My name is Charles, I do film concert photography since September 2014. I chose analog over digital because I like to do things with my hands instead of using a computer. I mostly use HP5+ film (pushed to 1600 ISO) which I find very powerful in difficult light conditions, it’s a good compromise between precision, grain, and dynamic range.

Concert photography is easy and difficult at the same time. It’s easy to take a picture of a charismatic singer on stage, but is this enough to have a great photograph? Here are five rules that you can follow to improve your skills!

1 Know your gear

It may be obvious to you but it’s the starting point. When you’re in the dark, among a crowd of fans, you have to know exactly how to use your gear. Try to learn how to quickly change your aperture, speed and your film in a dark room.

Black and white film photo of The Amazing Scissorheads in concert taken on HP5+

The Amazing Scissorheads

2 Know the band

Before the show, you have to learn a few things about the artist or the band that you will photograph: What is the position of the band on stage? Are there left or right handed musicians? Is there any setlist of their past shows available online? This is some useful info to know before pushing the button.

Black and white film photo of The Disappears in concert taken on HP5+


3 Know the place

The gear and the band are important but so is the place. Find some info about the venue: size, the height of the stage, type of lights, the presence of barriers… The more you know before the show the better. Tip: Pay attention to light patterns, this will help you trigger at the right time and avoid wasting film.

Black and white film photo of The Drones in concert taken on HP5+

The Drones

4 Keep it simple

Focus on simple compositions: shooting four or five people on a stage can make your photos a little confusing. Choose your subject: the expression of the singer, the gesture of a guitarist, the energy of the drummer, a face in the crowd… Just remember that your subject is not just the person but the whole action.

Black and white film photo of Michael Cloup Duo in concert taken on HP5+

Michael Cloup Duo

5 Pay attention to details

Details are the bonus that will transform a good photograph into a great photograph. It could be in the background, in the foreground: a finger pointed from a person in the crowd, a smile between two musicians, a special move from the singer, etc. Just grab the detail that will make your picture unique. And, last but not least, as a bonus advice: never ever take the picture of a singer with his mouth hidden by the mic. Unfortunately, too many photographers forget that and the result is pictures that really lack strength.

Black and white film photo of Battles in concert taken on HP5+


Finally, don’t hesitate to spend some time to listen to the music and to study what’s going on on stage before putting your eye in the viewfinder. Patience and concentration are the key to success.

All these pictures were taken with Ilford HP5+ film pushed to 1600 ISO with Ilfotec LC29 developer.

All images ©Charles Pietri