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Shooting Outdoor Concerts
by Jim McGee


Edgar Winter, Nikon FG, Sigma 70-300 4.5-5.6 @ 300mm f5.6, Kodak Royal Gold 1000, Exposure Unrecorded
Time your shots for when the 
muscian strikes a pose.

At most big name concert venues today it is nearly impossible to get permission to take your camera in. If you decide to try and sneak your camera in you risk having your equipment confiscated by security guards and being thrown out of the concert.

Outdoor concerts however, can provide you the opportunity to take interesting pictures of artists on stage. Outdoor shows usually do not have the same restrictions as indoor shows simply because they are too difficult to enforce. Other advantages of outdoor shows are that you can often get closer to the stage, and since many outdoor shows are daytime shows you don’t have to contend with constantly variable stage lighting and high speed films.

Getting Close
At a recent show that featured several big name acts from the 70’s and 80’s I was able to get to within 30 feet of the stage. There were no restrictions on cameras. For the most part the crowd simply got out of my way. Seeing a photographer with several Nikons on his shoulder sporting long lenses they assumed I was a working photographer. In one case a security guard seeing my gear made the same assumption and invited me behind the barricade so that I could get a better angle.

Shooting the Performers
After the first couple of shots of a singer standing in front of a microphone you’ll realize that you want a little more in your pictures. Watch the singers’ facial expressions. The expression on a person’s face can convey tremendous emotion. That’s the moment you want to capture. Focus on the singers face and then watch through the lens. If you wait until you see the shot before you raise the camera you’ve already missed it. Watch how the singer interacts with the other musicians. Do the performers play off of each other? Wait for exaggerated body positions, particularly with instruments such as guitars, saxophones, and harmonicas. And don’t focus so much on the singer that you forget the rest of the band. In some cases the band can make more interesting subjects then the singer.

Crop your shots tight. You may want to take some wide shots that encompass the whole stage but the shots that will grab people are the ones that get so close you can see the sweat standing out on the performers brow.


Guitars, Nikon FG, Sigma 70-300 3.5-5.6 @ 300mm f5.6, Kodak Royal Gold 400
Look beyond the 
musicians for things of
interest on stage.

Be aware of the stage lighting. Are the players lit better on certain areas of the stage. Instruments and costumes reflect light. Do the lights on one part of the stage get them to really sparkle. If so try and catch a shot when the musicians are in that area.

Finally look around the stage. One guitar player was constantly changing instruments during the show. The guitars were lined up in stands off the side of the stage and made for an interesting shot by themselves. Look over the stage. Is there anything there that would be interesting on it’s own?

I was shooting with two bodies, an auto focus body and a manual focus backup body. My primary lenses were 28-105 and a 70-300 zooms that I would swap between bodies depending on the shots that I wanted to get.

Use a mixture of film. Experiment with different speeds which will yield different grains in the resulting prints. I used a mixture of Ektachrome 100, Royal Gold 400 & 1000, and Tri-X 400 (B&W) films. Black and white films can be great for concert shots. Try pushing the film a couple of stops to get that gritty grainy look of 60's concert photos. The first band, Soft Parade, covered Doors tunes. If you close your eyes you would swear that Jim Morrison was on stage. Somehow a grainy black and white photo just seems to capture the moodiness of their music better then color.

In a pinch underexpose by a stop to get faster shutter speeds with print film. There is enough exposure latitude in the film to make up the difference when printing. When you’re hand holding you want as fast a shutter speed as possible and in a crowd of people you will be hand holding.

Watch your gear. It’s difficult to have two cameras with tele lenses hanging off one shoulder and your camera bag hanging off the other. Your instinct is to put the camera bag at your feet. But be careful. In a crowd of dancing, jostling people it is very easy for someone to accidentally step on the bag, or worse yet for someone to pick it up and walk away while your eye is glued to the viewfinder.

Edgar Winter & Lead Guitarist, Nikon FG Sigma 70-300 3.5-5.6 @ 300mm f5.6, Kodak Royal Gold 1000
Pull in tight for intimate

I’ll place my bag so that it is to the inside of my left (forward) foot. This way my body protects the bag from someone stepping on it, and my foot tells me if the bag moves.

A light hand on the shoulder or arm of someone who is getting to close is usually enough to get them to back up a step. Don’t be obnoxious about it. Loaded down with fragile gear you’re not in the best position to be aggressive. And don’t forget to close your camera bag when you put it down. Spilled beer will roll off the outside of your waterproof bag if it’s closed – it will fill up the same bag if it’s open.

Be prepared. Outdoor events often feature more than one stage and sometimes more then one band playing at once. Take a look at the schedule. See who you want to photograph and when they’re on. If you can get there a few minutes early you can stake out that prime real estate right up front.

Don’t grab a position at center stage. Photos are more interesting if shot from an angle rather then straight on, so try to get a spot off to one side of the stage. When picking which side take note of where the keyboards are located. You want to be facing the keyboards so that you can get a shot of that musician, not facing their back.

Remember to take breaks. If you’re there for an all day concert that means that you’re going to be in the sun all day. Remember to take an occasional break and to get some liquids. 

Keep an eye on the crowd for potentially interesting 

The Crowd
When shooting concerts don’t forget the crowd. Their reaction is part of the story of any concert and you can get some great grab shots of facial expressions and of people dancing in the crowd. If you’re up front just turn around and you’ve got a good view of the whole crowd. Try and isolate interesting subjects and watch them for a few minutes, watch their behavior. Wait for the right moment and get the shot. If the crowd is up tight against you fit a wide angle lens to your camera and hold your camera above the crowd and click off a few shots (see below). A wide angle will give you good depth of field even if set wide open.

Grab shot of crowd, Nikon N70, Nikor 28-105 3.5-4.5 lens @ 28mm f8, Royal Gold 1000

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A personís face can convey tremendous emotion. Thatís the moment you want to capture...





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A light hand on the shoulder or arm of someone who is getting to close is usually enough...























When shooting concerts don’t forget the crowd


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