11 music photography mistakes everyone always makes (and how to avoid them)

11 music photography mistakes everyone always makes (and how to avoid them)

You don’t have to have access to the photographers’ pit at stadium concerts to take great music photography. There are some excellent opportunities at festivals and even local bars and pubs.

In her latest post in her series looking at some of the common photography mistakes photographers make, our head of testing Angela Nicholson examines some of the most common mistakes made by music photographers and gives some advice on getting things right.

All words and images by Angela Nicholson

Common Music Photography Mistakes: 1. Shutter speed too slow

11 music photography mistakes everyone always makes (and how to avoid them)

A shutter speed of 1/800sec has frozen the head-banging going on here

The low light conditions of many music gigs can make it tricky to use movement-freezing shutter speeds, which is why many pros use fast (wide aperture) lenses.

Even if your lens or camera has a stabilisation system built-in you need to use a shutter speed that’s fast enough to freeze the movement of the performer.

This needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

A shutter speed of 1/60sec is likely to be fine for a seated classical singer, for instance, but you’ll have to push things up much further to get sharp shots of a gyrating rock god.

If necessary, crank-up the sensitivity setting as it’s better to have a bit of noise than a blurred subject.

If you’re planning to submit your images to an image library they need to be super-sharp or artistically blurred, there’s no middle ground.

It maybe acceptable, even desirable, to blur a guitarists strumming, but their eyes/head should be sharp.

Assess your shots at 100% on-screen and be ruthless.


Professional Photographer to the Rescue: live music photography made simple
Common mistakes at every shutter speed (and the best settings to use)
The best shutter speeds for every situation (free cheat sheet)
What is ISO: when to increase sensitivity, types of noise and more
Dynamic Range: what you need to know about capturing all the tones in a scene
11 of our most popular photography cheat sheets

Common Music Photography Mistakes: 2. Using flash

Common Music Photography Mistakes: 2. Using flash

Using flash would’ve ruined the atmosphere of this very low-light scene

In most low light conditions a burst of flash is a sensible solution, but it’s often not allowed at music venues and many performers don’t appreciate a burst of flash going off in their face.

If you’re not sure, ask or don’t use it to avoid being ejected.

As well as spoiling an elaborate lighting set-up for the audience using flash will kill much of the atmosphere, so you get uninteresting shots.

On the whole, it’s best avoided, just push up the camera’s sensitivity instead or wait for the stage lights to hit your subject.


What is flash sync? Your flash modes and when to use them (free cheat sheet)
Flash photography tips: external flash techniques anyone can understand
How camera flash works: free photography cheat sheet
Flash compensation: how to get perfectly balanced exposures
Flash portraits: creative off-camera lighting techniques you have to try

Common Music Photography Mistakes: 3. Focus problems

Common Music Photography Mistakes: 3. Focus problems

Low light like this can really challenge a camera’s AF system

The low lighting conditions of the average gig causes terrible problems for the average camera’s autofocus system.

That’s why pros use top-end cameras and lenses with large maximum apertures.

However, it’s still possible to get good shots with entry-level kit.

You could build-up your portfolio, for example, by shooting daytime festivals and gigs to give your camera a helping hand.

Rather than constantly trying to focus, you can also wait for the lighting to be right so that your camera can see the target and focus the lens.

This isn’t practical with lights that flash quickly, but how about focusing manually and waiting for everything to come good?

Alternatively, consider hiring a fast lens and/pr a top end camera for a day, it doesn’t cost quite as much as you might think.


Best camera focus techniques: 10 surefire ways to get sharp photos
Avoid focus errors: how to use autofocus in your everyday photography
10 reasons your pictures aren’t sharp (and how to fix them)
Master your camera’s autofocus: which AF points to use and when to use them

  • Jackie

    I took my camera to a small invited guests concert and was told by the bouncers that I couldn’t use it because it’s a professional camera. EVERYONE around me was using their phones and tablets. I had my Canon 100D with my 55 x 250 lens. Hardly professional and I was in nobody’s way. Unlike all those holding up their tablets and blocking the view. Put me right off Music photography.

  • dvjm

    This is becoming an issue in many different areas. I am not a professional. I take photos for my own enjoyment, or of my kids or grandkids. I hate having to bring in some point and shoot or zoom because the DSLR or mirrorless is considered “professional.” And you are right” The I-pads and phones being held up all over are MUCH more annoying.