My First Gig Shoot (And What I Learnt)

*Update, 17th March 2010: My local newspaper published one of my photos! More info here.

I had my first taste of gig photography the other night, so I thought I’d share some of the pics I took, as well as my thoughts on the whole adventure, and what I learnt. I definitely learnt a lot! Thanks to Gregor And The Martians for letting me take so many shots of them – be sure to check out this up-and-coming cornish band, they rock!

gregor and the martians 1

f/2, 1/160 sec, ISO 1600

As well as being my first attempt at a concert shoot, it ended up being the first time I went ‘fully manual’ with my camera (which is a Canon T1i) too – a liberating experience! Here are some of my favourite shots, and some info on what I learnt is below:

gregor and the martians

f/1.8, 1/250 sec, ISO 1600

gregor and the martians 3

f/1.8, 1/100 sec, ISO 1600

Gregor and the martians wig and pen 4

f/1.8, 1/100 sec, ISO 1600

Gregor and the martians

f/1.8, 1/100 sec, ISO 1600

Gregor and the martians

f/1.8, 1/100 sec, ISO 1600

Gregor and the martians

f/1.8, 1/100 sec, ISO 1600

gregor and the martians truro

f/1.8, 1/100 sec, ISO 1600

Gregor and the martians

f/1.8, 1/100 sec, ISO 1600

What I Learnt

Firstly, that taking photos of bands is hard! The continual movement, the dark surroundings, the frequent changing of the light… it all adds up to create one difficult photography situation. But here are some more practical tips that I can now draw from my own experience:

  • Take the ‘fastest’ lens you own. This means the lens with the largest aperture in your collection, so that more light can enter your camera at once. By using such a lens, it will mean you can take photos at quick enough shutter speeds so the photos are sharp, without using flash. And who wants to use flash when you have all those lovely gig lights? As well as your photos probably looking dull, you’d run the risk of annoying the band with constant flashes. I used the wonderful canon 50mm f/1.8 for these shots –  it only costs about £80/$110 new! Available at Amazon US and UK.
  • Set your aperture to the widest setting. This means the lowest f-number, and may be f/1.8, f/2.0 or around that. If your lens has a max aperture of only f/3.5 then you should seriously think about getting a quicker lens (like mine – see above) as you’re going to find it hard to get fast shutter speeds in such a low-light situation.
  • Shoot in Manual mode. This may sound daunting, and it was actually the very first time I had used the mode, but it proved to be a necessity. I started shooting in Aperture Priority, and this was OK for a small while – but as soon as the lighting changed (which it then did very frequently throughout the gig) I found that my shutter speeds were getting too erratic. For example, when I started shooting, the light was quite bright, and my widest aperture setting of f/1.8 was giving me fast shutter speeds of around 1/100 – great for freezing the action and getting sharp shots. But then the lights went darker, and my camera adjusted with slower shutter speeds of around 1/30 – which meant I was getting blurry shots! So I remembered that a combination of an f/1.8 aperture and 1/100 shutter speed gave me a good exposure, so I went to manual mode and entered those settings. Et voila! Even when the light changed throughout the gig, I was getting constantly good exposures as the camera wasn’t changing the shutter speeds or aperture.
  • Use a high ISO. This is your camera’s sensitivity-to-light setting. By using a high ISO, such as 1600 (which is what I used for all these shots) it means you can use fast shutter speeds, and thus get sharper shots. Most DSLRs perform well at high ISOs without adding a lot of noise to the picture – I find my camera, the Canon T1i (available at Amazon US and UK – where it’s known as the 500D) particularly great at high ISOs (as you can see from the photos – no ‘noise’ apparent).
  • Shoot in continuous drive/burst mode. By taking many shots per second you increase the chance of not only getting a sharp shot, but also capturing that special moment – perhaps an unusual expression on the lead singer’s face, or a particularly gutteral scream!

What do you think of my first attempt at gig photography? Do you have some tips to share? Write a comment and let me know!


  1. Well done for your first Gig. Getting permission to shoot Gigs can be the hardest part. Manual is the way to go, shoot in Raw and sometimes the under-exposed shots(by your metre) can be good. I had a gig shooting Suicidal Tendencies(with 400d +17-50f2.8Tamron)and knowing the band new Mike moves pretty quick. Camera hack of ISO 3200 did help. 5Dmk2 would be better.

  2. Thanks a lot for the kind words and tips, drecart. I perhaps should’ve tried a few at ISO 3200 as well. Shooting Suicidal Tendencies must’ve been cool!

  3. Thanks! That was a great article!! I wish I read that before I took my band pictures the other day!!! Especially the part about setting your camera to manual! I had my camera on Aperture Priority the whole night so of course my shutter speed was changing like crazy, but I didn’t think to change it:)

    I also have the 50mm, and love it! Were you actually that close to the band or did you zoom in and crop later on?


  4. Thanks, Amy – your band shots are great too! I actually saw your photos before I took mine and wrote this article – seeing some of your quality images really inspired me, actually. Yeah, I thought I would be shooting in Aperture Priority all night, but the lighting was so tempermental, my shutter speeds were so vastly varied – so just thought I’d give it a go in manual – am really happy with the results.

    I was actually that close to the band, right at the front, so these photos were hardly cropped at all.

  5. Ahh your sweet! I think yours are awesome! You captured some really great emotions. The one of the drummer directly above is my favorite. The way the light comes across the front as she whispers something (most likely in a noisy room) in the background.

    Makes me want to go see another show and give it another go. This was another tip I was told – try shooting on manual not auto focus when the lighting is such since your auto focus will have a hard time focusing. So next time I go it will be the 50mm on manual and try manual focus for the first time!


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