All images in this story were used with permission from their respective owners
Music photography is the passion of so many–and it can be a very tough business to get into without the initiative to build connections. This is true of so many different types of photography genres, but it especially true when covering the music scene. It can make starting out really tough.
We talked to seven famous concert photographers at the top of their game about what they wish they knew when they first started out.
There a few things I wish I knew when I started as a photographer. First, quality over quantity. I still do a little bit of both, but I am training myself (and my clients) to accept quality images vs more photos. Second, I wish I did a bit more research on camera gear. I started off with a great body but I literally knew nothing about lenses and just bought one that covered a wide range. Little did I know how important the f-stop was. Finally, I wish I knew to take a few more risks. Sometimes I would avoid doing something that might be pushing the boundaries, for fear that I could get in trouble. I would first investigate, and plan how to work it out next year, then “POOF!”, the venue is moved and I missed my chance. I know now to get what I can done ASAP since you do not know what the future holds.
A few things really stick out to me when I think of the advice I’d give to someone getting started. First, use primes. Don’t be lazy and use zooms – they may be convenient (and they have their place), but you’ll get sharper, tighter images from primes. Secondly, do whatever you can to get the shots nobody else is getting. A portrait or candid backstage is worth 1000 times more to me than a good concert shot. Show the crowd what they can’t pay to see. Third, follow up with the publicists that gave you guest list in the first place. Send them a link to the published photos to help build a relationship.
When I started as a music photographer, I wish I knew that there was so much more than chasing photo passing and simply shooting shows for a publication. If I were starting out as a concert photographer, I’d spend much more time early on shooting behind the scenes and lifestyle work with bands, as well as working on networking much sooner than I did.
I would say, “I wish I knew that I was not only going to be photographing the concert/festival but also the long hours after the show ended and day adventures with the artist in the particular country I was at. I remember going to concerts and wanting to hang out with the artist after the show. My goal was to shoot anything other than the actual concert. I wanted to get photos nobody could ever imagined. This has always been my main priority, and still is. Throughout the years I’ve toured around the world and lived on tour buses and hotels for months at times. Last year I did over 180 shows. It can be brutal out there, but an amazing experience. This access was given to me not because I asked for it but for the friendship and trust I gained with the entire team, and my photography works. Now that I do have access I always remember the importance of shooting less but with more intent and precision. I always want to make great photographs, and sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
I wish I had known how toxic the concert photography environment was going to get. On the one hand you have label reps and publicists often times being openly hostile toward professional shooters (soundboard shoots, rights-grabbing photo releases, et. al…) under the guise of “protecting the artist’s image”. They seem to have no clue that our job as professionals is to make their act look as good as possible. No pro worth their salt is going to let a bad or unflattering shot (in their professional opinion of course) get out, simply because a bad shot of the artist makes the photographer look even worse. Meanwhile, every kid with a camera phone is snapping away, then posting their horrible shots anywhere and everywhere they can. In certain instances, thanks to social media, their shots are getting more exposure than ours so the “protecting the artist’s image” meme just doesn’t hold water.
Of course not everyone in the industry is like this. There are still people out there who value what we do and bend over backwards to help out. They’re getting to be fewer by the day, mind you, but for the moment there are some that still walk among us.
Always shoot RAW, always wear ear plugs, aways immediately back up your photos onto an external hard drive (or two), always have fun, and never forget you are running a business!
– “I wish I’d known about memory cards… Think of all the photos I could have saved!!”
– “I wish I’d known about digital cameras… Man those things are zippy! “
– “I wish I’d known about autofocus… That shit’s handy!”