An Introduction To Concert Photography – Part 3: How To Shoot DIY Punk Venues

Hello, again. Welcome to the second Advice column of the week. We received such an overwhelming response to our last photography feature that we partnered once more with Nick Karp to create a third installment in what appears to have become our latest ongoing series aimed towards bettering the music industry. We have several additional photo-themed columns  planned, but we are always looking for suggestions on topics worth covering. If you have any questions regarding the content of this blog, or if you would like to learn more information about the services offered by Haulix, please email and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.


Following my local music scene played a huge influence on my desire to shoot bands. Within a local music scene comes a DIY culture behind it, and bands performing at unconventional venues was the norm. Shooting bands at VFW halls, Leigon Halls, Basements, living rooms, and even backyards was not a rarity, and if I am being completely honest I would have to say that shooting at those establishments is much harder than shooting at an arena or other large scale venue. Arena shows have big production budgets, including lighting with front and back lights. You can shoot at low ISO’s and still produce a correctly exposed photo. DIY venues however, may only have a single florescent light bulb in the entire room.

So, how do you capture great moments in a situation like that? Flash. Shooting these type of shows often requires you to break some of my unwritten rules of the photo pit, but there is a reason good reason for such rule violation. 99% of the time there is no photo pit, or anyone making sure you stick to the ‘3 song rule,’ and with the band’s blessing, flash can be allowed. The follow is a list of techniques I use for shooting at these types of venues…

Flash bounced off ceiling:

The technique I have found most useful is having an external flash aimed directly up to bounce forwards on the ceiling. This distributes the light equally over the band member you are trying to shoot. That said, this method can only work with a lighter colored ceiling as black/dark ceilings will absorb too much of the light.

When using this technique I try to have my power high enough so that my ISO is 800 or so. My shutter remains around 1/100 and my F stop is at f4. Some examples of bouncing a flash against a ceiling can be viewed below:


In this picture you can see how the light spreads pretty evenly over bass player Nicholas Inman(You Blew It!) and some of the fans. 


In this photo, lead singer Damian (Fucked Up) is in the crowd. There is virtually no light in the crowd, so I bounced a flash at the ceiling to try and get some light on him. It worked and this is the image.

Flash at 60 degrees:

This is a technique I use when the ceiling is really low, like when shooting in a basement. The bottom of the photo will not be lit up as much as the top so I suggest upping the shadows and blacks in post production. An example of this can be shown below.


Here you can see what happens when I use a 60 degree flash. You want to keep your flash power low enough to not blow the highlights out. In post I raised the shadows and added some contrast. Lucky for me, TMP had floor lights that went on and off, and they gave me a little extra light to work with in this tiny basement.


For this one, I did the same exact thing with my lighting as the shot before, except there are no floor lights. Check out the bass and you can see how grainy it is from pushing the shadows. The light was bright enough to light the bass below, but dark enough where it didn’t blow his face out.

Dragging the shutter:

Dragging the shutter is what occurs when you use flash to light up the subject and have a shutter speed so low (Around 1/20 – ½) that you’re able to move the available light in the photo. You can either bounce the flash to the ceiling or point the flash directly at the band. If you do the ladder, make sure to ask the band’s permission prior because having a flash directed and flashed in your eyes Is distracting when you are performing. If pointed at the band, I try to have my flash power low, and even with that, my ISO at 400 or so.  My aperture will be somewhere around f 5 -6.3 and again, shutter will be at 1/8th. An example can be seen below.


Here’s a somewhat extreme look of dragging the shutter. You can see that theirs is two Pat Butlers [Singer of Sleepy Hahas]. My shutter speed was at ½, so this is an extreme case of dragging the shutter. I feel as if this photo gives off a psychedelic feel.


In this shot of Zealot, I had my shutter speed faster than I did than the previous photo. This is at 1/25th of a second where the photo is not heavily distorted, but I obtained enough back ground light to slightly move bend the light so my subject and the room lights can pop.

Using off camera flash:  

Off camera flash is something I do very rarely mainly because of venue limitations. Although some would allow me to set up a flash or two on the sides of the venue, I choose not to because my equipment is out of my sight. Despite this, off camera flash is one of the better methods to use when shoot at DIY venues. The way I set is up is to point the flash at the middle of the stage and then shoot about 45 degrees towards the center of the stage.  If I’m using a second flash, I can point that flash to my other side of me, 45 degrees towards the center of the stage, or if I can put it behind the band, I will set it up directly across from the first light. An example of when I use off camera flash is below.


In this shot you can see one of the the flashes in the back of the phot. The lead singer was lit up by another flash to camera right. The flash was so powerful that my settings were ISO 500, 1/100, F9.


For this shot, only the flash on the back was used. The other flash was having a hard time being triggered. You can see the difference not having a back flash makes, and how essential it is to have that front flash.

Pop Up Flash. 

I hate it. There’s a reason top of the line equipment doesn’t have pop up flashes. 

Nick Karp is a professional photographer and freelance music writer. He recently relocated to NYC and dyed his hair bright pink because that is the kind of thing people do in the music business. 

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.