Intro To Gig Photography

This week is my penultimate training sessions with Warwick PhotoSoc. It’s been an incredible year as training manager; I’ve really enjoyed it, learnt a lot and will thoroughly miss the role.

So to end of a high note we’re doing something a little special next week and this week is the one I’ve been looking forward to all year – Gig Photography! My favourite type of photography.

Download the Gig Photography Cheat Sheet here.

Last week I was asked what exactly makes gig photography so difficult, my answer was this:

So think about when you’re taking a portrait, you have to think about composition, what you’re trying to show, the lighting, how you want to expose it and all those things. Now, think about doing all that with constantly changing lighting that you have no control over, a model you can’t interact with who is usually moving around all over the place, usually very low lighting and you’re not just trying to show your perspective but you want to try and show the feeling of the music that’s being played as well – that’s gig photography. There’s so much to think about and not a lot of time to think about it.

So here are the highlights from my training session on how to shoot a gig.


  • A DSLR which deals with high ISO well — you want full control of your settings and you’ll be using a high ISO a lot so you don’t want a camera which will provide you with really noisy images
  • A lens with a big aperture (35mm f/1.4, 30mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8, 40mm f/2.8) – the bigger the aperture the more light you’ll let in which will make the most of the low lighting
  • A zoom lens (24—70mm f/2.8, 70—200 f/2.8, 18—50mm f/2.8) – this will give you a little more versatility when shooting

Warwick Battle of the Bands 2013

Camera Settings

  • High ISO and Large aperture- make the most of what little light there is
  • As fast a shutter speed as possible—get some sharp, clear images with limited motion blur
  • If there are strobes or you want to capture a specific motion a longer shutter speed can work as well
  • Never use flash—most venues won’t like it, the band won’t like it and it’ll destroy all the nice colours of the lights on stage
  • Use your camera on manual or aperture priority mode
  • AI servo (Canon) / Continuous (Nikon) AF mode – these are best for working with fast moving subjects as some of your performers will be moving around the stage a lot
  • Spot metering – stage lights are always changing and this will show you the correct exposure at the point you’re focusing on (e.g. the singer’s face)
  • Continuous shooting / Burst mode – take lots of shots and pick the best so you never miss the moment you need

Noah and the Whale - Warwick Summer Party 2012

Gig Etiquette

  • You usually only get around 3 songs so learn to work quickly
  • Don’t get in the way of security or the crowds
  • If security tell you to do something, do it
  • Don’t distract the band (including using a flash)
  • If you have to disturb anyone in the crowd, be as quick as possible and apologise

Clement Malfo and the Frontline - Warwick Summer Party 2012

Try to look for those distinctive moments and actions – something that stands out.

Think about what your shots say about the music – is your style fitting to the genre?
Warwick Battle of the Bands 2014

Make use of the constantly changing lighting.

  • Different colours of light create different moods
  • Red light can be tough on skin tones
  • Strobes can make for interesting long exposures
  • Backlighting can create great silhouettes
  • If the lighting’s really not working for you, you can always convert to B&W after

Think about faces – show emotion

Don’t forget about the little details

Don’t just concentrate on the frontman – think about the other band members and group shots



Mostly just have fun, shoot a lot and don’t give up. Keep experimenting – both with the types of photos you take and the sort of bands you photograph; just because you don’t enjoy a style of music doesn’t mean you won’t enjoying photographing a band.

Download the Gig Photography Cheat Sheet here.