For the past year and a half, I’ve had a gig as the Live Music Blogger for an alternative radio station here in Portland. In addition to the actual blogging aspect of the job, I do almost all of my own photography for said blog on my iPhone. Now, my momma always told me that no one likes a braggart, but after seeing and photographing well over 200 bands in the last 18 months, I'd say I've learned to ply my trade pretty effectively.
Here, then, are my ten tips to help even the most casual concert-goer up their photo game:
1. Get There Early
In concerts, like in sports, the importance of good field position cannot be overstated. You can use the Sharpen tool all you want, but nothing you do after the fact can replace a good vantage point and physical proximity to the stage. While I've met some diehard fans who insist on lining up hours before doors open to get that coveted front-and-center spot at the barrier, I usually try to roll in right around the time the opener goes on. Normally this will allow you to snag a pretty good spot towards the front of the crowd, and it forces you to listen to the opener, too. You never know - they might actually be good. (If not, you still should clap politely.)
2. Get High (No, not like that.)
Remember what I just said about getting a good vantage point? It's a three dimensional game, homie. While getting close to the stage is important, getting above the crowd can be equally useful. See if there's a balcony you can shoot from or a chair or bench you can stand on (assuming security's cool with such gymnastics). When in doubt, use the built-in Selfie Sticks that God gave you and shoot with your phone over your head - just make sure you do so sparingly and quickly. (See Rule #5: Don't Be A Jerk)
3. Turn Off Your Damn Flash
Unless you're asking the person standing behind you to take a SnapChat of you and your bestie throwing the shocker, it's never going to work. Don't even try it. Every time you pull out your phone at the venue, do yourself a favor and make sure your flash is turned off, lest you accidentally blind everyone and out yourself as a newb.
4. Avoid the Popular Songs
The reason for this admonition is two-fold. The first reason is practical: if you're trying to take photos at a show and the band launches into their latest single, chances are that everyone who's more basic than you has already had the same idea (despite the fact that song lyrics aren't actually visible in the photo, people still insist on capturing that moment). So unless you want everyone else's phone screens visible in your shot, you might want to pick a different song.
The second reason to skip the hits is a little more theoretical: some people prefer not to document their experiences via photography. Why it's not a mindset I subscribe to, I recognize that there is a portion of the concert-going audience that may wish to enjoy at least one or two of their favorite songs without the distraction of other people taking photos, and I try to respect that mindset. So as tempting as it might be to record Bastille singing "Pompeii" for posterity's sake, consider leaving your phone in your pocket, once in a while. Speaking of which,
5. Don't Be a Jerk
There's nothing wrong with wanting to get a good shot, but try to make sure you're not ruining the show for anyone else in the process. Don't push. Be polite. Try not to block anyone's view for longer than necessary. I usually try to space out my photos so I'm not taking pictures during every single song, too.
You know that guy who stands in the front row and insists on recording the entire show on his phone? Don't be that guy.
6. Zoom Out
I can always spot the work of a Casual Concert Photographer almost immediately, because they ZOOM ALL THE WAY IN on every shot. Your phone is not The Hubble. Although the Sharpen and Smart Sharpen filters can work wonders, they're still constrained by the original picture, and extreme digital zoom tends to yield a blurry, unusable image, especially in low light conditions. In most cases, you'll get better results if you zoom out and crop the photo tightly.
Zooming-out in real life isn't always a bad thing, either. While we tend to associate closeups and action shots with concert photography, sometimes it pays off to go wide and include the crowd or the venue in your shot. This is an especially good technique to try when you've gone to the bathroom and realize that you don't have the energy to squeeze back up front.
7. Use the Light To Your Advantage
The lighting at concerts tends to be a study in extremes: dim venues momentarily illuminated by roving spotlights and blinding strobe lights. It's almost impossible to get a normally exposed photo in these conditions. Not to worry, brah - let those crazy lights work in your favor. Figure out what colors work best for your camera and aesthetic sensibilities, and then wait for songs that feature those hues in their light setup. (For my money, I've yet to take a photo in red light that I liked - but your mileage may vary.) As long as the photo is focused and you like the general hue, you can always clean things up with the Brightness and Saturation filters, later.
Strobes can be even more helpful. If you time it correctly, strobe lights or especially strong spotlights will either net you a rad silhouette or momentarily illuminate the band in near-daylight brightness. Often the difference between those two extremes is a fraction of a second, be quick on that shutter button. Which brings us to...
If you want to take good concert photos, be prepared to take A LOT of bad ones, too. For every photo that makes it into my articles, there are probably 15 or 20 similar shots that didn't make the cut. It's both disruptive and time-consuming to scrutinize each and every shot as you take them, so spam that shutter button early and often, and save the culling for after the show.That said, avoid the temptation to avail yourself of that fancy Burst Mode option. While it may work great for action shots, it's much less likely to work how you want it in a show setting. Oh, you ended up with twenty near-identical photos, all of which were underexposed and out-of-focus? Yeah, pass.
With the right filters, you can make pretty much any photo passable, so long as it's relatively in-focus and doesn't feature any visible obscene gestures. Photo's too dark? Dial back the Contrast, pump up the Brightness, and tweak the Fill Light. Too washed out? Face not visible? Do the opposite? Color's all messed up? Slap a B&W filter on that bad boy.
10. Remember to Enjoy the Show
I take a lot of photos at concerts, and sometimes people give me static about "not living in the moment" and "just enjoy the show, man." I generally ignore these people, because, you know, it's my job. But if you're just taking photos for the heck of it and you catch your neighbor giving you some mad side-eye, that may be your cue to put your phone away and live in the moment, man.
Next time you're in a concert, edit your photos in no time with the BeFunky Mobile App and share away with the hashtag #BeFunky so we can follow your fun!