Concerts can be life-changing, tear-provoking, and/or complete chaos. The energy and fandemonium that fills a venue is something that should not go unshared. Unfortunately, shooting concerts is easier said than done, because this field of photography can be extremely challenging and unpredictable. There is no such thing as adjusting the setting’s light or asking the subject you’re highlighting to remain still, nor is there a guarantee that you won’t be bombarded and pushed during their set. But, folks, if there’s a will, there’s a way. 

We caught up with photographer James Bell otherwise known as Lucent Illusions, to get the lowdown on the best tips and tricks for concert photography.

Bell is a 28 year old Brooklynite freelance photographer, who claims to love every moment of his career. He’s been shooting all the greatest dubstep, heavy bass, electronica, hip hop, and jam bands for the last four years and it all started after a member from the funk band Lettuce approached him and asked “what can you bring to the table?”. Bell explained his adoration for photography since high school, only to receive a proposition in return, “do that from now on and grow with us”. This catapulted his photography career, and with it came a sick portfolio of concert photography. We trust his expertise, and decided for the communities’ sake to ask some questions on how he achieves such high-pressure shots.

How do you gain access to shoot these shows? – “The best way to go about shooting shows is starting off at local venues. Reach out to publications/promo companies in your area and ask to shoot upcoming events. Everyone loves recap shots for social media.”

Best position for you to be in, to get the shot? – “It depends on what your shooting but in my opinion the best shots are always dead center of FOH (Front of House/Soundboard). You’ll be able to get very symmetrical shots of lighting from there.” Flash or no flash, and why? – “I prefer not to use flash when shooting concert photography. I’d rather work with the the light from their set up. It helps capture the emotion the artist is trying to create with light.”

What exposure works best? – “That’s a very difficult question… There really isn’t one “magic” exposure setting when shooting concerts. Every location or atmosphere can change your settings quickly. With how far stage lighting has come these days it’s a very unstable environment; lights, colors, and shapes are changing in the blink of an eye. However I typically try to stay around 1600-3200 ISO, 125-200 on shutter speed and anywhere from f/4-f/12 on aperture.”

How do you capture the perfect candid, considering the subjects are always in motion? – “Capturing those WOW moments at a concert just takes practice and patience. I try and look for different angles and read the artist expressions. Their body language conveys so much, so wait for something that stands out…. Jumping, fist raised, a kick, jamming hard during a solo, or maybe the artist joined the crowd. Since your subject is always in motion make sure you have the shutter speed and aperture higher, this will insure nothing is blurry.”

Recommended settings and equipment? – “It’s really hard to know what setting you’ll need, considering each environment is so different. However, refer to my answer on exposure….In regards to gear, it really depends on the shooter and what they’re comfortable with. I shoot a Canon 5d Mark III. The lenses I use are: Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8, Canon 17-40mm f/4.0. I also see a ton of Sony mirrorless’ out there now too. I go back and forth with wanting/not wanting one.”

Bell also told Resource that, “concert photography has been such an eye opening experience for me. Getting to mix my love of music and capturing beautiful moments of time.”

For more of Lucent Illusion’s stunning work, check out his Instagram.

All images courtesy of James Bell/Lucent Illusions