Concert Photography Manual Focus

Concert Photography Manual Focus

When should you use manual focus in rockstar photography?

One of the settings I recommend is to use spot metering and place your subject in the center of the frame, so that a half press on the shutter button focuses with the autofocus points set up in your camera, prior to fully depressing the shutter to take the shot.

But is there a time where manual focus is better?

Actually there are several times you could shift to manual focus and get better results!

  • Portraits
  • When you are not constrained to the three songs rule.
  • When you are using a camera with “focus peaking” and a “focus zoom” dedicated button.

Portraits of rockstars

If you have developed a relationship with band members, perhaps you were invited to take portraits for publication / social media. If you are lucky enough to set up a more controlled shooting environment where you can take time to achieve critical focus, then switch to manual focus. For a single person in a frame, focus tightly on the eye for the most impact.

If you have several people in your shot, try to get all of the eyes in focus, which is possible if they are all the same distance from the lens. If not, perhaps they are staggered as different distances in the scene, then increase depth of field so that the eyes of those further from the camera are still within the range of focus. Be aware of backgrounds in this case so that distracting elements are minimized.

No need to limit your shooting to the three song limit

Perhaps you are shooting from an alternate location and either did not qualify for access to the photo pit, or you are finished with that segment of the concert and are taking shots from other vantage points in the venue. In this case, the extreme speed needed for capturing shots from the pit is no longer necessary, and you will have more time to anticipate and work on setting up shots based on predictions from watching patterns in how the band moves, or how the light show is timed. Let’s say you noticed that the strobes light up the vocalist in five second intervals, and during the chorus, he stands at the edge of the stage and holds the mic angled to the sky where you have a clear shot of his face.

Here is where you would manually pre-focus on that location and set your camera for burst mode. When the next chorus is coming, start counting the strobes and trigger your shutter to take a burst of shots just as the vocalist throws back his head to sing and the mic is out of the way. Trust your instincts and take a chance that he will follow his usual pattern and the strobes will give you the lighting you need for a clear shot from your location.

Pro settings for pro cameras

Some of the new smaller mirrorless cameras give you pro settings that allow for quick manual focusing within the dynamic concert environment. These smaller cameras are very capable and may be allowed in a venue that prohibits larger pro cameras with their large form factor and long lenses. For example, the Fuji mirrorless camera can be set to use “focus peaking” during manual focus, and there is a dedicated focus zoom button located conveniently under your right forefinger that allows you to quickly zoom to an area you choose to have in critical focus and check it right in the viewfinder.as you press the shutter button.

Focus peaking adds an illuminated fringe around objects in the frame that are within focus so you can easily twist the lens focus ring to ensure that the areas you NEED to be in focus truly are, without any delay in setting up and capturing the shot. These fringes get whiter and more prominently lit when in focus, so it gives you quick visual feedback that you have achieved focus before pressing the shutter button.

Manual focus is a skill to work on when you have more time to react, and you have already captured some keeper shots using autofocus points.

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  • AlexP

    IMHO everytime you are shooting with a small aperture you need to be in manual focus mode, otherwise you end up out of focus a lot because of mic stand, fingers/hands, etc no matter the autofocus mode you have set. I started with autofocus but I used to switch to manual for the last song, especially for drummer pictures. Now I use it more and more. #controlfreak Alex

    • Thanks Alex! I agree with you, however I am shooting 99% of the time in Autofocus mode. The only time I use manual focus is when using my Samyang 14mm f2.8 lens. I´ll try your idea switching to manual focus for the last song.