9 Tips To Get THE Shot

Lizzy's picture
Monday, November 3, 2014 - 3pm

"How do you get THE shot?" is another one of the most frequent questions I get asked. I could never guarantee that every set will be full of stunners, but I do try and advise making it an objective to leave with at least one portfolio worthy photo from every show.

1. Be patient.

In concert photography, you don't get to create and/or manipulate every aspect of the shot. You have to expect the shot and patiently wait for it to happen. That's one of many reasons why concerts are more difficult to shoot than landscapes, portraits or even wedding photos.

I'm throwing what I consider to be the most important tip at you first, and hopefully the next five tips will help to embed and build on it.

2. Calm your shutter finger.

The first step into patience is stopping instinctual spray and pray. Anyone can get in a photo pit and put their camera on continuous mode and let fire the whole three songs. I guarantee two things from this method:

  1. You'll eat up a lot of space on memory cards, and
  2. Your camera's shutter life expectancy was shortened on photos that probably aren't going to blow anyone away.

I hate to sound harsh, however the object of these tips is to improve current methods, not support anyone in what they're doing wrong. So give your finger a rest and take a second to absorb what's going on around you before you take just another "meh" shot.

Otherwise at Hooligan's in Jacksonville, NC. Photo by Lizzy Davis.

3. Study the lighting.

One of the ways to absorb your surroundings is to watch the lighting, and one of the greatest parts about this is that you can do it straight through the viewfinder. Take a second to watch as a particular spotlight spins, noting when it hits the band member you're focusing on. Something that helps me out is doing a mental countdown of the spotlight's next go round, "3... 2... 1... CLICK!" Also, make note of how the lighting is changing between the chorus, verses and hooks of a song, and be ready to adjust your settings if necessary.

4. Learn your focusing system.

I'm not going to go into too much detail on this because it's variable by personal preference. Some people are still manually focusing, some use AF-C (continuous Auto-Focus) and some use AF-S (Single Servo Auto-Focus). While I'm not sure I'd recommend manually focusing on a constantly moving subject, there is no technically right or wrong way to focus, as long as you know what you're doing.

The more important matter is finding what works best for you and mastering it - meaning, make sure you know how to correctly focus on the artist's face rather than the microphone (unless of course it's Jonathan Davis' microphone, then we completely understand).

5. Anticipate.

This is basically a repeat of some of the things mentioned in my 10 Tips for New Concert Photographers article: learn to shoot with both eyes open so that you see everything happening on the entire stage and look up the band's setlist and videos of the first three songs, noting when a particular member jumps or if all the members group together for a posed photo opp.

6. Compose the shot.

So you've figured out the lighting, got your settings down and you're patiently waiting for the jump you saw one of the members do in a video right at the beginning of the chorus in their second song. Great!

Now the hard part: composing the shot before it happens. If there are foreground or background distractions (fog machines, mic stands, monitors, monster advertisements in the form of energy drinks, etc.) move from one side of the artist to the other and see where the distractions are best minimized. Test a portrait vs. landscape shot, kneel, squat, stand on your tippie-toes (whatever it takes, within reasonable judgement and consideration of the Concert Photographer's Etiquette) to find the angle and compose the shot you have imagined your mind.

And then... wait. This doesn't necessarily mean stop taking photos, it just means be prepared to hit that shutter button at that exact moment rather than a millisecond too early or a millisecond too late.

7. Experiment.

Never be afraid to experiment. No two shows, bands, venues or photographers are the same and there are a myriad of reasons why what worked yesterday might not work today. Even if you've been shooting for years, you should never get to a point where your work becomes stale. There are endless ways to change things up, and who knows what you might learn in the process.

Five Finger Death Punch in Nashville, TN. Photo by Lizzy Davis.

8. Try to make eye contact, then remind them that you did.

This one is a little harder, so certainly don't consider it a failure when it doesn't happen. Do try to remove your eye from the viewfinder and genuinely watch the artist for a second, though. From personal experience, they're more likely to notice you if you look like you're enjoying yourself, head-bobbing and/or mouthing along to the lyrics.

When they do make eye contact or hold a pose for a second, be sure to mouth, "Thank you," as soon as you've taken the shot. This acknowledges your appreciation... and also lets them know they can stop holding the pose now. Once you process the photo, I suggest trying to get it in front of their eyes via social media (usually Twitter or Instagram for personal connections). Many times they will repost the shot, but if nothing else, it allows them to put a photographer's name/face to their actual photos.

Remember, some performers are more photo-friendly than others, and some probably wish cameras didn't exist. For the sake of your dignity (not ending up on Assholes In The Photo Pit), not distracting the artist, and not making other photographers seem like other assholes in the pit, please refrain from whistling at band members to get their attention. I wouldn't add this if I hadn't actually witnessed it happen.

Collection of eye contact concert photos from Robert Zakaryan of Adelitas Way. Photos by Lizzy Davis.

9. Shoot the same band multiple times.

This isn't the number one on the list because it's entirely possible to get a killer shot the first time you shoot a band, however this is my favorite tip on the list.

If you shoot a particular band multiple times, you'll know exactly what to expect from them - energetic vs. inactive, if they have nice lighting or reds with strobes, which member(s) are the most photogenic, and the moment when someone sprays water in the air.

If you've ever successfully made eye contact with any member of the band, there is a chance they'll remember you the next time they see you and might strike another pose. (Note: Robert Zakaryan of Adelitas Way pictured above, who gives me almost the same exact pose every time I shoot them.)

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