Camera settings for live music photography

After photographing a range of live concerts in London I’ve learned which settings work the best. Here’s my list:

1. Work in manual mode.

Your camera’s automatic modes are useful in some situations but when it comes to capturing live gigs – stick to the manual exposure mode.

For eg. Extreme stage lighting conditions (a lot of contrast between bright light and darkness) can mislead your camera systems and you’ll end up with overexposed useless pictures.

Ula Burgiel photography tutorials. Camera setting for live music photography

Live music concert photography tips, Ula Burgiel
© Ula Burgiel photography, Alexandra Palace, London

2. Shoot RAW.

Shooting RAW gives you more freedom in post-production. These type of files contain more information than JPG. You can play with adjusting light, white balance etc. long after the excitement of the gig.

Live music photography tends to give you just one chance to get things right. You’ll benefit a lot from having as much flexibility in post-production as possible.

3. Keep the aperture wide open.

A deficiency of light is always a problem in these situations. Be sure that you set your aperture to be wide open – letting in the maximum amount of light.

For live music photography I recommend using prime lenses with 1.4 or 1.8 aperture.

4. Use Matrix Metering.

Set metering to Matrix (Nikon) or Evaluative Metering (Canon). Personally I prefer this than spot metering because it can be very distracting taking dynamic stage lighting.

To quickly find that setting in your camera look for this icon:

5. Take a sequence of photos – continuous (high) drive mode.

You don’t want to miss out on the ‘musician’s great jump with a guitar’ just because you didn’t press the shutter release in the right moment.

Set your camera to continuous (high) drive mode. This means it will be taking pictures one after another as long as you’re holding the shutter button. Later you can choose the best shot from a sequence.

Don’t forget to buy a high capacity memory card with a high file-saving speed to fit all the pictures on it. Especially if you’re shooting in RAW – which again – I highly recommend.

Live music concert photography tips, Ula Burgiel
© Ula Burgiel photography, Alexandra Palace, London

6. Use Continuous Autofocus.

Setting up a continuous autofocus in your camera (AF-C – Nikon / AI Servo mode – Canon) will help you track your subject till you fully press the shutter release; especially if the model is moving. The camera will refocus so you don’t need to worry about your pictures being blurry. Big relief, right?

7. White balance – auto

If you’re shooting in RAW you can always change the white balance in post-production so don’t worry about it too much. Set it to AUTO.

That saves your time during the gig. Use it to change lenses or adjust the exposure – leave playing with white balance for post-production.

8. Avoid focus distractions.

If there are a lot of singers in your frame it’s not easy to make your camera focus on the right one – especially in low light situations. For example: if a hand of another singer or a microphone is close to your subject’s face the camera may get lost. Avoid these situations and change the angle a bit so your focus point is away from these distractions.

Additionally – remember that your camera always focuses best on areas with big contrast. So point your camera at the eye or a hair borderline to get a sharp picture.

To sum up, these are camera settings which I recommend for live music photography:

  1. Work in manual mode.
  2. Shoot RAW.
  3. Keep the aperture wide open.
  4. Use Matrix Metering.
  5. Take a sequence of photos – continuous (high) drive mode.
  6. Use Continuous Autofocus.
  7. White balance – auto.
  8. Avoid focus distractions.

Give these tips a go and most of all – have fun with it! Have your camera set up right so there are no limits to your creativity.

Let me know the results in the comments below. Maybe you have another tip to add? 🙂
x Ula

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