Using ISO 100 for Concert Photography: Is it Possible?


Have you ever heard of the “4 Seconds” Myth in Concert Photography? Well, probably not, because I made this phenomenon up as a play on words with the 4 Leaf Clover “Myth.” The 4 Seconds Myth talks about the fact that there’s a maximum period of time at just a few concerts when you can in fact shoot at crisp, noiseless ISO 100.

It’s half myth and half fact, because sometimes the opportunity is there (even if you don’t see it), and even if you’re there for it, you have to do something about it to increase the chances that luck will play its part. It’s about being aware all the time.


In case you don’t know the meaning of a 4 leaf clover (circa 1877), let me tell you: each leaf is believed to represent something: the first is for Faith, the second for Hope, the third is for Love and the fourth for Luck. Playing with this analogy, I would say that Concert Photography follows a similar pattern.

First is Faith, because you know what you are doing with your camera, you believe in what you’re doing, right? Second is Hope, because concert photography is all about waiting for THE moment, and that’s the reason why you are there (and reading here).

Third is Love (This one I shouldn’t have to elaborate on. If you hate photography, you just don’t take pictures. If you love it … well, it’s like music, everybody loves it!) And, finally, fourth is Luck, because sometimes you catch the moment like a Jägermeister (Hunt Master), and other times you just happen to press the shutter at the right moment.

Hundreds of years ago people didn’t know there were 4 Leaf “Lucky” Clovers, in the same way that nowadays many photographers don’t know that, from time-to-time, there’s 4 seconds of enough light on stage at a few concerts to shoot at ISO 100. What seemed impossible was always there waiting for the lucky, aware photographer to take advantage of.


The 4 Sec Myth works this way: There is a moment in a show when beautiful and powerful light falls on the stage (and on the musicians of course), lasting only a few, let’s say about 4, seconds. That gives you:

  • 1 Second to Notice it.
  • 1 Second to Set the Camera.
  • 1 Second to Focus.
  • 1 Second to Take the Photo (…and rule them all, yeah!)

And then the moment’s gone. Only a little bit of creepy light remains on stage.

I know what you’re thinking: “No way, man! I could never shoot concerts below ISO 1600! You must be drunk!”

Well, yes my friend, I cannot deny it. But truth be told, maybe you just haven’t shot enough. Or maybe you’re not paying close enough attention to what you’re doing. Or maybe you set your camera in Auto Mode, but dare to believe/declare yourself a photographer. Or just maybe you’re not in the habit of figuring out ways to create better photos for your clients (or whomever you choose to amaze with your work).


Concert Photography is a kind of fashion nowadays, and truth be told again, sometimes it seems that there are more people shooting concerts than there are actual photographers.

ISO 100 is possible! Let’s leave the noise to generate avalanches.

About the author: Ignacio Cángelo is a 29-year-old concert and advertising photographer based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He believes that there is always something new and exciting to discover about photography, no matter how experienced you are, and so he strives to keep a humble attitude. You can see more of his work on his Facebook here. This article originally appeared here.

  • thejameskendall

    Worst advice ever. There’s no point in shooting concerts at ISO100 that I can see. Sure, it’s possible, if you have good lights and a slow moving band (plus fast glass) but can anyone tell the difference between a a gig shot at ISO100 and one shot at ISO800? Not pixel peeping, but people who actually, you know, like good photos?

    I’ll shoot gigs up to ISO5000 if needs be. Why make things difficult for yourself for a touch less noise (lost in the dry ice) and some increased dynamic range (lost in the lights). Just expose the photo correctly. I’d much rather keep my shutter speed up.

    (BTW, I shoot a lot of gigs for magazines and websites)

  • daniel Ballard

    You guys miss the point. Get a grip on the rhythm of the lights, and do not be afraid of shadows. Or a little motion blur. Concerts are high contrast and inexplicable changeable color temperatures anyway.

  • Stif1

    Craptastic photos! I shoot about 3 gigs a week and work between 80 – 2500 with a D600 and noise is not an issue.

  • Peter J Dylag

    I’m wondering why every one is so surprised and taken aback by using ISO 100?

    Photographers who used film 20, 30, 40 plus years ago, that’s all they had! And yes there was many types of films and film speeds available, but the principals of photography don’t change just because we’re digital now. If anything you need to know them better to be consistent not just lucky.

    Here’s something to think about “back in the day” your work was seen in only a few places, newspaper, magazine, billboard and maybe TV just to name a few. Today it’s countless where your work can be seen.
    Lastly there is no right or wrong to this, just an observation. Photographers of “old school” know their stuff like the back of their hand. They waited patiently and stacked their subject for that moment to create an image and they KNEW they got the perfect shot! Contrast that with the weekend warrior camera guy who can take thousands of images and HOPES that they get the perfect shot?

  • Drago

    The same answer as Francis Vachon: “So why it this a story?
    So you are going to set your camera at 100iso, miss 1000s of photo opportunity for the elusive “maybe” 100 ISO shot”.
    Even I shot with Canon 1D MkIV and 2.8 L lenses in excellent good light conditions (really great concert auditories here in Vienna) ISO 100 can not be enough! Here is too much philosophy like love, faith… Man, you have permission to take the firts three songs (sometimes only two) and of course you should to love your job, but we concert photographers know what that actually means: be fast, be smart, be fast, only three songs, be good, be fast.
    There is too many photographers and there´s no place for any kind of philosophy – just hard work!

    ISO 100 is not good recommendation – too much risk just to proof something…

  • Victor Smith


  • kodiak xyza

    I don’t think there is surprise, it is just an act in futility, with little application to most conditions. no?

    what happened in the past, we can learn from it, but there is no need to be shackled by it. whatever they could do with 100 or 200 or 400 meant that the lighting conditions were right for those shots — how can you break any law of physics? also, grain was quite acceptable if you pushed the film.

    so perhaps, these shots of old happened when there were bursts of light, and otherwise, you get the very creative silhouette shots and grainy. here, the push (sorry, no pun) for 100 ISO is for the sake of no noise. a valid repudiation is that 400 and 800 ISO are just as clean these days for the purposes of the photo.

    I am not sure how any photographer can anticipate that the best moment to be captured in a photo will happen at 100 ISO lighting conditions. I personally rather not take that chance.

    I don’t think anybody is taken aback, that I could read, but maybe I am reading wrong. people seem to think that it is a restriction that inflicts more harm than good upon the results.

    yes, there is no right or wrong… you can walk away with a few photos for when the 100 ISO worked, or you can walk away with more moments at ISO 800 or 1600 or 314159 ISO. take your pick and be happy.

  • kodiak xyza

    thanks for the offer… but just post a link here to the work.

  • greenarcher02

    Oh I dunno… less noise? Isn’t that basic knowledge?

  • greenarcher02

    Or you can have 2 cameras. Or just watch the concert. Can go either way.

  • Radu Dumitrescu

    Our guy still hopes, because he chooses his iso 100 shot only when the light is bright enough. But does anything worth photographing happen then? He hopes it does. Still, we’re not in “the old days”. We’re in “these days”, and we could start adapting now.

    For instance, this concert-light-speculation could be better used if you have pretty crappy light and you see one burst of “good light” (good colour combinations). Since most programs have repetitive patterns, you could guess when it’s going to happen again and sync your shot with it.

    Why lose 4 seconds in manually setting a really advanced camera, I don’t know.

  • Gus

    So for you it is the equipment and not the photographers skill that makes a great image. Sad to hear. Doesn’t really say much for your own abilities.

  • aa


  • Freddie Brown

    If you have a DSLR I find the best thing to do is shoot M and auto iso, that way you can always have the right aperture and shutter speed you need and the camera does the rest, I mean really if you have a half decent camera trying to get photos at 100iso shouldn’t be a priority

  • kevin

    as Sherry replied I am in shock that some people can get paid $8166 in four weeks on the internet. imp source


  • Scott Spellman

    Its great to chase the ideal of trying new ideas and concepts in every type of photography. However, concert photography has so many restrictions of time, position, and equipment. ISO adjustments only make small changes to the images, and take longer than other camera adjustments. I would far prefer to focus on a better variety of shooting positions and compositions than ISO.

  • EssPea

    I disagree about #1. The slight motion blur that is only evident on his fist makes the pictures. It goes from a static image to one where you can actually feel the movement. Faster shutter speed/ISO and it becomes a generic static concert photo. Slower shutter speed and everything is blurry.

  • elmir

    Seriously, where is the story here? If it’s just a photo series of (admittedly, quite good) concert photos, so be it – who cares what iso it is – we live in the world of awesome technology that should help take great images w/o worrying too much about iso. BUT for the sake of goodness, spare us from the new agey baloney about love and faith…

  • geodesigner

    Exhibit A: Grizzly Bear concert in São Paulo, Brazil, February 2013. Pushed Tri-X, ISO 1600 equiv (huge-ass grain). Got three-foot-long prints out of these and they look amazing. Grain is your friend.

  • Canillita

    Guys, guys. Mr. Cángelo lives in Argentina. Do you have any idea how much a DSLR costs there? If you take the parallel dollar (dólar blue) in equation, it’s more than a year’s pay, in many cases. He probably can only afford a 5+ year-old camera like a 350D or a D70 – thus, the need for ISO 100.

    Mind you, this is a great thing, since Buenos Aires has been on a downward spiral of violence and street crime these last years. Try walking down Av. de Mayo or Calle Florida with a D800 od 5DIII and not get mugged by some mean-looking thug.

    Finally, Give the man some credit for coping up with >10% MONTHLY inflation rates and still keeping up with his job as a photog! Bravo, Señor Cángelo!

  • Lynda Bowyer

    Daniel, often even at major gigs and not just low budget ones, there is no sense of pulse/timing/sequence to the lighting rig. I shot a gig just this past weekend at an auditorium venue here in the UK where the lighting techs didn’t even know how to operate the two dozen fluoro cans that were suspended from the gantries above. Cue an ambient light level of just 48lux – weaker than my living room lamp at home – with extremely infrequent bursts of strobe which kicked out around 320lux which still wasn’t ideal and the position of the lightshaft versus the placement of the band members was dire. ISO4000 and retaining a good shutter speed shooting as wide open as I could meant a nice bag of shots (despite the conditions), and yes, a little noise – but it added to the rock vibe of the event. We all don’t get to shoot Wembley, Times Square or the Rose Bowl which has over a half million dollars’ worth of lighting cans… Not regularly anyway! :)

  • Lynda Bowyer

    4 seconds still eludes me too… lol

  • daniel Ballard

    I may be a bit spoiled, my home ground is Sunset Bl, where most of the clubs have a lot of lighting. I had some success at lower ISO levels than one might expect and when the par lights are on it’s easy to stay under 500 even if not easy to hold at 100. Next time I go and shoot a show just for the heck of it and see what 100 might allow.

  • Lynda Bowyer

    Fair play to you! You have venues where there is an amazing set of lighting so anything goes really. :)

  • mike

    I honestly never considered shooting a concert under 800. But if anything, I’m sure I’ll remember this article for the next one I shoot. Will I set my Canon on ISO 100 and spray n pray? Hell no, but I’ll keep ISO 100 in the back of my brain, for certain from now on. It’s worth a shot! (Pun intended…M)

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  • Tyler Magee

    Why are people so scared of pumping up the ISO? I shoot iso 3200 no problem on my D7000… newer camera like the D600,D800 and D4 can shoot iso 6400 like my d7000 can shoot 1000

  • Ken Elliott

    I’m not sure why this discussion centers around the use of ISO 100. But I can say I don’t believe I’ve had 4 seconds to do anything. Heck, the light often changes from the time the camera meters to the point where the shutter is open. I always double or triple-tap because of that. My go-to combo for the last few years has been a 80mm f/1.4 on a D700, aperture-mode, set for auto-iso above 1/60. That lets the ISO go up for darker lighting, and the shutter rises for bright lights. That lets me focus on the action and the shot, and forget about the camera. The D700 really comes into its own when setup like this. A second body with a 24mm f/1.4 covers the rest.

  • Richard Sweet

    Most modern DSLRs handle noise at medium ISOs very well anyway so going down to 100 isn’t really going to be necessary anyway.