Small Venue Concert Photography

Kat Vinter Small Venue Concert Photography

So you’re a photographer attempting to get into gig photography? The best way is to start out in small venues.

3 Tips for Small Venue Concert Photography

We are all dreaming of breaking into those bigger venues. However, for now, shooting in smaller, more cramped spaces is what will allow us to be more creative with our shots in the future.

Equipment

Getting hold of equipment for the first time can be tricky; it’s expensive, confusing and the options are aplenty. I can tell you the best option is to get a Nikon or Canon DSLR with a 50mm f/1.8 lens, (find my tools suggestions here) which will work best in low light conditions. They are also lightweight and compact, which will help when navigating through the crowd.

This will work well with a shutter speed of 1/160 and an ISO of 800, however, you may need to keep raising it until the picture is appropriately exposed.

Lighting

With most small venues taking hold of back rooms in bars or scrappy event spaces, you may find that the lighting is challenging, which will directly affect your photos. Usually you’ll find smaller venues will use blue, green or red bulbs, which don’t always look great when photographed.

However, sometimes this isn’t always a bad thing. Depending on the type of concert you’re going for, this low-fi grungy lighting may add the edge you need to your photos.

There is one other alternative, black and white. Now I know this is often frowned upon in certain photography circles, but it really can help save a picture with color issues. Black and white undeniably works for certain shots as well (download my free B&W Lightroom presets here).

No Pit

It’s no surprise to discover there won’t be a photography pit in your local venue, which does present some challenges. You may need to muscle through and be careful with your equipment, but embrace it.

It may mean setting up camp for a few songs then shifting around to the other side of the stage to get different angles. But there is nothing more fun that getting up close and personal to your act along with the crowd.

Read more about shooting your first concert here.

Let me know your tips for small venue concert photography in the comments below.

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  • Quinten Quist

    Great tips!
    I recommend leaving your bagpack at home or get a sling-bag and carry it on your chest (or make friends with the bar-staff). The concert’s for the audience and not the people annoying with huge bags pushing through the crowd :). For some venues wide angle lenses are recommended (unless you don’t want only portraits which might not mirror the atmosphere of the show that well).

    • Thanks for your comment! Great tips! Yeah, carrying a huge backpack can be problematic especially when the club is crowded

  • leomascaro

    Great! I’ve been shooting in small venues in NYC for the past 3 years and for me, the best thing is the freedom to shoot the whole show and walk around. My advise would be to try as many different angles, lenses and compositions as possible, even if you’re not super confident at the moment. Shooting small venues is the best way to experiment and learn!

    • absolutely Leo! Thanks for you comment. Which lenses are you using?

      • leomascaro

        I’m currently shooting with a 16-35mm 2.8 and a 70-200mm 2.8 on a full frame body. Also have a 50mm 1.8 which I’ve not been using so much lately, even though it used to be my go to lens before I bought the wide angle.

        • nice setup Leo! I always suggest to get the 50mm, because most people don´t have the budget when they´re starting out to get f2.8 zoom lenses. Therefore a cheap 50mm or 35mm is a good compromise.

          • leomascaro

            Absolutely! That’s exactly what I did and recommend when people ask my suggestions 🙂

  • Ali

    Have to disagree about the 50mm lens! I only shoot in small venues (punk etc gigs) and standing in front of a crowd and taking shots with a 50mm pretty much only gives you close ups of individual members of the band. I would recommend 28mm or 35mm for small venues.

    • Thanks Ali, I know that the 50mm might be a bit “too close” on a crop sensor camera, however almost everyone I have talked with started with the 50mm lens (including me). The 35mm on a crop sensor camera is definitely also a great option if you´re on a budget.

  • Chris Patmore

    Small venues are best (or at least my favourites). No shooting restrictions (whole set instead of three songs), unless it’s packed making it almost impossible to move. The trick with bad lighting is to find where the light is best and try and make the most of it. It is better to get one great shot than lots of average to bad shots. A wide-angle zoom is the best lens (24-70mm f/2.8 on full frame or 17-50mm f/2.8 on a crop). Don’t be afraid to push up the ISO. 3200 is usually my starting point. It can be hard work but you will often get more interesting shots than at big, well-lit venue as you will be up close. You will also get to shoot bands before they are famous, depending where you live, of course. You will also get more chances to talk with the bands and get a paying job than with shooting big names in big venues. If you can get good shots in a small venue anywhere else will be a cakewalk.

    • Thanks Chris! Great insights! I agree with the wide angle zoom lenses if you have the budget for it

  • Alexander Galler

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3a9119fbe34fe37056b803a115e1c320c5eeede44f5597d43f0e5019268429aa.jpg hey, i actually use the tokina 11-16 f2.8 and mostly my sigma 50mm 1.4. But still i have problems to get beyond ISO3200 especially at rock concerts. Less problems at singer songwriter concerts ^^.

    Nikon D500, 1/400s, f1.4, 50mm, ISO4000

    • Hi Alexander, I would try to use a shutter speed of 1/200sec, this will get you half the ISO settings on you example. Still, the D500 can handle noise very well and therefore I it shouldn´t be a problem. I actually like if there is some noise in my photos

  • Daniel Quesada
  • Keri Clingan Butcher

    Hiya Matthias! I’ve had some success shooting but can’t seem to get hired or sell any prints. I know I need to up my game. Many of my shots are from me simply buying a ticket and shooting with a Sony p&s… I know if given a real chance and my professional camera… I could knock it outta the park…. what next … how do I get noticed??? Please take a look at my site. I’ve downloaded your book and am ready to learn!!! You are amazing!!! Much Love & Appreciation, Keri

    keri-butcher.pixels.com https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/01360b98b74bf1daabf4b7f0303614594aae2d2d17a626528dd5741f19a4dd5c.jpg

  • David Tremper

    Nice discussion! I’ve a had a few opportunities to shoot bands with my Canon 5DII and 70-200 f/2.8 IS II lens…. I’ve had really great results at ISO 1600, spot metering, burst shooting and f/2.8 and in RAW mode. Lightroom can bring up or down the RAW image to what you’re looking for in the final product. I’ve also set up the C1, C2, C3 “preset” settings so I can switch on the fly to something that may work better depending on the lighting for a song. Mostly, for me, it’s been a little planning and much luck for that better than average image. Tomorrow I shoot King’s X, a great rock trio I’ve been following since 1988. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/07749993f8ab19a4ee419521ceb49ab242f262f85d6bbbf34f5345b24a3c6007.jpg I love the shot I posted because it captures the drummer’s crash cymbal bowing under the hit of his stick. NYC, 2015, The Aristocrats. (as a fellow drummer I like it anyway). 🙂 ISO 1600, 1/200th, f/2.8, spot meter