How to Shoot Film Photos at Concerts

Image shot on Kodak ColorPlus 200 pushed 3-stops.

This article is a little guide on how I have had luck shooting photos at concerts. This is by no means the only way to do it, nor can I say that it will be the best way to do it for everyone. All I can say is that I recommend bringing a 35mm camera into some concerts. It really is a fun way to document your night!

Why Film?

We’ve all seen the hideous glow of people’s phone screens filming video of concerts. To me, that kind of experience can be pretty off-putting. Film cameras on the other hand do not have any screen or light that is illumined out of them, so it is far more courteous to your neighbors around you at the show.

Also, because of the delayed nature of film, it makes for a great way to re-live that fun concert when you need to wait for the film to be processed and scanned.

Image shot on Kodak ColorPlus 200 pushed 3-stops.

Which Camera?

In my experience, most venues have a section on their website that limits what sort of cameras you can bring into their shows. For many, this means a small camera that does not have a removable lens.

Because of this, something like a cheap 35mm point-and-shoot will get through the doors with no problem. However, if you are someone like me who might want a bit more control of exposure and film ISO rating, you might want to see what other sorts of cameras you can get in.

If a point-and-shoot is all you’ve got, follow along to the end for a great way to make it work.

Something like a Yashica Electro 35 would make for a great candidate to bring into most large concert venues if you are looking for something with full manual control. The lens opens to a wide aperture of f1/7, and you are able to control exact shutter speeds.

For something a step down, in terms of control, I would look at a high-end point-and-shoot. Contax T2/T3 and a number of others like the Nikon L35A and 35Ti cameras allow for exposure compensation to push your film while also giving a reasonably wide aperture. Just be sure to keep the flash off during the show!

Also, remember that every single person in the audience has a very capable camera in their pocket, so by taking a film camera in to make some grainy pictures to document your night, you are certainly not hurting the band financially, nor making any difference to the photographers working the event.

If this is an issue of concern for you, reach out to local bands in your area and ask to shoot some of their shows. You certainly won’t be making money in the beginning, but with some decent portfolio images and a strongly worded email, you’ll likely be allowed to photograph some touring acts!

Image shot on Kodak Portra 400 pushed 2-stops.

Pushing Your Film

Unless you are sticking to black-and-white film, you are going to have a tough time making exposures at your film’s box speed, because color-negative film often comes in lower ISO ratings with a typical cutoff of 800 – unless you’re willing to pay for something a bit rarer.

But that’s ok! Don’t be afraid to push your film a few stops.

Pushing film means that you tell your camera it has a more sensitive (higher ISO) film in it than it does, so it under-exposes the film. Then when you, or your lab, develops the film, you extend the developing time to brighten those underexposures. This essentially lets you turn a film into any ISO you want, but remember – you need to shoot the entire roll at that ISO and tell the lab the ISO you pushed it to so they can develop it accordingly.

Pushing film of course has effects on the final image, like more grain, higher saturation, and higher contrast. But for shooting concerts, these can all aid in your photographs and it’s really all you can do to get usable images.

I have had great luck pushing all kinds of film multiple stops. I have even made some of my favorite images pushing Kodak ColorPlus 200, a cheaper consumer film that is certainly not made to be pushed, 3 stops to ISO 1600. But I find that a film like Kodak Portra 400 or 800 is much cleaner when pushed to 1600.

Image shot on Kodak Portra 800 pushed 1-stop.


You are obviously going to want a sharp motionless image unless you are working with some light trails or other artistic effects. I like to set my shutter speed to 1/125. This has proven to balance a decently long exposure time with something quick enough that I do not get any motion blur while bouncing around to the music.

You are also going to want to open your aperture up as wide as you can to let as much light in as possible. For the lens I use, that means f/2. But if you have a faster lens, I suggest opening it up all the way.

As for ISO, I stick to a film rating of 1600. That gives me a very usable image of the stage when lit by the lights, while not having an insane amount of grain. However, I have photographed some shows in very dimly lit clubs where 1600 ISO will not cut it, you may need to bump this up to 3200 or consider shooting something like Kodak T-Max P3200 – a black-and-white film designed for very low light situations.

Most venues will not allow any kind of flash photography, but I would reach out and inquire about the specific location you are shooting.

DX Codes on Point-and-Shoot Cameras

A DX code is a bar code of sorts that is printed on most 35mm film canisters. Some cameras, like most automatic point-and-shoots, read this code to set the ISO speed of the film by themselves.

If your camera has a DX code reader, it may also have a way to override that reading and input your own ISO to push the film, or it may have an exposure compensation dial to underexpose the roll.

However, if it has neither you will need to trick the camera into thinking it has a faster film in it if you want to push the roll.

To do this you will need to modify that DX Code on the film. Simply scratch off, or color in with black marker/gaffers tape, the appropriate spaces to copy the code of the ISO you want your film to be shot at.

To learn more about how to hack the DX code on your camera, I suggest reading Amy Elizabeth’s piece on on how to do this same process. Elizabeth goes into far greater detail than I did when it comes to altering DX Codes, so definitely give their piece a read.

Image credits: Photographs by Trevor Anderson