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Shooting concerts at night

edited March 2017 Posted in » Nikon D3200 Forum
I'm trying to take good pictures at concerts at night. They are ok once I tweak them, but I want better than ok pictures. I can't use a tripod at the concerts, and I have tried setting it on night, sports, long distance and auto. I seem to get the ok pictures on auto. I have pretty much tried every setting on the camera and always go back to auto.


  • edited March 2017
    "Night" is for night portraits, and requires a tripod, because shutter speeds will be too slow. Sports may have the opposite problem using higher shutter speeds than you need. Auto without flash probably works better, but will never give you good control of variables.

    Night concerts will always be a challenge owing to the darkness, uneven lighting, and the need to stop at least some motion, and if you can get any shots worth saving you're partway there.

    For starters, I think you should do some experimenting and try to figure out what ISO you can live with. In Auto setting, the camera will go right to the maximum by itself, and at times this may turn out to be unpleasantly grainy. You'll likely have to settle for some noise, but it would help to be able to control it. The less dark shadow you must include in the shots, and the less you have to crop or adjust exposure afterwards, the less you'll be troubled by noise.

    Although you can use software to open up dark shadows in post, the D3200 will almost always do better with correct exposure and ISO initially.

    Some of your success will depend too on how far you are from your subjects, and how much unwanted background there is in your shots. If there is a lot of dark stage surrounding the lit performers, your camera's meter may overexpose, and the Auto ISO may go higher than it needs to; you may get better shots and easier settings if you switch to spot metering or use exposure compensation. For this you will need to get out of the auto and scenic modes, though.

    Here's what I'd suggest for a start: Decide what ISO you can live with, and set your Auto ISO limit at that, so that it does not go higher. For performers on stage, especially in odd light, you may be able to go pretty high without loss of quality. Try ISO 3200 or 6400, but I'd advise you block out "HI" which is really too noisy to be good. Do not set it too low, because when the camera is set to Auto ISO, any manual choices you make above that limit will be ignored (but the camera will not tell you this!)

    Now set the camera at S mode, shutter priority, and try to find a shutter speed that will stop most, if not all, the motion of the performers. That may depend on luck, lighting, and how animated they are. For starters, I'd look at something around 1/200 or faster, but you can experiment. You might have some luck slower, but you may also find you have fewer keepers. If you're using Auto ISO, set your starting point at ISO 100, even though it will likely never use it. The camera will adjust as needed, and lower is always better when possible. In shutter priority, the camera will always use the shutter speed you set, and choose the aperture first, and then when aperture runs out, it will raise ISO as needed.

    Set the autofocus to C (continuous servo) and Single point, and your meter to Spot. Make sure the focus point is centered (push the [OK] button to recenter).

    Try to aim for a well lit face on a chosen performer. If the performers are spread out, aim for one of the closer ones, as depth of field is greater behind than in front. In this circumstance, your lens will probably always be as wide open as it can be, with minimum depth of field, but at some distance the kit lenses will probably do fine that way.

    If the performers are playing instruments, you may find that some motion is blurred, but at times that's all right - a drummer drumming or a guitarist strumming may have more impact with a blurred drumstick or finger, and if you try for an exposure that stops it all, you'll find it nearly impossible.

    Of course your best bet on this is to find a faster lens. The faster the lens the better. But that's very expensive, so you can at least try to use what you have.

    PS. Don't be discouraged if you get a lot of misses. Even pros get a lot of misses in challenging circumstances. Make lots of shots, and erase the ones that miss. Shoot Raw if you can, so you can make more adjustments later.
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