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How to strike the right chord with your music festival photography

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A music festival is a great opportunity to take some fantastic photographs and with festival season now in full swing, we wanted to make sure you’re fully prepared. We asked our Facebook community for their thoughts on festival photography and what they’d like to improve on. Here are some top tips from prize winning photographer and Nikon user Morten Rygaard as well as his answers to some of our Facebook page’s questions.

Nikon UK has also teamed up with NME for this year’s NME Music Photography awards, so after you’ve read this post why not submit your photos to be in with a chance of winning an award? Who knows, this time next year, your festival shots might be propped up in news stands up and down the country on NME’s front cover!

Morten Rygaard’s top tips

Tip 1 – Be ready for the unexpected

Get to know the artist and the band. Google them, look them up on YouTube and try to get an idea of what kind of stage show you can expect. Does the performer tend to jump into the crowd or do they use confetti or fireworks? If so, be prepared for that.


Image © Morten Rygaard. Image taken with a Nikon D3s, f/2.8 at 1/400 sec, ISO-2500

Lens: 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S NIKKOR

Tip 2 – Be selective

Whole-stage photos can be quite boring. Try to focus on the various band members and their faces. My favorite live music photos are when the performer shows emotion and energy. Go for the shot that is out of the ordinary. If you’re shooting digital you can shoot a lot of photos. Experiment! Go crazy!


Image © Morten Rygaard. Image taken with a Nikon D3, f/2.8 at 1/320 sec, ISO-1000

Lens: AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

Tip 3 – Find the perfect settings

To get the perfectly exposed music photo you have to find the ideal combination of ISO settings, aperture, and shutter speed. I always use manual mode to be in 100% control of the camera.

ISO – At many concerts you need to set your ISO level high (800 to 12800) because of the low ambient light. At 12800 ISO the images will be a little grainy due to digital noise, but that is sometimes unavoidable, and it’s better to get a photo with a little noise than nothing at all. If there is plenty of light just set the ISO lower.

Aperture- You need a lens with a wide aperture, f2.8 or lower. At f1.8 more light will be entering the camera through the lens allowing you to use faster shutter speeds. However, at the same time the area in focus will be smaller, so you have to be very accurate with the focus point.

Shutter speed – I use shutter speeds at 1/125th second or higher to get a sharp photo of the on-stage action. The general shutter speed rule for hand held photography: use the reciprocal of your focal length as a guide. If you are shooting at 200mm, try to shoot at 1/200 sec and faster for sharp images.


Image © Morten Rygaard. Image taken with a Nikon D3X, f/4 at 1/800 sec, ISO-1600

Lens: 200-400mm f/4G ED-IF AF-S VR NIKKOR

Tip 4 – No Flash – more or less

Flash is generally a no go when photographing live concerts.  It ruins the beautiful stage lights. If you are too far away from the band it does not help at all, furthermore it is distracting the performer and audience. Some venues or bands try to ban flash photography so check out the rules before the concert. If you do decide to use flash, try and keep it to an absolute minimum.


Image © Morten Rygaard. Image taken with a Nikon D3, f/3.5 at 1/400 sec, ISO-4000

Lens: 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S NIKKOR

Tip 5 – wear earplugs!

Very few photos are worth a roaring tinnitus. I always keep a dozen earplugs in my camera bag so that I can afford to lose a couple.


Image © Morten Rygaard. Image taken with a Nikon D3X, f/2.8 at 1/400 sec, ISO-250

Lens: 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S NIKKOR

Here’s what Morten had to say to some of the questions from our Facebook page.

Q: Reg Richardson: Any tips on how to stop the rain and get rid of the mud here at the Upton Jazz Festival?

A: Treat the rain and mud as a great opportunity to get some different photos. I always keep a pair of rubber boots and a stash of disposable raincoats in my car to keep me and my cameras relatively dry in case of bad weather.

Q: Jessica Mallinson: How to reduce the grainy-ness when turning up a high ISO

A: High ISO and grains go hand in hand. Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do so you have to make the most of it. Personally I love grains. My Nikon D3s, D4, and D800 cameras give beautiful grains. Sometimes I even go up with the ISO to get the effect.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your next live music shoot, Norwegian photographer Lars Olav Dybvig has some great shots on his website, while NME photographer Emilie Bailey also has some useful tips on capturing live music.

If you’re also into making movies then you might be interested in the short film below called I Am Who I Am. It’s about Peder Carlsson, the drummer from Swedish rock band Backyard Babies, and the short film he made called I Am The Family. It’s great inspiration if you’re looking to start filming and shows what you can do with a good camera and a little imagination.

Have you taken any great live music shots lately? Why not upload them to our Flickr page or our ‘Who are you with Nikon’ Facebook app. Which festivals or bands are you looking forward to the most this summer? As always, let us know what you think by commenting below.

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  1. Austin

    Is there any possible way I could use one of these photographs on my website?