Live Music Photography 101

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I shoot music because I genuinely love music. I always have and I think I always will. These days when I am shooting a band I make sure to travel light, yet always be prepared for any given situation. Professional concert photographers can often be seen with 2-3 camera bodies strapped around their necks with a wide variety of lenses and flashes. These photographers usually have a press pass and generally work for a national magazine or major publication, which grants them access and permission to carry professional equipment inside the venues.

However, not all of us are that fortunate. Many of the more established and well-known venues have strict rules and guidelines for photographers. Some do not let in any professional cameras. A professional camera is considered any camera with a removable lens. Music festivals, concert halls and clubs have embraced this as a general rule.

That being said, here are a few tips to help you get around this rule:

Tip 1 – Go to a lot of shows! Ever hear that saying, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” Well, that’s very true. The more people you meet at shows and the more people that know you, the more people will help you out. If you become known as a photographer, people may start asking you to shoot their shows for them.


Tip 2 – Get a Press Pass! Become friendly with the club owners, the band or a magazine publication. You can send a link to your work through by contacting them by email or any other social networks like Twitter, Facebook or Myspace. Call ahead of time and say you want to take photographs for them in exchange for access as a photographer. But remember, it’s harder to get permission from more established bands, festivals and venues, so make sure to contact them a few weeks or even months in advance.


Tip 3 – Arrive early and leave late. Once you are inside the venue, survey the environment and get a good feel for the space. Look for any lighting, colors, textures or backgrounds on stage that would make for an interesting photo. Stick around after the show and ask to take a portrait of the band. These photos are priceless and can quickly build your portfolio and reputation as a music photographer.


Tip 4 – Be prepared! Get your settings ready before the show starts. Make sure your battery is charged, memory card is formatted, flash is ready, and your exposure and ISO is set properly. Some places don’t allow flash, so this is where a good high ISO camera comes in handy. It sounds basic, but there is nothing worse than missing out on a candid shot of your favorite band because of technical difficulties.


Tip 5 – Find different perspectives and angles to shoot from. Move around the venue. Don’t just shoot from one place. Get wide shots from the behind the crowd, close ups from the front row, crowd shots and even go backstage if you can. The more you cover the better. It’s a good idea to have at least two cameras so you can get different perspectives and capture important spontaneous shots at any moment.


Tip 6 – Invest in a “non professional” camera. There are plenty of options these days, but my favorite non-professional digital camera is the Canon G10. This little 14.7 megapixel camera packs a powerful punch. The flash is amazing and the quality is superb. A small, point and shoot camera like this gets you the access you need with professional quality that holds up to some of the most expensive DSLR’s. It also shoots video, which is a huge plus at concerts.


Tip 7 – Travel Light. Bring minimal equipment and a small travel bag for your cameras. This way, you can maneuver through the crowds without bumping and distracting them from the show.


Tip 8 – Always be considerate of others in the crowd. Try not to obstruct other’s point of view just to take a photo. The less you are noticed, the better.

Tip 9 – Follow up! Say thank you and share your photos with others. Send a link to your blog or website as soon as possible. Send photos to the bands and venues to see if they want to use them for promotional purposes. People always need good photos for different reasons, so the faster you send them the better.


Tip 10 – Get on the List! Sign up for email lists of different bands and popular music venues to see who is playing that week or month. Stay ahead of the competition. Get the news and tour updates before the rest…this will help you get the access and permission you need to photograph your favorite musicians.

This post was written by Koury Angelo and you can check out more great stuff on music photography at his site here.

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