ACC Tips on Stage, Concert and Theatre Photography

Here's some tips for photographing people on stage, such as in music concerts and theatres. They are arranged in no particular order. If you've got more we can add, please contact the webmaster.

Stage photography

  • Get permission as appropriate.
  • Offering to give them free images or publicise them may get you special access.
  • If you can, meet with the performers beforehand (and any management) to put them at ease and get requests and collaboration.
  • If you can, take staged photos at practice or in backroom. Set up studio kit for this.
  • Wear black and quiet shoes to avoid being noticed.
  • Turn off the flash. It’s a really annoyance.
  • Turn off focusing light (the little red thing that comes on when you half-press the shutter button).
  • Turn off beeps and shutter noise (if you can).
  • Prime lens gives wide aperture and sharpness. Zoom good from back of theatre.
  • Classic lenses: 50mm 1.8, 70-200. Maybe 24-70.
  • Advice varies between aperture priority (to keep it wide), speed priority (to freeze motion) and manual (to give you full control).
  • Use aperture where lens is sharpest – 1.8 lens often better at 2.8.
  • Use high ISO. Fixed or auto with maximum. Max ISO depends on camera noise performance. 1600 often mentioned.
  • Use wide aperture to let in the light. Just enough to get right depth of field.
  • Vary shutter speed to cope with light change and sometimes just to get some motion images.
  • Expose for highlights on people. Lights in shot will burn out.
  • Shoot RAW and figure white balance during editing.
  • Watch the histogram and adjust accordingly.
  • Use back-button or manual focus to avoid focus hunting.
  • Get the people right (don’t worry about background). Use centre-weighted exposure and focus.
  • Take several shots early on to find the settings that work.
  • Take lots of photos – many will be blurred, too dark, etc.
  • Take photos from different angles, but avoid getting in the way.
  • Get photos of performers at rest too, eg. between pieces or relaxing afterwards.
  • Get photos of audience too -- show they're having a good time.
  • The performers know you’re there and you can make them a bit nervous/irritated. Let them warm up, then shoot in bursts.
  • In professional gigs, you may be limited to shots during only a few songs.

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