How To Be a Concert Photographer

Blog, Uncategorized

Ever wonder how people with big cameras end up in front of the barricade at concerts? They are concert photographers. If you, like a lot of people want to be like them, read on. Here are five steps towards being a true concert photographer:

Everyone has been there. Concert attendees wait in line at 10 A.M. for a 7 P.M. show just to get front row. As the light dims, suddenly a guy or girl comes in the very front with a camera. There’s a sticker on their shirts with “PHOTO” written across it. Most likely, these photographers are shooting for a publication (like a newspaper or magazine) but started out just as small.

  1. Invest in a decent camera. Even though this one is a given, a DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera can make a huge difference in your photos. Besides the aspect of quality, having all of the settings can help to create a masterpiece. Most photographers find that a high shutter speed (meaning the camera takes a photo very fast) creates sharper photos and often catches the guitar players hand in mid-action rather than a blur. If you’ve ever learned about photography in the past, aperture (the amount of light let into the lens) is a well-known topic to you. DSLR cameras allow a low aperture, meaning an immense amount of light can enter the lens each time the shutter button is pressed.
  1. Start Small. While most of the big photographers are known to shoot at arenas like Red Rocks Amphitheater and United Center, the best place to really get a feel for concert photography is at smaller shows. A tip of advice, it might be a smaller lighting set up, but most small venues do not check bags, which in photographer language, means you can bring a camera into the venue. Although the lighting will not be as good as a nicer, bigger venue, most of those shows are limited to who brings a camera in. Todd Owyong, photography expert and site owner of “” agrees with this statement, “Smaller music venues often have few or no camera restrictions, so it’s possible to build a great portfolio shooting at these clubs and dives – no photo passes required.”
  1. Learn the basic settings. There are four settings on a DSLR that most photographers need to know, followed by their abbreviations: Auto (Auto), Manual (M), Shutter (S), and Aperture (A). Here’s the basic breakdown to each setting:
  • Auto – the camera is doing all of the work for you
  • Manual – you are controlling every aspect of the camera
  • Shutter – the camera is focusing more on how fast the photo is being taken
  • Aperture – the camera is focusing more on how much light is allowed into the lens

Once photography becomes second nature, most photographers use Manual. But for most beginner photographers, a good place to start is Auto (without the flash). Once you’ve gotten a handle on learning the ins and outs of handling your camera, you can learn to experiment with more settings. Here are a few tutorials to read more.

Tutorial 1

Tutorial 2

  1. Listen to experts. Owyong gives a great piece of advice for beginners and says “If you shoot what you love, it will show in the images. Even if you’re just shooting shows on the barricade with a point [and] shoot at first, passion for one’s subjects always translates into better images.” A poll asked 2,000 concert photographers what their own expert advice was to a beginner. Here’s what they had to say:
  1. Learn a bit of Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. Although a lot of photographers have taken classes on Photoshop, many are self-taught. There are a few basic components and with a simple Google search on Lightroom, you too can know the basics. A photo are quickly fixed by a few clicks of the mouse and often teaches you about what needs to be changed in order to improve your images in the future.

Now, these 5 steps won’t change the way you see photography overnight. It might take a few shows to learn how to shoot in different modes or switch out your phone for a camera. But even if you buy a nice camera, its all about what you see with your eye. Owyoung has always lived by one piece of advice: “Having the best lenses and cameras only makes the technical exercises of live music photography easier; they don’t make you a better photographer, and they certainly won’t teach you composition.” Sometimes at the door things will happen too. Security will often say no cameras without permission from the venue or band playing. Take this as a learning curve, check that venue off the list and try a new one. Some of the best learning is done by trial and error, and at smaller shows, more trial is often accepted as well as more errors are often accepted. Don’t forget when you have found your favorite image, to post it so others can see. Here’s one of our favorites.

Photo Credit: Addie Whelan Ben Howard rock's The Riviera in Chicago with a sold-out crowd.

Photo Credit: Addie Whelan
Ben Howard rock’s The Riviera in Chicago with a sold-out crowd.

Where have you found the best advice for future photographers?

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