Before you start getting paid you have to do a lot of free work and network with the proper people.
I’m not going to beat around the bush, not everyone is going to want to hustle and work for free to get these shots. But getting out there,working on your portfolio constantly and thinking outside of the box will most certainly create those opportunities. On most weeks you should have 2-3 opportunities easily available to you to start to get out there. So here are five tips on how to actually have a great beginner concert portfolio in two weeks flat.
Pro Tip: Post your photos on Facebook and Instagram stories during the event and tag everyone involved at the event. Organizers LOVE this and you’ll increase your chances of being invited back next time around (and maybe as a paid photographer!).
This should surprise no one! Facebook is chock full of dozens of events going on just about every single day of the week. If you are in the north during the colder seasons of the year, bigger events are not as plentiful, but you can still find various small venues here and there (the obvious exception is with big cities). But the goal here is to find the biggest, free, and outdoor events that you can find, then just show up with your camera. If you show up to the event at the start and notice that the organizers setup a pit (a space in front of the stage for media, management, and security) start asking around to see if the organizers will give you a press badge. Because you are doing this for free, you’d be surprised at how many organizers will gladly add you to the team as long as you send them the pictures during/after the event. Disclaimer: of course, be cautious of your rights.
“But the goal here is to find the biggest, free, and outdoor events that you can find, then just show up with your camera.”
Bands in Town is a fantastic website to find local and traveling bands in your area, use this source to reach out directly to the artists and management! Find a few bands that are not big enough to ignore your emails (or you never know go for it and email those stars!) and slide into their DMs. I personally suggest messaging them on Facebook, Instagram and an email. But be sure to apologize on each one for coming off as spammy when they run into the other messages. Offer to show up to the event early and take photos of them before the show starts if they want portraits, and during their performance in exchange that you get free access to the show (if it’s not a free concert). Don’t forget to leave a great impression! These are easily some of the best ways to network with people in the industry, you never know who will end up blowing up or who will suggest you to some big artist.
Pro Tip: Go to the bar at the venue, buy the band a few drinks, and tell the bartender to please tell them that it was you who bought the drinks for them.
Pros: If you can get in on a local newspaper and you are now attending concerts on their behalf, you now have a TON of leverage. At the beginning of my career I learned how important this was because I missed out on shooting a Chromeo and Bill Burr show within the same week simply because I couldn’t get a local paper to back me up. Just about everyone wants to be featured in the local paper (yes, somehow it’s still relevant) and just about anyone will give you access to their show if you can guarantee them a spot.
Cons: First off you are at the mercy of someone else to get this opportunity. You can offer to work for free, write everything for them, and have them do almost 0 work to feature a concert (with you representing of course) and they are still likely to turn you away. Hopefully this is just the case in my own state and you have better luck though! The second con though (and this is not the case for everyone), but many photographers working with publications cannot attend concerts for the full length of the show. Often times they will only be allowed entrance for 1-2 hours before they have to leave. So you really have to be efficient with your time. A great source to find your local publications is Indie On The Move.
“Just about everyone wants to be featured in the local paper (yes, somehow it’s still relevant) and just about anyone will give you access to their show if you can guarantee them a spot.”
You in particular want to work with clubs that also turn into concert venues occasionally or potentially open mics and comedy shows. But regardless clubs are a close sidestep to building your concert portfolio. You may not be able to use all photos in your portfolio, but if you can get great shots of a cover band or DJ then you will most certainly start collecting photos over time. As a heads up, just be sure to reach out to the clubs ahead of time. Security and management are not fond of random people showing up with cameras.
Similar to Facebook, Meetup is a fantastic source of events going on in your area. What’s often overlooked about Meetup though is that half the time the people posting the events on Meetup are also the promoters. Even though this is the same case with FB events, on Meetup they cannot hide behind a page, or group. So when you send that organizer a message it goes directly to them. Use this to your advantage! Organizers tend to always be looking for extra help at events. Free photographers with professional equipment do not come around all the time. When looking for groups to join try to join groups with stereotypical names like “20’s and 30’s single group”, “Networking Happy Hour”, “[insert city] Singles Events”, “[Insert state] Concerts”, etc.
So Get Out There!
Now that you know a few great sources for building up your concert portfolio it’s just a matter of getting out there and attending these events! You’ll learn so much about the industry over the next couple of weeks as you bump shoulders with other photographers and bands. Be sure to do yourself a huge favor and be sure to post all of these new photos online ASAP and tag the artists as well! This will make sure that they know who you are and over time you may start to get gigs because of these first few bands…I certainly have!
All images (with the exception of one) are by Gary Pope. Check out Gary Pope and more of his concert photography at his site Gary Does Alot.