I've been lucky enough to do a fair few gigs in the past, primarily in small venues like 12Bar or the Windmill in Brixton, but also at some bigger venues like main stage at the Garage in Islington. Whilst I've written about my experiences doing these shoots, I thought it was about time to write something more detailed about my considerations when doing a gig.
This is the first thing to think about. Why are you there. Have you been invited by the band to take photos, but the venue? Or is it another reason. These questions will affect where you are able to stand, how much of a nuisance you can make of yourself and how long you are able to shoot.
Get there early. As early as you can. There are two reasons for this. Firstly it gives you the chance to scope out the stage and figure out where you will get good shots from. (assuming there isn't a Photographer pit at the front) and secondly it give you a chance to actually claim that location. Once you have a good spot, pay attention to the crowd. How busy is it getting? Whilst it is great to be able to move around and get images from lots of locations, in a small venue with a lot of people, trying that may get you stuck in a terrible location, or with a terrible view. Music fans won't have any sympathy for you.
Whatever camera you have is the one you have to use, learn to understand where everything is and practice changing lenses in the dark. Unless you are lucky enough to have a camera with backlit settings (Like the Canon MkIII) then you will also need to get used to makeing changes to settings that can only be validated when looking through the eyepiece. Before your first gig, get some practice in, otherwise you will be fumbling and turning the wrong things off!
If you are fortunate enough to have two bodies, this can be a big help, strap them both on with different lenses and you are able to much more easily get a selection of shots, and you can tailor the settings for that lens. When I had a Sony and a Konica it was a great help and it is something that I miss.
I try and have three lenses available.
Unless you have an amazing lens like the 50mm f1.2 you will want to make your aperture as wide as you possibly can. get as much light into the sensor as possible to allow you to keep your ISO as low as you can. Basically, set your aperture to the lowest and forget about it for the rest of the evening.
How fast can you hand hold a steady shot? Make sure the shutter speed is that fast or faster. I find myself tweaking shutter speed and ISO a lot during a gig. The primary driver is keeping shutter speed fast enough to capture a sharp (or artistically blurred) image and setting your ISO as low as that allows. Personally I tend to shoot somewhere between 1/60th and 1/80th. Though these change with how zoomed in I am. With a 200mm zoom, 1/60th will not be fast enough.
As low as possible. Even though new cameras and software like Noise Ninja do amazing things at removing noise, you are better of not having to think about it at all.
If your lens has it, congratulations! That means your shutter speed can be a little slower, your ISO a little lower. IS is a wonderful thing.
Try shooting a stop or so underexposed when you are doing a gig. Cameras struggle with the moving lighting, and it's easy to lose details.
A lot of photographers don't adjust this setting for some reason. It can make a huge difference. In the case of gigs, it depends on the venue and the lighting scheme, but experiment with changing the metering scheme from centre weighted to one of the others. I've had good luck when one person is on stage with using spot metering. It gives you a little more control over what is considered average light.
General automatic focusing struggles with gigs. Too slow, too inaccurate.
Note the band names as they perform, or take a photo of playlist, Its easy to get them mixed up after the fact.
Try not to shoot the roadies.....
No matter why you are there or how, remember you are a guest and, unlike the people who have paid good money to be there, you are not there for the music, but it is only polite not to ruin the music for other people.
At a death metal concert, you are probably fine clicking away, no one is going to hear you. At an unplugged acoustic event, every click of your shutter may be an unwelcome annoyance to the fans and performers. If you are being disruptive, you are being rude. Sometimes you will just have to accept you are being rude, but be aware and do what you can to keep it minimal. If you want a better idea of this take a look at Joe Pug Live at the Relentless Garage