10 Tips for Aspiring Music Photographers
18 Jul 2013
1. Practice your technique in low-lit venues.
One of the greatest challenges you will face as an aspiring music photographer will be in low-lit areas, such as bars or clubs. When looking to sharpen my skills, I head to the local venues and practice new techniques on local bands because it allows me to experiment with camera settings without the pressure of turning in my work to labels, magazines, or other outlets. Ask a local musician if they mind you coming out to take photos of them while they perform. I have never had a local musician that didn't appreciate a few photos in return.
2. Know your gear.
When I get a new DSLR, I check for maximum ISO settings without much noise. Often in low lit areas, I try to stay below 2000 ISO with my Canon 5D MArk III and instead opt for fast glass. I use a 70-200 f/2.8 IS USM L series lens because it will allow me to keep my shutter speed higher than 200 - a must in concert photography especially when photographing drummers.
3. Don't focus on just one member in the band.
Speaking of drummers, they love photos too! Often photographers leave them out, instead focusing on the singer/guitarist of the band. Photographing drummers will require a fast shutter speed but are often the most animated band members, so the images will be worth the effort to get a great shot.
4. Be polite.
There is such a thing as press pit etiquette. First, keep in mind that the other people paid to see the act, so do not constantly block their view while trying to get your shot. Do not call attention to yourself. Abide by all rules set forth by the act and venue. Whether I am shooting a national act in front of the barricade or standing with the crowd in a small bar, I apply the same rules because the last thing you want is to be blacklisted from a venue. No photo is ever worth that.
5. Be aware of other photographers.
If you are shooting in a small venue that has a decent lighting system, chances are other photographers will be there as well. As a courtesy, make an effort to be aware of them so that you will not interfere with them shooting.
6. Understand that in most large venues, there is a " Three songs, no flash" rule. I try to keep this in mind everywhere I shoot, even if this rule does not apply to the venue. Its great practice for large venues and challenges you to really know your gear and its limitations.
7. Consider a vertical grip.
This tip was given to me when I first started shooting. A vertical grip will allow your camera to have an extended battery life, but most importantly, it allows you to shoot vertically without forcing your elbow out - a necessity for tight spots. With a vertical grip, your neighboring photographers/patrons will thank you.
8. Adhere to strict deadlines.
When I work at festivals, often the images are required to be turned in within hours of the show, but when I shoot for my portfolio at smaller venues, often there is no deadline. I still challenge myself to post the images within 24 hours of the show because often the venues, artists, and publications are eager to post images from the show. I have had larger acts credit not only me, but also the venue, and the publication, making it a win for all involved (not to mention it often lands me more gigs.)
9. Ask nicely for that coveted photo pass.
Once your portfolio is at a level that you think you may want to try for a photo pass, keep in mind that there are a limited amount of passes. Many larger acts are looking for photographers who are working for large publications, but there are ways to still obtain a pass. The big questions that a band manager will ask is "Who are you shooting for?" They want to know that these photos will get them press in hopes of selling more tickets or merchandise, so shooting for your portfolio or personal blog will often not do the trick. When I first started, I contacted a local newspaper and asked them for a pass in exchange for the images. After doing that, I became a staple at one of the local venues and built my name from there.
10. Be able to take rejection.
Getting a photo pass is not an easy task. It requires patience and understanding in the event you are rejected. Many photographers will apply for a pass for the same event, making it more difficult for smaller publications or outlets to receive a pass. In light of recent news that certain acts are refusing to allow any photography during their show after horrible shots of Beyonce during a certain half-time game was leaked, some artists are concerned that unflattering images will be posted of them as well. Other artists refuse photographers because they do not want it to be distracting for them or their fans. Respect their decision, avoid venting on social media, and move on.