When I was a kid, often you couldn’t take a camera into a music concert – probably they wanted to make sure they had the market cornered on posters and publicity photos back then. Now, in the days of ubiquitous mobile phones and pocket camcorders people are not only sharing photos, they are sharing music videos. Fortunately, the music industry has by and large recognized that having videos on YouTube and other video sharing sites is actually good for business. Yes, it’s a violation of YouTube’s terms of service – but I personally think this is just YouTube’s way of covering themselves legally for the rare musician who still objects to having their music shared in this way.
Odds are, however, that you’re still not going to be able to set up a tripod and a professional camera and microphones. But you can hopefully capture something better than the shaky, grainy video captured by the guy in front of you, waving his cell phone in front of your lens.
If you have several cameras to choose from, bring the one that has decent optical zoom, first of all – and then think about image and sound quality second. Why zoom? Unfortunately, at a concert, there is such a thing as being too close. If you manage to elbow your way to the front, those speaker towers are going to wreak havoc on your sound quality. The vibration you feel from the bass is also happening in your camera’s microphone and there is no way you’ll get decent sound. So you want to find a balance between being far away from the speakers, yet close enough so you can zoom in. Don’t use the 60X zoom – 12-15X should be plenty. A little shaking helps capture the atmosphere, but if you’re zoomed to 60X your image will be so shaky you might have to include an epilepsy warning.
Most likely your battery will not last the whole concert, so what I like to do is pan around for a little scene-setting and atmosphere to add later, and then keep it ready for that favorite song or those unexpected moments. That way you can also minimize the irritation to the folks behind you from having your camera waving in their face the entire show.
The videos below were taken using a combination of a Sony HD camera with 60X zoom, and a Flip HD. If you watch “when September Ends” it actually switches partway through and you may not even notice the difference in sound quality. I was up way too close, unfortunately. You may also notice that the trick of filming the jumbotron doesn’t always work either – I think the frame rate of the Flip is too slow, so that the flickering you don’t see with your eyes ends up showing up on film. I don’t claim these to be great examples, but maybe you can learn from my mistakes and observations and do better.
For comparison, I was much farther back last year (and didn’t have jumbotron flicker) and I think the result was much better: