Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Rock On!

Since the advent of affordable DSLRs, concert and live music photography has become a burgeoning industry for a lot of photographers.
Text & Photography By J. Dennis Thomas Published in Shooting
Rock On!

Don't be a camper. This is a person who gets a good angle and stays there, oftentimes not even shooting. You may be a fan of the band, but you're in the photo pit to work. Get your shots and move to another angle. Your shots will be more varied and better for it in the end.

Take off your flash. You shouldn't be using one anyway, and it gets in the way of the photographers behind you.

Three songs, then out. This is the standard rule. When the third song is over or security asks you to leave, then go.


This is an often overlooked part of concert photography, but is a very important one. These days, most photographers are self-taught and haven't been schooled in the basics of photography. You can be self-taught and still take great pictures, but I encourage every photographer to take a photography course to learn the basics of composition. Here are a few common tips that will make your concert photography better, and some that you can apply to all of your photography.

Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds is probably the most common composition tip in all of photography. This rule has been around since long before photography and has been used by visual artists down through the centuries. The Rule of Thirds basically states that you should place the subject off-center in the composition to make it more interesting. Most cameras have gridlines in the viewfinder to help, but imagine overlaying a tic-tac-toe grid over the composition and placing the subject at one of the intersections where the lines meet.

Fill the frame. Having big empty spaces around your subject can cause the viewer to get lost in the composition, with the eye wandering around. This often happens when using too wide of a lens. Compose tight, but not too tight.

Watch your cropping. By this I don't mean cropping in postproduction. One of the most common mistakes I see are people cropping out arms and hands and guitar headstocks. Cropping out arms often leads to random hands hovering near the edge of the frame, and if you don't have the guitar headstock in the shot, you can't sell the photo to a guitar manufacturer later on.

Capture a variety of shots. Don't just stand in one place. Move around and find different angles. Shoot from down low, then step back and use your telephoto lens to shoot from further away. Go with a wide-angle lens for full band shots or full body shots. Use a standard zoom to get three-quarter body shots and close-ups. Don't be afraid to go ultrawide to capture the whole stage if it's an elaborate production, or use a telephoto to get really close in on a detail. And don't forget to capture audience participation, too!

J. Dennis Thomas is a full-time photographer and author based in "The Live Music Capital of the World," Austin, Texas. He's the author of Concert and Live Music Photography: Pro Tips from the Pit (Focal Press), as well as the author of more than a dozen Nikon Digital Field Guides (Wiley Publications). His photos have appeared in Rolling Stone, SPIN, Ebony, W, US Weekly, People, New York Daily News and many more publications. You can see more of his work at

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