When shooting a concert or other event under theatrical type lighting, I use a single focus point only (usually the center) and use either Evaluative or Center Weighted metering in Aperture mode when shooting wide/normal angle (less than 80mm on a FF body) in landscape orientation.¹ If the background is dark, as is usually the case, I use about -1 to -2 stops exposure compensation (EC). I tend to shoot in manual mode with the telephoto lens using an AF point centered about two-thirds up the middle of the vertical frame. The key is that regardless of which shooting mode you select, you must keep an eye on the shutter speed (Tv) and Aperture (Av) displayed in the viewfinder for every shot and adjust if necessary.
My general setup is a 24-105mm IS lens on FF body, ISO at around 3200, Av around f/4, Evaluative metering with -2 EC and the single center focus point. (Nikon's "Matrix metering" is a little less consistent than Canon's "evaluative", so if shooting Nikon I would probably go with center-weighted and about -1 EC.)
My second body is a Canon 7D (APS-C sized sensor, like your D5100) with a 70-200mm IS lens, ISO at 1600-3200, Av at f/2.8, center weighted metering with -2 EC and the single focus point. My 7D allows me to use the center point for horizontal shots and automatically senses when I go vertical and switches to one of the points near the top of the frame I have selected for portrait orientation.
With both bodies I will mix it up some and go from Aperture to Manual exposure as well as from Evaluative to Center weighted metering. Learning your camera's controls well enough to do this on the fly without even pulling your eye off of the viewfinder is paramount!
The IS/VR doesn't help with subject motion, but it does help with the stability of the surface upon which you are standing. Temporary outdoor stages move around a lot, and even on the ground in the media pit, the ground shakes from the energy pumping out of the speakers (don't forget your ear plugs if you want to still have good hearing in a few years). I own the Canon version of the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II and used it on my APS-C bodies as my primary normal zoom lens for several years, but with the narrower Av allowed by the higher usable ISO on my FF body I find using IS at f/4 works better for me.
As far as subject motion goes, be very selective about when you open the shutter. A guitarist's hands slow down at the top and bottom of the strumming motion. That split second between moving up and then down is when you can get a clean shot even at moderately slower shutter speed (Tv). The same holds true for a jumping performer: catch them in mid-air just as they stop going up and start coming back down. If the lights are blinking on/off rapidly, time your release when the lights are up - just be sure your metering was also done when the lights were up. Learn to use the back buttons on your camera body to lock in focus and/or exposure, then wait for the next cycle to trip the shutter.
Don't be afraid to take plenty of extra shots! You are stretching your gear's limits to the edge of their capabilities. Just like when shooting sports, there are going to be some shots where focus or exposure is missed. Your client (or fans) don't care if you took 20 or 200 or 2000 shots, as long as the 20 you deliver meet their expectations. That doesn't mean you just "pray and spray", but it does mean you acknowledge that there will be plenty of times when you anticipated the artist zigging left and he zagged right!
And since you have expressed how new you are to photography, I'll remind you to save your files in RAW format so that you have MUCH more latitude to adjust exposure and color temperature variations in post production. And don't expect too much from your gear. While it is true that better gear won't take a better shot for you, it is also true that lesser gear can limit what you can do in challenging light. You are going to need to shoot RAW at higher ISO and deal with the noise in post. And regardless of your gear, you're not going to get results at a live concert that are as good from a technical standpoint as you would be able to produce in a controlled studio setting.
Canon 5DII, EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS @ 55mm, Aperture Priority, 1/160 sec, f/4, Evaluative metering, -1 1/3 EC, ISO 2000. Exposure increased 0.5 stops in post. At this slower Tv, timing his arm at the top of its motion was the only way to freeze it.
Canon 7D, EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II @ 200mm, Aperture Priority, 1/1600 sec, f/2.8, Center-Weighted Avg., -2 EC, ISO 3200, Exposure increased 0.3 stops in post. I could have gotten away with a stop less ISO and Tv in this one, but even with the noise reduction (NR) needed for ISO 3200 on the 7D, you can still read the numbers and see the index marks on his watch before downsizing! Yes, it is a $2,300 lens.
From comments by the OP:
Wow, thanks for all the info. I will admit, it is a bit overwhelming, and I don't understand all of you lingo... like "tv" and a few others. Is there a way you can dumb it down for me a bit. Because I'm only work with a d5100. $500 camera and $500 lens. So can you suggest some settings to use, as I'm shooting John Mayer again next week. I have a D5100 with a Tamron 17-50mm (no stabilizing feature) lens. So I'm not dealing with $5,000 worth of camera equipment. When I say I'm new to photography, I mean new, new.
I just really badly NEED to take some good photos this next week, as I have quite a few people counting on me to come out with some GREAT photos, (lots of pressure). It will be in the same setting as before, just at a new venue (RED ROCKS) and John Mayer again. So please experts, dumb it down for me a bit, as a few things mentioned above were a bit confusing.
Tv (Time value) is shorthand for shutter speed. The main things you can do with your current gear is shoot RAW, use a high enough ISO to keep your Tv up and time your shots with the performers movements and when the lights are at their peak intensity. Then deal with the noise from high ISO in post. Based on the photos in your photobucket gallery I don't think your problem is focus. The ones you sharpened in PS show that. You need to learn how to use post processing to bring out the best on the photos you take.
There are a lot of things in the answer you should be able to apply with a D5100 and Tamron 17-50. I got a lot of great shots back a few years ago with a Rebel XTi (which I limited to about ISO 800!) and that lens, and even better shots with a 50D and that lens. The main thing is that there is no substitute for experience. The more you shoot in those situations, the better you'll get at recognizing what will and what will not work in a given situation with a given set of gear.
What setting would you recommend me to start out at???
Start in Aperture priority mode, ISO 3200, f/2.8, center weighted averaging, -1 1/3 exposure compensation and see what the shutter speeds look like. Unless you really know how to time the subject's movement you need to be at 1/250 sec. or faster if possible. If you can stop down to f/3.5 or f/4 without going under 1/250 sec., then try some shots there. If you're getting Tvs better than 1/640 sec., drop your ISO 1/3 or 2/3 stop if you can wind up with your Tv still around 1/500 sec.
Save your files as .NEFs because you're probably going to need to increase exposure a little when you convert the RAW files to jpeg. And take a crash course in Adobe Lightroom or the Adobe Camera RAW plugin for Photoshop.
I want to get quality pictures, but will not have the time to learn photoshop or lightroom.
Then hire an experienced pro that has already learned and knows how to do this.
What if I just left exposure at 0.0 and changed the f/ & iso
accordingly? Is exposure really that big of deal to get quality
pictures? I also thought that being under exposed was a bad thing.
You are not going to get the results you want without learning how to manage light curves in post processing. Your camera's meter expects everything to be 18% grey. If the background and most of the scene is dark and you leave EC at 0 then what is black in the scene will be gray in your photos and the photo will be overexposed. Underexposed and slightly noisy is easier to correct than blurry because of a slow shutter speed.
What im asking, is there an "easiest way to do this" without messing with a bunch of setting on my D5100? Or is there a "standard setting" that will be good, considering you saw my pictures from the last concert, and the next concert will be almost identical, except for a different venue, same lights, same graphics, etc.
NO. There is no easy way to do what you want to do. The answer above tells you what you should do, both in terms of shooting the concert and in terms of post processing. If you refuse to accept that, do it your way and live with the results.
The reason your photos are blurry is because they are slightly overexposed and unsharpened, not because the focus is bad. When you desaturated and sharpened, the focus problem went away. The reason your camera has exposure compensation is because your eye should be capable of seeing how what is in front of you is different from an average scene that your camera is designed to meter properly.
I understand. But I really think if I use Dynamic focus, I should get better focus in general if I shoot the focus point at his face, correct? As you can see, I did a terrible job sharpening my photos, because I really had no clue what I was doing, and in doing so it looks crappy and lost a lot of color.
As to Dynamic Focus, I've already stated several times that in this situation you are probably better off using a single focus point and focusing on the eyes, then recomposing the shot if needed while holding the focus lock using the buttons on the back of your body. Your camera's user manual tells you how to do this.
I'm not looking for out of this world photos, I'm looking for sharp photos that I don't have to touch up in post processing, and can quickly share with John Mayer's fan base within an hour or two after the show with a few Jpegs.
What you are expecting your camera to do for you is one of the hardest scenarios there is in photography: Shooting subjects in motion under much less than optimal lighting in terms of color spectrum that is also very dim. Even experienced pros with top grade equipment are challenged to get such images out in only a couple of hours under such scenarios. That doesn't mean you can't get some good pictures with your D5100 and Tamron SP 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II lens. But you can't expect the camera to do it all for you. Even the best camera on the market is just a tool. Tools require knowledge, skill, and experience to be used to their potential.
¹ Evaluative metering works for me mostly because that is what I am used to and know how much exposure compensation to dial in for what I am seeing in the viewfinder. Others prefer to use spot metering. Either approach is perfectly legitimate. The key is to do things consistently so that you understand what to do with the info your meter is telling you in whichever metering mode you use.