I'm sure that many of you are at least a little surprised to find me writing on this topic. I only infrequently shoot rock concerts, but I like music and jumped on a recent opportunity to shoot a sold-out 15,000 seat concert event for the organizer. Perhaps the very long, intense shoot, long drive and 2:00 AM bedtime did something to my mind, but ... here is a collection of my tips and musings:
Rock concerts are not created for photographers (though I of course think they should be and have many suggestions for the next event).
Just because you have a media pass, doesn't mean you get to hang out at stage front for the entire concert (only for the first 2 songs per set for this event).
Just because you can shoot in the bike rack (portable fencing creating a buffer between the crowd and the stage) doesn't mean you have full access. You get to share that space with the video camera people (who have priority) and other photographers.
There is not much room inside the bike rack - especially after people push it toward the stage.
When not shooting in the rack, you may have complete access to the entire bowl (arena). But, that doesn't mean that there are good locations to shoot from. You would probably have a better shooting position from a good seat.
Yes, you can shoot the crowd, but ... the crowd is mostly in complete darkness. And the crowd is probably moving if not seated - they will be motion-blurred for sure. And if the crowd is seated, it is probably not an exciting subject.
People are the primary subjects at a rock concert - people move (sometimes a lot, often quickly), people blink, people make strange faces - especially when they are singing/performing. You are going to throw away MANY shots for reasons such as these. Overshoot - a lot.
The people are usually on elevated stages - to be more-easily seen. You are probably shooting from 5' below them. Being close to the stage gives you the worst shooting angle for people - nearly straight up. Fortunately, their nostrils are usually heavily shaded.
Mics and mic stands put undesirable shadows on faces - or even worse, get in the way of faces. Mics work best when used in front of the face. Faces are typically also lit from the front. Thus, shadows are a problem. At least the artist will likely stay in place when using a mic stand.
Performers will look away from you - most of the time.
Rock concerts are typically highly creative events - be creative in your capturing of it. Your white balance will likely be also-creative as the lighting color can vary wildly - from second to second. And full-spectrum white light is often not considered creative by the entertainment industry.
Light levels at a concert are often completely different - from second to second. AE is challenged in the dark environment. Shooting in M mode is my choice, but is still extremely challenging. And then a spot light hits directly into your lens resulting is the strongest (I mean most-creative) lens flare you have ever seen.
Keeping a large fire/explosion and the performers properly exposed at the same time - good luck with that. Using M mode with Auto ISO resulted in ISO values jumping from 100 to ISO 8000 in less than 1 second.
Fire is hot - especially when it is immediately in front of you. Adding Nomex to my checklist.
Stages are big - and it doesn't take a performer long to cover the entire set. Zoom lenses rule for framing speed. Stages, or at least portions of them, are usually very dark. Prime lenses rule for wide apertures. Keeping moving subjects in the shallow, wider-than-f/2.8 DOF: a big challenge. Shutter speeds I used ranged up to 1/800 - and even this was not fast enough on occasion.
Shooting immediately in front of 5' high woofers allows one to experience CPR firsthand - without being touched by anyone.
When told to go to an office that is not a formal venue office, find out what that office's venue gate letter is. This prevents parking staff from directing you to the opposite side of the arena. This advice is especially helpful when you decide to leave your coat in the car and it is 20 degrees outside (and windy).
It helps to appreciate the music being played, but you are focused on what you are doing that you really don't pay close attention to it. The necessary earplugs also affect your musical experience.
I did not need to use my DSLR's Silent Mode at this event.
I want a smoke machine for my studio.
I carried a pair of Canon EOS 5D Mark III bodies - for great image quality and light weight (6 hours of shooting).
Carrying more lenses for this event just made my load larger and heavier, though the Gura Gear Bataflae 32L I am evaluating worked especially well for this.
Don't worry - I'll get more sleep before writing the next review. :)