended Setting: Use your best judgment. 

SAMPLE PHOTOS AND EXPOSURE INFO

Seeing is believing! Here are a few sample photos and the settings used to take them.

Canon EOS 6D // Focal Length: 155.0 mm // Exposure: 1/320 // Aperture: 2.8 // ISO Speed: 3200

Canon EOS 5D Mark II // Focal Length: 24.0 mm // Exposure: 1/160 // Aperture: 2.8 // ISO Speed: 3200

Canon EOS 6D // Focal Length: 80.0 mm // Exposure: 1/200 // Aperture: 4.5 // ISO Speed: 3200

Model: Canon EOS 5D Mark II // Focal Length: 35.0 mm // Exposure: 1/200 // Aperture: 2.8 // ISO Speed: 1600

Brian Benton
Brian is the founder and editor of Respect Your Youngers. He currently lives in New York City, and previously lived in St. Louis and San Francisco. He enjoys public transportation and coffee, and can be found online at brianfbenton.com

Tutorial: Choosing the best camera settings for concert and live music photography

Concert photography is a style of photography like nothing else, with flashing lights, unpredictable movements and oftentimes dark venues. Getting your camera geared up and ready to shoot can be tough even for the best concert photographers, as there really is no one go-to series of photo settings.

Here is our breakdown of what you should generally start with when shooting a show, and how to adjust as necessary.

APERTURE:

The best advice here is to shoot as wide open as possible, bringing your lens down to the lowest f-stop it is capable of. Even the best lit venues are rarely as bright as the usual room, so you want to get the most light in your camera as you can. Whether it be f/1.4, f/2.8, or something a bit higher, you should always opt to shoot with as wide of an aperture as possible to gather as much light as you can.
Recommended Setting: Shoot wide open.

SHUTTER SPEED:

Shutter speed should always be the last thing sacrificed when setting up an image. Try to always shoot at a shutter speed above 1/160, unless you are certain your subject won’t be moving around much. Sometimes, you may have to boost up your ISO to a higher level than you would usually be comfortable with to reach this, but a photo with a bit of grain is always preferred to a blurry shot.
Recommended Setting: 1/160 or faster if possible.

ISO:

Shooting music is all about balance. We recommend setting your aperture as wide open as possible first, then setting your shutter speed to around 1/160, and then deciding on an ISO that gets you well exposed images last. Even though you might be apprehensive to shoot at an ISO of 1600 or even 3200 for a portrait or lifestyle shoot, sometimes these high numbers are the only option. In dark clubs, sometimes high ISOs of 3200 or 6400 can even be a benefit, giving you a nice natural grain that shows the vibe of the club better than a perfect shot might.
Recommended Setting: Whatever gets the job done.

EXPOSURE MODE:

Lighting will change constantly at most shows, especially rock, rap or electronic music concerts, but your best bet is still manual. While you may miss some shots this way because they are too bright or too dark, shooting with automatic exposure will likely capture even less images correctly. Aperture priority can be useful for shows with more consistent lighting, but for the most part we suggest opting for manual and finding the best balance for the show you’re shooting to rely on.
Recommended setting: Manual Exposure.

METERING MODE:

As mentioned, manual exposure is recommended because camera meters are often fooled at dynamic concerts. Still, it can sometimes be useful to shoot with Matrix metering (Nikon) or Evaluative Metering (Canon) if most of the stage has balanced lighting. In manual exposure mode, these evaluative metering modes can be used as a useful, passive reference while shooting, unlike spot metering, which requires actively selecting a metering point and cannot be used as unobtrusively.
Recommended setting: Matrix/Evaluative Metering.

AF SETTING:

AI Servo on Canon or AF-C (Continuous) on Nikon will track motion and keep your shots focused even when a subject is moving around a lot. Nothing is more inconvenient than having to try to track focus on a moving subject by yourself.
Recommended Setting: AF-C (Nikon)/AI Servo AF (Canon)

WHITE BALANCE:

There are very few times when shooting outside of Auto white balance will be beneficial. Even if your shots end up slightly off, lighting at shows tends to vary a lot and automatic WB tends to be easy enough to fix in post. While you may want to move to manual white balance if you have the time for a backstage shoot or pre-set portraits, when you have three songs to shoot from the pit, the last thing you want to do is spend it setting white balance.
Recommended Setting: Auto WB

DRIVE MODE:

We suggest shooting in continuous mode at the highest frame rate possible. You never know when an artist will jump, start dancing or smash a guitar, and you’d hate for your finger to be too slow to capture the exact frame you want.
Recommended Setting: Continuous

RAW OR JPG:

Everyone will tell you to only shoot RAW, and they are probably right. Still, if you have a fast turnaround or want to get an image on social media at the venue or night of, there is no shame in shooting JPGs. Memory cards are pretty cheap, but know what workflow will work best for you and don’t be ashamed to shoot JPG or RAW+JPG if you trust your ability to get sharp, clear images that don’t need much post-processing.
Recommended Setting: Use your best judgment. 

SAMPLE PHOTOS AND EXPOSURE INFO

Seeing is believing! Here are a few sample photos and the settings used to take them.

Canon EOS 6D // Focal Length: 155.0 mm // Exposure: 1/320 // Aperture: 2.8 // ISO Speed: 3200

Canon EOS 5D Mark II // Focal Length: 24.0 mm // Exposure: 1/160 // Aperture: 2.8 // ISO Speed: 3200

Canon EOS 6D // Focal Length: 80.0 mm // Exposure: 1/200 // Aperture: 4.5 // ISO Speed: 3200

Model: Canon EOS 5D Mark II // Focal Length: 35.0 mm // Exposure: 1/200 // Aperture: 2.8 // ISO Speed: 1600

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