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5 Tips To Make Your Music Photography Better

With Music Festival season now in full swing, right now is a great time to experiment and take some awesome photographs. Prize winning photographer and Nikon user, Morten Rygaard has 5 tips for making your music photographs better.

Tip #1 Be ready for the unexpected. Know what kind of stage the band might perform on. Watch them live on Youtube before you go.
© Morten Rygaard. Image taken with a Nikon D3s, f/2.8 at 1/400 sec, ISO-2500 [Buy it] [Rent it]
Lens: 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S NIKKOR

Tip #2 Be selective. Focus on one performer at a time to capture raw emotion and energy.
© Morten Rygaard. Image taken with a Nikon D3, f/2.8 at 1/320 sec, ISO-1000 [Buy it]
Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

Tip #3 Find the perfect settings. At most concerts you'll have to set your ISO at a minimum of 800. Sure, you'll get noise at higher ISO's but it's better than a poorly lit photo. Your aperture needs to be at f2.8 or lower. At f1.8 more light will enter the camera allowing you to use a faster shutter speed. This also means you have to be very accurate with your focus. Morton usually sets his shutter speed at 1/125 second or higher. For hand held photography: use the reciprocal of your focal length as a guide. If you are shooting at 200mm, then shoot at 1/200 second faster for sharp images.
© Morten Rygaard. Image taken with a Nikon D3X, f/4 at 1/800 sec, ISO-1600 [Buy it] [Rent it]
Lens: 200-400mm f/4G ED-IF AF-S VR NIKKOR [Rent it]

Tip #4 No Flash – more or less. Flash ruins the stage lights plus if you're far away from the band then it wouldn't help anyway.
© Morten Rygaard. Image taken with a Nikon D3, f/3.5 at 1/400 sec, ISO-4000 [Buy it]
Lens: 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S NIKKOR

Tip #5 wear earplugs! If you get the chance to get up close, you'll want a few pairs.
© Morten Rygaard. Image taken with a Nikon D3X, f/2.8 at 1/400 sec, ISO-250 [Buy it] [Rent it]
Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S NIKKOR
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Borna Čavrag's picture

Rule no. 1 - anticipate, don't react. watch how the lights cycle trough the song, how they move, what parts are lit and how and as mentioned in the article, watch on youtube and look for what individual performers do. 

Look for guitar players jumping on the second encore of the third song, bass player and guitarist coming together toward the right of the stage on the solo in the first and wait for those moments. Fact is that these bands play 100-200 gis a year, and even though they don't notice it, they go into a routine every night even if it's not rehearsed...

Hearos are the best ear plugs you can buy,you can still hear others talk ring even after your moving around on stage for hours at a time

Mike Kelley's picture

This x100000

one of the best $15 purchases i've ever made

Nic Cage's Hair's picture

 Keep in mind there are different strengths of Hero's plugs, protection wise. The highest they go is either 27 or 29, i can't remember- but you can find them at any Wal Mart. I buy a tub of 50 for like 12 and keep bags of it in the car and in my camera bag. And yes, they WILL save your ears later on down the road.

Chuck Navarro's picture

Now this is some music photography!  The D3 line shows it's knack for high iso, low noise in most of these.  I really like the one from behind the crowd and the female silhouette....EPIC!!!!

Very inspirational! 


Martin Booth's picture

I shoot a bunch of local bands, and there's nothing new here for anybody who's looked into concert shooting before.

I do however have the luxury (I guess?) of being able to set up some remote flashes with gels etc to either hide the fact it's flash, or provide something better than what the lighting allows for in a smaller venue. I do this with the bands' knowledge and they love the shots I get. Obviously at larger shows you have no choice, they'll just remove you if you use flash photography in the pit.

Robert Zembrzycki's picture

The thing with being removed for using flash - it depends. I'm mostly shooting bands, both live and imaking promotional shoots. Some of them are quite big bands, and It basically comes down to talking to the manager - 99% of the time I'm allowed to shoot the whole gig, and with a flash (be it a smaller club with poorer lighting, that requires a little bit of additional light ;) )  

But then again I am blessed cause I play myself, so I do know a shitload of people in the industry and it's easier to gain access to the bands manager :) 

Check out a sample image, good lightshow but still, I've nicely lit it with an (on camera) flash ;)

Claire's picture

Check out for some great gig photography!

Jon Dize's picture

I shoot bands, I sold my D3 and returned back to my D700... they use the same sensor, but there are many additional features on the D700 that are better suited for available darkness or OBSCENE lighting.

The D3 was horrible at not being able to lock on a solid focus, except when lighting was optimal. The D700 locks on far easier than the D3.

I like having the full screen INFO readout on the D700, trying to read the very small windows on the back of the D3 is a pain in the butt for us OLD FARTS.

I do use radio controlled flash now and then, but I send my assistant on the other side of the stage, not associated with me... I shoot from the DARK SIDE when possible, she lights the side opposite of me.

If it is a venue where I can move, she knows when I move stage right, she heads over to stage left. 

Works well for me...

Ben Browning's picture

always shoot manual! my go to settings i start from are 1/200, iso2500 at f/2.8. ill start there and adjust accordingly to the conditions. tends to be pretty spot on for most indoor venues.