Tips for concert photography with point and shoot digital compact cameras

December 16, 2011  •  Leave a Comment

Quite often I’m asked specifically for advice on using point and shoot cameras at concerts.  A few years ago, the stock answer would have been…. don’t.  Cameras were usually not allowed in, without a photo pass.  In recent years, however bands have become much less concerned about people shooting with ‘non professional’ cameras.  Pro cameras are still usually banned without a photo pass but I guess most bands, managers and venues have realized that banning tiny point and shoot cameras is pretty much unenforceable.

However, while you can now come to a concert with a P&S camera, without feeling guilty, the vast majority of people who do so take pics without appreciating the specific problems that a dark concert hall environment presents, and as a result they end up with images that are disappointing.

I’ve therefore started to collect together a few hints and tips specifically for users of point and shoot cameras in concert environments.  Whilst it probably won’t suddenly enable you to take award winning images from the back of the venue, and I would not advocate you applying for a photo pass or shooting in the photo pit with one, these tips may help you to produce images you will be proud of and which act as a reminder of the event.  Here are a few to start with…..

  • Digital compacts tend to have a very small sensor, which suffers badly from pixel interference (excessive noise or grain) when its sensitivity (ISO) is increased.  The better compacts allow you to select an ISO without having the camera automatically select it for you, and a little experimentation here can improve the quality of the resulting images.
  • In fully automatic mode, the camera makes compromise decisions for you, which usually means raising the ISO and/or reducing the shutter speed, to get enough light in for a decent exposure. This results in well exposed pictures, but which are really grainy because of high ISO and blurred due to a slow shutter speed.
  • If your camera doesn’t have manual settings your biggest problem is going to be keeping the camera still while you take the shot.  Because the light will be low (it may not seem like it but the stage lights are not that bright, and the level of light reaching the camera falls off rapidly the further away from the stage you are) your camera will by default try to use a longer shutter speed, resulting in a lot of blurred pics.  One thing you could try is changing the camera mode to ‘sports’ mode or whatever the equivalent is on your camera.  This is still an auto mode, but biases the settings in favour of a slightly faster shutter speed.  It will improve your chances but only a little.
  • Once you’ve mastered adjusting the shutter speed to get the best results, then you can look at adjusting ISO and aperture settings to improve the shots even further.  To start with put your ISO at the highest you can without the images appearing too grainy.  For SLRs this is usually around 800-1600 ISO (maybe a little higher with newer cameras).  For point and shoot cameras it usually means up to about 400 ISO (any higher and the grain/noise deteriorates the image too much in my opinion).
  • Switch off your flash if you can.  If you are in the photo pit, flash will probably not be allowed anyway.  If you are not in the photo pit, the flash will not be powerful enough to reach the stage (unless you are in the first couple of rows), it will draw the attention of security people to you, and it will often override your shutter speed so that it that works against getting the shot you want.  You are also more likely to just light up the backs of the heads of the people in front – and this doesn’t make for an attractive concert shot!
  • Another issue I find with digital compacts, especially when used on auto mode, is that when you press the shutter there is a delay of anything up to a second before the shutter actually activates, meaning you often miss that ‘moment’.  This is because, when you press the shutter, the camera then has to focus, and calculate what aperture, shutter speed and ISO to use to get the correct exposure, before it actually takes the picture.  Better cameras reduce this shutter lag, and you can improve things further by taking the camera off auto mode and pre-selecting a shutter speed or aperture etc.  Less calculations for the camera to perform means it can operate quicker.


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