Concert Photography 101: Getting Started

The world of concert photography can be both scary and exciting for newcomers. There a lot of ways to get into it, but there are also many clear-cut and hidden rules, as well as plenty of room for trial and error. Here at Acentric Magazine, we have a team of photographers who have found their way around both their local music scenes and the industry at large, and they have certainly learned a lot along the way. To kick off our new “Concert Photography 101” series, our photographer Zoe Dillman shares her experiences and tips for building a portfolio, getting press credentials, and some do’s and don’ts for beginners looking to shoot shows.

Research is key

When it comes to looking for the latest happenings in your area, social media can be one of the best tools for finding out about concerts and local shows. There are two methods that make this search much more efficient. First, joining Facebook groups local to your music scene can be a great way to network and find under the radar shows. These groups are usually titled along the lines of  “Oklahoma Scene” or “PNW Live Music”. Groups like these are helpful because members often share fliers and event pages to local shows, usually ones their bands are playing. Second, downloading the app Bandsintown is a quick way to find concerts from bigger acts. The app sends you notifications when bands or artists announce a new tour date in your city, which can come in pretty handy.

Now let’s say that you found a show to shoot, but you haven’t been to the venue before and you don’t know if you can bring your camera. The easiest way to find out a venue’s rules is to go to their website and look at the “FAQ” or “About” section. Clubs will almost always have a section about their camera policy on their site. If you can’t find it, it doesn’t hurt to call and check before heading out for the night. It can be very frustrating to get to a venue only to realize that you can’t take photos. So do your homework, because you can never be too prepared!

Find shows to shoot

There are three places you can typically expect to shoot from when you are covering a show: the pit, crowd or soundboard (also known as “FOH” or “front of house”). Since you’re just starting out, we’ll talk about shooting the from crowd and address the other two options in our next article. No matter where you are shooting, remember your manners. Chances are if you’re shooting from the crowd, you’re at a general admission show. That means that everyone paid the same price to be there and there are no assigned seats. There is no need to push others out of the way for a shot, no matter how great it may be. Occasionally another concert-goer may see that you are trying to get close to take photos and let you switch spots with them. Remember that they do not have to do this and they are being kind, so always say thank you. You can use this as a networking opportunity and give them your card, if you have any, or share your social media info.

When you’re first starting out in concert photography, you will either be shooting for yourself or shooting for a publication. More often than not, you’ll need to be “on assignment” for a publication to get access to certain shows. Always try to keep realistic expectations and goals when trying to shoot for a publication. Photographer positions on publications can be highly selective, so don’t get discouraged if you get turned away. You will get turned down many times, largely when you are a beginner. Art is a competitive field, so you need to figure out how to give yourself an edge while not expecting too much in return—these publications are the ones giving you an outlet to grow in your craft. When you’re shooting for a publication, be on your best behavior. That means at the show, in emails to editors, and online. You are not only representing yourself anymore, you’re representing an entire brand, as well, and saying something unprofessional or getting into an internet fight is an easy way to get blacklisted (but more on that later).

Request a photo pass

When shooting for a publication you will usually have to request your photo pass yourself. This can be a daunting task if you’ve never had to request credentials before. If you need to request a photo pass to shoot, you will almost always need to contact the artist’s PR (public relations) agent. The quickest way to find the PR agent’s email is by looking at the artist’s social media bios or about pages on their website or on Facebook.

For beginners in the concert photography industry, you’ll want to make sure that you have a link to past work to show the PR agent. This is usually where shooting local shows come in handy to build up your portfolio since you’re just starting out. As you progress, you’ll hopefully be able to add other photos to your portfolio that were taken from larger shows where you shoot from the pit or FOH. It is best to always show your best work, so choose a few photos that you believe represent the best of your abilities. We’ll talk more about creating a portfolio in a future article as well.

When writing a PR agent, remember that you are not entitled to a pass and that you’re essentially asking them for a favor. Keep the email short and concise and be polite. Make sure you CC (Carbon Copy) your publication’s editor to help the PR agent confirm your assignment. This prevents frauds from requesting shows for their own gain. Here is an example of the email format you could use when sending out a photo pass request:

Hello,

My name is ________, photographer for [publication]. I’m emailing in regards to photographing [band] on [date] at the [venue] in [city, state] for our outlet.

If a ticket and photo pass could be provided, please leave the credentials under the name [name]. It would be greatly appreciated, and in exchange [publication] will provide [type of coverage].

If you need anything else, please let me know.

Best,
[name]
[link to portfolio]

The art of the follow up

If you don’t hear back right away, don’t freak out! PR agents deal with a lot of people on a day to day basis. Chances are you will need to follow up on an email at least once or a few times before you hear back. Give it a few days before you politely follow up on your request. If you do get a response, you’ll most likely either be approved, denied or told to wait until a little closer to the show date. No matter what the response is, be courteous and always thank the contact for their time. You will always want to stay on good terms with everyone you meet and network with in this industry.

Kindness is key

Networking is a slow process that requires lots of time and energy. Be prepared to dedicate lots of time taking and editing photos – most likely for free – to develop a positive relationship with a band, their management or their PR company. Developing relationships with artists and their teams can be a gamble since there is no certainty that they will hire you in the future. Keep in mind that people are more likely to hire their friends or people they know, particularly when it comes to touring, so learn how to set yourself apart from the competition and always be welcoming and professional. Making great connections and being an all-around good person is key, so never underestimate the power of kindness and genuineness can get you a long way.

The music industry can be difficult to break into. There is no one way to get into it, but if you love what you do and take the time out to pursue it, it’ll be worth it in the end.

Stay tuned for our future articles in our Concert Photography 101 series on shooting your first show, basic camera settings and more coming soon!