How I Started Photographing Concerts (and how you can, too!)

Whenever I’m out photographing a concert, I have people come up to me and say, “Dude, how did you get to take pictures at this show?  This is like my favorite band!”  The answer is really less complicated than some make it seem.  If you want to take photos at concerts, all it takes is a little bit of effort on your part.  Record labels aren’t going to call you up and ask you to come shoot their shows (although I have had that happen once or twice).

The key to getting in to photograph concerts is having a news outlet for the photos to be put on.  If a band is going to let you come in and photograph their show, what do they get out of it?  They want you be able to get their name out there more.  But it’s not always easy to just go out and find a news source who doesn’t already have a staff photographer.  I tried for months to find one who would let me shoot a concert for their newspaper or website, but the problem was that I was missing one key thing… a portfolio of concerts.  Why should a newspaper risk letting some kid with no concert photos go photograph a concert when they have no idea what they will look like?  So I got to work building my concert portfolio.

I started shooting local bands at dive bars with terrible lighting to build my portfolio.  No, the pictures didn’t turn out as well as I wanted them to, but the bands would be excited to have someone there taking pictures, and that’s when I started getting connections to bands.  Once I knew bands, they would ask me to come out and photograph their shows.  Even though they were normally at less than ideal locations, I went.  Meeting people is key.  Also, shooting bars taught me a lot about balancing my exposure triangle while shooting (ie: I learned that If I crank my ISO up, I’m going to get very grainy photos, but if the band isn’t moving around a whole lot, I can slow down the shutter speed some and turn down the ISO a little bit to prevent that).  Finally, once I knew enough bands, I finally found one who had a show at a nice venue, Hard Rock Live.  I talked with the band and they got me a photo pass into the show.  My first photo pass ever!  I couldn’t have been happier with how the photos turned out and I now had a quality portfolio of concert photos.

Next, it was back to the news outlets.  I contacted all of the outlets I had before and sent them a link to my concert portfolio.  Finally, I received more positive feedback than the last time!  I had some tell me they would love to have me shoot for them, but they have contracted photographers already, but there was one outlet that gave me a shot.  Knight News (an online news source for the University of Central Florida) told me that I could photograph the Jack’s Mannequin concert at House of Blues that coming weekend.  I was ecstatic!  I photographed the concert and wrote a review of the show and that was a very accomplished feeling for me to finally have my work published.  One of my photos from that show got reblogged on Tumblr over 100 times, and Knight News loved the article.  From there, I started contacting record labels myself to get passed and I let them know that I had the ability to post the photos along with an article on Knight News.  Once I had the news outlet everything was smooth sailing from there!  I’ve not photographed bands such as Guns N’ Roses, Slash, Poison, Kid Cudi, Gavin DeGraw, Jack White, Blake Shelton, Kid Rock, and many others all because I had a quality news source who liked my photos.

So for any people out there looking to get into concert or event photography, I have a few simple tips for you.

  1. Get out there and take pictures, improve your skills, and meet people.
  2. Build your portfolio, ask bands if they know anybody playing at bigger venues.  Although bigger venues may not be the best places to shoot all the time, news outlets like to know that you have shot at big venues before.
  3. Contact news outlets (newspapers, websites, blogs, record labels, etc.)!  Anything/place/medium that can get your work out there is what you want.  So send (professional) emails to them and let them know you’re interested if they every run short on staff photographers or if they want someone to photos certain events.
  4. Don’t give up!!!  I know from experience that it’s not always easy to get into shows, but you have to keep your head up and try again.

There is a quote that I always keep in mind that goes, “I never said it was going to be easy.  I just said it was going to be worth it.”  That, my friends, applies to so many things including concert/event photography.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact me and I will reply as soon as I can!

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