Robin Looy: Shooting Concerts On Your Phone

Robin Looy (@bandphotographer) music photographer, shares his favorite tips about shooting better concert photos on your phone.

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Traveling the globe with bands and artists I feel incredibly fortunate to call myself a music photographer. It’s a journey that has taken me 15 years, allowing me the creative freedom to explore music photography in large venues, looking for the perfect shot.

Shooting concerts doesn’t come without its limitations. 3 songs no flash is the common rule. Most artists allow you to photograph the first three songs frontstage without a flash. Sometimes you have to stand a lot further away. It means your photography game has to be on point from the minute the concert starts. 

Often in between bands I’ll use my phone to capture different types of shots. Although a lot smaller than our traditional cameras, it provides a fun point and shoot experience, showing off a different aspect to the concert. Especially when you consider that without a media pass, most venues won’t let in big cameras, the phone is the best tool you have!

In using my iPhone 6, Moment Case, Wide Lens and Tele Lens, here are a few tips about how to capture better concert shots.

Get in the front.

Because of the limitations of your phone you have to get as close to the stage as possible. Not only will you get a clear shot without any people and hands in it, you also have some space to move your phone around and follow the artist on stage. With the Moment Tele lens you will have a better chance to get that clear shot.

Evening Shows – Learning Light

Evening shows are the trickiest to shoot. On stage you will have moving subjects and flashing lights, a combo that often makes it hard to produce crystal clear photos. Some artists will play on really dark stages, others will be as bright as possible, which makes advanced planning difficult.

One thing to recognize is that the lights on stage mostly have a pattern. And definitely follow the spotlights, trying to get the shot right when the light hits the artist.

Front light is the light that is pointed directly on the artist. This light is often a spotlight, this way you won’t get silhouettes but a perfect portrait.

When it comes to flash; don’t use it. First of all you lose the stage lights and therefore miss the shot. Secondarily artists hate flashes because it’s distracting when performing.

Daylight Shows – Learning Light

Daytime shows are the best to photograph, especially on a phone. Personally I love evening shows because of the creative challenge associated with light and smoke. With that said daylight shows create an opportunity to capture a wider range of interesting photos, getting the most out of your phone.

With daylight shows you will miss the atmosphere created by the stage lights. Be creative with the backdrop from the band, the decoration on stage, the smoke and pyro. You can get your best portrait shots during daylight shows because the stage lights will not interfere with your phone.

Look For Action

Jumps, pyro, smoke, smiles and eye contact are great moments to catch. Most are not easy to get because you have to get the timing right. If you’ve seen the show before, sometimes you will know when the pyro sets in, or when the singer jumps. But if you are experiencing the show for the first time, than you have to pay close attention.

My approach is to constantly flip between the phone screen and the stage, looking for cues that action is about to happen. In particular look for black pyro boxes on stage, they will give you a hint that action is coming. Once the artist begins steps back, you can guess there will be pyro because nobody wants to get burned.

Overall the best rule of thumb is to keep shooting and expect to miss a lot. But hopefully if you keep trying you will capture a little action that you are really proud about.

Photograph the crowd

Crowds and stages take wide lenses, which is why I love the Moment Wide. The lens provides a wide perspective so you can concentrate on pointing and shooting.

When shooting the crowd, start with yourself and friends. Try shots that have you in foreground and the crowd in the background. Even try angles that capture the atmosphere of the show.

The crowd provides emotion, try capturing that emotion in your shots. Granted this is a little bit easier if you have access to the stage to capture the crowd below.

Guiding Principles

It took me a long time to gain confidence with my music photography. Capturing the perfect moment came with a lot of missed shots. But with that in mind here are a few principles that build me.

  • Be Patient. Don’t expect to nail every shot. It takes time and practice to nail the shot you saw before you pressed the shutter.
  • Accept You Have No Control. Especially over light and movements of subject. If you accept this reality you capture different, interesting types of photos.
  • Moment App helps. Especially using the sliders to make small light adjustments.
  • Editing is a must. Whether using the native app or a third party editing app you can spend a lot of time fixing small details.
  • Tag artists. When sharing definitely give the artist and show credit, they love to hear from their fans. It’s also a small way to get discovered, especially if you post during or immediately after the show.
  • Always enjoy the show. You have payed good money to see your favorite artist. Take a few memory’s back with you on your phone and the rest in your head. You don’t have to click away the whole show.

You can follow Robin Looy @bandphotographer.

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