I wrote this article on SLR Lounge's forum some years back. When I went to their current website I noticed that the forums are no longer there, so I decided to post it here.
When I got into photographing artists, entertainers, and concerts I had never even considered the prospect of shooting a deejay based event. I had never been to a rave, or any other type of EDM show, and didn't have any interest in the live aspect of the genre at all.
Who knew that I would end up shooting my fair share of EDM shows, and loving it.
What to Expect
There is no band to watch, so the event is all about the music and the visuals. The music is loud, energetic, and usually sounds incredible. The visual aspect is all about the multitude of colored lights, video projections, lasers, and strobes, all moving about and pulsing with the music. Occasionally there will be dancers or other performers as part of the show, but don't count on it. The coordinated effort, when done well, is really quite impressive to see.
Ultimately, sharp focus, good composition, and capturing the compelling moments are the goal. But what do you need to consider in the process? Here is a rundown of my most used settings. As with anything creative, experiment for your self, it's the only way to truly learn what works best for you.
The challenge is capturing the deejay and the crowd, without using a speed light, while everyone is bobbing about, poorly lit by spastic, unpredictable swaths of light. Because the lighting and environment are so unpredictable, I usually set my cameras to auto ISO. There are some concerns that 'auto ISO' can harm the camera with prolonged, constant use, but this is a risk that I have decided to take. There is no way to manually meter the scene, set the camera appropriately, and get the shot, all before everything changes.
Expect low ISO noise. Not every shot will have it, and sometimes you will end up with very artistic results. I have had consecutive shots within a second of each other where one ISO was at 400 and one was at 25,600. You can't control the environment. All you can do is be prepared to capture whatever happens.
Because of the constantly changing color, direction, and intensity of the different lights, I always set my camera to -1 stop Exposure Compensation. I would rather have to recover details that are too dark, than loose details because the image is blown out.
Stopping motion is important. When the girl in the front row swings her hair back, or the deejay jumps and swings his arms wildly in the air, you want to be able to stop the action. I always shoot on shutter priority with the shutter speed at no lower than 200th of a second. More often than not I am shooting at a shutter speed of 400th of a second.
If I am shooting with a long lens I will run my shutter at no slower than 320th of a second. There is a general rule that suggests limiting your shutter speed to your lens length, for example, shoot at 200th of a second when shooting with a 200mm lens, but that doesn't stop quick motions, it just minimizes blur from hand held shots of slow-moving or still subjects. You need to shoot fast enough to stop the action.
That said... Rules are made to be broken. The image below was captured by stabilizing the camera and shooting with a longer shutter speed in order to illustrate the motion of the dejay.
And this one was done by zooming the lens in conjunction with a longer shutter speed.
The most challenging thing about EDM shows is focusing in low light. Auto focus can be a bear, especially with the AF assist light turned off. My D800 does a decent job of pulling focus most of the time, but it can be unpredictable. The upside of EDM shows is that deejays don't generally drift around much. Pick a spot, manually focus, and shoot away. This approach is better than letting your auto focus zip frantically in and out and never getting a shot at all.
Getting a mix of close-ups and wide shots is important to capturing expression and emotion, as well as establishing location and representing the overall energy of a show. Depending on the client (venue, artist, publication, etc.), there may be a directive to capture crowd photos as well as ones of the artists.
I use two camera bodies, one with a 14mm-24mm 2.8 and the other with a 70mm-200mm 2.8 lens. I carry a 24mm-70mm 2.8 and a 50mm 1.4 lenses in my backpack just in case I have a need, but the other two lenses stay on my cameras for the majority of the show.
Keep your client in mind. Understand their needs, and any plans that they may have for the photos. A lot of online publications use crowd photos to entice their users to tag themselves at the event, and ultimately to gain new followers or customers. Artists, on the other hand, like to see photos that make them look like a 'Rock Star' at a festival. Shoot appropriately for your assignment.
Observe your surroundings. People are predictable. They usually repeat their favorite behaviors, in this case dance moves or gestures. Watch how the crowd and deejay move when the music swells. What do they do when the 'bass drops'. When you observe, you learn. When you learn, you are able to anticipate. When you are able to anticipate, you have a better chance of capturing that stellar shot.
Most of all, keep your head, don't stress, learn from your mistakes, and have fun.
-1 Exposure Compensation
Shutter Priority with an appropriately high shutter speed.
Fast lenses 2.8