It is my second time shooting my daughter's Christmas concert (third if you include a spring musical event). The first time was last year and this post is about my experiences so far shooting such an event. I'm shooting mainly for myself, it's not for the school and most of all I'm not being paid to produce photos for the event. Hopefully it will help the other dads or moms out there and give them ideas to get more keepers. Events like this are a challenge because you have no control over lighting and most of the time the scene is dark with harsh lighting. Also, your point of view (POV) can be a problem depending on what you want to produce. I can compare shooting an event like this to shooting sports but I think there's less subject movement.
Let's discuss about lighting first because for me it has the most effect on the images. I did not use any flash or speedlights in both occasions. It will probably help in some instances specially if you can setup remote speedlights. I've seen pros do this in sporting events but since I'm simply producing for myself I did not see the need for it. If you're taking photos after the event, like group shots with family and friends then you might need it. During the event I did not see the need because I was either too far or the existing light was good enough. To get the exposure right I used the AEL function (Auto Exposure Lock) of my camera or in some instances I used spot metering. I find the AEL function an easy way to nail the exposure for the scene you want to capture. But even with AEL or spot metering I'd say it's still tricky to get the exposure right due to varying light sources. For the photo above of the audience and the stage, I metered for the audience so the students on the stage got blown out a bit (I did a bit of burning in Photoshop to recover the blownout bits). If I metered for the students the audience would have been dark and mostly shadows. White Balance could be another issue specially if there are mixed light sources and different light colours. Luckily in my case it wasn't that bad. You can use a white balance card or correct it in post. I would strongly suggest to process the photos right away so that you can correct colour based on fresh memory.
Next to exposure you also need to check the ISO and shutter speed. Or maybe not if your camera can take clean photos with acceptable noise at very high ISO settings. I'm talking about ISO 6400 at least and if that is the case then just set it to Auto ISO, use Aperture Priority and fire away. In my case I had to compensate so I mostly used a high ISO setting because there's no way my shutter speed can freeze movement using a low ISO. This is primarily because this year I used a telephoto zoom (Panasonic Vario 45-200mm) that was f/4-5.6 and with those apertures there's no way I can use a low ISO setting so I mostly shot at ISO 3200. If you have a faster lens it will help for sure and I'd highly recommend it. The shot of the audience above was taken at f/2.0 at ISO 800 but it was at 50mm equivalent. Last year I used my M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 mostly and I was able to use as low as ISO 500. The 45mm f/1.8 is fixed and at 90mm equivalent I wanted more length. Unfortunately I don't have a faster longer lens. Sometimes it boils down to making the best out of what you have. After shooting it last year and this year I prefer to have a telephoto zoom. I think it provides the most options in addition to getting the compressed shots. I would try to take a few wide or medium length shots but not a lot. If you plan to get a lot of close up photos of your kid/s then I suggest a telephoto for sure. Or you can be on location early and just pick a front seat. Since there is movement involved I'd recommend using some of the auto features of your camera to avoid missing shots. Using Aperture priority is my choice and I also set ISO to auto. In my camera I can set the maximum ISO to use when in auto mode and I set this to the maximum acceptable ISO setting (ISO 3200 for my OM-D E-M5). I believe in other cameras you can even set more options in auto ISO, such as setting the lowest shutter speed before it tries to increase the ISO setting. So with that set, all I fiddle with is the exposure and the focus point and I can shoot away. You can also set your shooting mode to burst or continuous mode if you like. This will make the camera shoot continuously as long as the shutter button is depressed.
Besides lens choices and camera settings the point of view would also have to be considered. Of course I always pick a spot or a side where my daughter would be. You should find this out ahead of time. Last year they were positioned in the center stage but this year their group was positioned on the left side of the stage. I prefer to change my POV when shooting so I choose to be an audience standing at the back. The problem I have when I'm seated is I find myself standing and wanting to move which disturbs other parents and audiences. If I'm at the very back I don't have to worry about people behind me a lot and I can move to the POV I want easily. The setback for this is that you have to have a longer lens. For me though, I'd rather have the ability to move rather than being pinned on a single POV the whole concert. My tip is to be there early for two main reasons. You can get a seat at the very front if that's what you want or at least find a comfortable and nice spot to shoot. You can also find out the areas where you are not allowed while canvassing the location. Another extra for being early is not having to worry about parking unless you're taking public transit of course.
Having said all that, the above suggestions are based on my own preferences and the assumption that you know a little bit of the advance features of your camera. And that you come prepared to take pictures which means you have a fully charged battery (and a spare perhaps), camera already set to preferred settings, and you have all the lenses you want or prefer to use. I find that photography is so subjective that what matters at the end of the day is what you like and what you want to communicate to your audience.
The images in this post were mainly shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and some with the Olympus E-P1. I used the Panasonic Vario 45-200mm mainly and the M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 and Pana-Leica 25mm f/1.4 at times. Just click on the images if you want to view the EXIF information, they are hosted on flickr. Here's a few more images, some are from last year's spring concert (same venue/same lighting) and some black and whites from the 2013 Christmas concert. Enjoy!