If you’re deciding to take the plunge into becoming a concert photographer, all I have to say is: YAAAAYYY!!! By now you’ve probably figured out that it’s a tough industry to break into let alone get published, but we’re all in it for the same thing – the love of music. So now that you’re going to get serious about concert photography, here are a few tips to help you get started:
1. Get a DSLR with a kit lens
In order to be taken serious, you need the gear. However, you don’t need to dive in to the expensive cameras and lenses yet (at least not for a while). There are plenty of affordable options that you can look into and do just fine for the time being. Go to a tech store whether it’s Fry’s Electronics, Best Buy, or anywhere else were you can hold the camera you’re looking into getting. This is super important because you’ll either end up falling into being more comfortable with a Canon or Nikon camera. There are other cameras, though more advanced and slightly more costly such as Fujifilm and Sony, but the important thing is to “get your feet wet”. My first DSLR was the Canon EOS Rebel T3i, which I only just upgraded from this past Christmas – I’ve used it for a good part of 7-8 years in every gig I’ve shot.
2. Do your research
Check out the live music venues in your area to see who’s playing. Local bands and dive bars will be your best friends as you’ll be most likely to get a press pass to start working on your skillset and eventually create your portfolio. You can use local newspapers, websites, online magazines, and even Facebook Events to see what’s playing around you.
In very rare occasions, you may already know the type of music you feel comfortable shooting, or maybe you want to explore what you feel most comfortable with. For myself, I’ve noticed that if a band hypes me up enough or has a strong energy, I’m most compelled to take better shots of them because I’ll feel I need to capture as much as I can from their set – therefore, I’m not very good at gigs where there’s little to no movement, though it’s still something I want to work on this year. For that reason, I’m most comfortable at rock and metal shows.
3. Network by starting with friends and family
One of the (still) most effective marketing tools is word of mouth, so talk to friends and family and see if they know of any local shows that might need event coverage, or perhaps they have musician friends that are starting out and just got a gig at a local dive. Whatever the case may be, these are great ways to start getting your foot in the door and familiarize yourself with the concert scene.
I started by calling the event promoter to a local event in Seattle, which led to my becoming the band’s official photographer. Next thing I knew, I was on a West Coast tour with them opening for bigger, internationally-known bands that I also had a chance to cover. To this day, I still maintain a good friendship with this musician, who’s actually one of the most bad-ass and humble people I’ve ever met.
4. Begin working on creating a portfolio
This step probably won’t come until close to a year if not more of photographing live bands, but the more you work on your skills, the more and better content you have to show for the next step which is reaching out to publicists or bands; Some photographers prefer dealing with the bands directly, others like myself prefer going through the press relations. Anyway, you’ll need to create a portfolio with your best pictures. I like to have a maximum of 8-10 images to show from different shows. If you’re building a website (which is recommended), a link with your best work will do just fine.
5. Choose your own adventure: Getting published
There are two different ways to go about this next step. Once you get published, you start developing credibility towards your work and have the opportunity to work bigger events such as festivals. I’d say this is more like a Choose Your Own Adventure game because simply put, I only have half the information on getting published. At this stage you have two choices: Getting picked up by a publication or creating one yourself.
a. Getting picked up by a publication
I don’t have much experience in this bit since I’ve moved around too much in the past years to actually work in a collective or media outlet that will publish me and the one chance I did have didn’t work out due to coverage dates didn’t work due to reasons beyond anyone’s control. I do have a few tips though:
- Contact local online music blogs and publications
- Check in with the music venues and radio stations
- Go big and try your luck with bigger publications such as print magazines
b. Creating your own publication
What happens if your city doesn’t have an online music blog/publication that covers the events you’re interested in working? Or rather, what if there’s only a couple of these sources? If you have the time, money, and skillset, you can create your own and begin publishing your content there. This will require heavy marketing as you’re now creating a source for people to go see your work as well as potentially the work of other local photographers, but it’s another way to move on to covering bigger events.
6. Etiquette goes a long way
Now that you have all the tips you need to get started, you’ll need one thing to keep in mind during your new journey as a concert photographer: etiquette goes a long way. It sounds like a fortune cooking saying but in this industry, you should do everything earnestly, honestly, and with as much passion as you have to offer. As a “hobbyist” transitioning into professional, I’ve found myself in arenas, festivals, and other events covering big name bands that have honestly made my dreams come true. I’ve had the opportunity to photograph bands that I would never have thought would give me the time of day and a lot of it is a combination of my skillset and etiquette. Never feel like you’re entitled to a press pass just because you have a camera, and never take any opportunity given for granted. Don’t snub the local dives just because you’re moving up in event coverage, and always do things to the best of your capability.
Good luck, fellow photographers!