Concert Photography 101: Shooting Your First Show

Shooting your first show will be both a scary and exciting experience.

Now that you know how to start, and jump into the world of concert photography, we are here to help with your next step: shooting your first show. Shooting your first show will be both a scary and exciting experience. Although shooting your first show will be filled with questions and uncertainties, there will be one thing you’ll know by the end of the night, and that it is that you’ll want to do it again.

As we mentioned in the previous article, if the show you are shooting is at a venue you have never been to before, it is always a good idea to do a little research before you go. This may include looking up places to park, where the box office is located, size of the venue, and whether or not there is a designated area for photographers. Depending on whether it is a large or small venue, the answers to these questions can vary greatly. Most of these questions can be answered on the venue’s website via their FAQ page.

Planning in advance

As far as parking goes, if you are shooting a smaller local show there will most likely be no designated area for parking. However, if it is a larger show, such as an outdoor amphitheater, there may be a parking deck or lot for you to park in. At some of these venues, if you tell the parking lot assistants that you are working and shooting for the show, they will let you park up front in the workers parking lot. This will make it easier for bringing your gear to the venue and if you want to make a quick exit after the show.

When shooting your first show, the first place you will need to go is the box office. Depending on where it is located, it may affect the time you want to arrive at the venue. If the box office is outside the venue and you are able to pick up your pass, security guards will often let you skip the long line of fans in order to get inside. However, if it is inside, you will want to arrive earlier considering the time it will take to wait in line.

Knowing the size of the venue goes along with the fact of whether or not there is a designated area for photographers. With many smaller venues, there is no photo pit, this means you may have to arrive at the venue extra early in order to get good shots.

When it comes to any show, try to get to the venue when the doors open. Especially for your first show, you will want to have the time to get situated. You will be surprised by how fast the time passes. When you arrive, you will need to pick up your photopass, so make sure to bring your ID! Now, having shot multiple shows and talking to multiple photographers, we’ve all run into a time when our name hasn’t been on the list for photopasses/tickets. It is something that is truly inevitable. Not only might this be scary if this happens to you at your first show, but often times the people who work at the box office aren’t the kindest and won’t be willing to help you. But do not panic! In this situation, show them the email you have from the band or publication you are shooting with. If they still aren’t willing to give you the pass shoot the band/publication an email or text letting them know the situation. This has worked for me every time, sometimes they just forget to write your name down.

Talking to security / house rules

After making your way into the venue, always make sure to double check with the security guards what the rules for photography are for the night. Most of the time it is the three song rule and no flash. The three song rule is basically its title. Photographers are only allowed to shoot for the first three songs of each artist’s set. It’s a rule that started in the 80’s when film cameras with flash were being used by photographers. As anyone could imagine, performing an entire show with 10+ constant flashing lights would be overwhelming.

You will also want to ask security what time each artist/band is scheduled to come on. Within shooting just a few shows or having attended concerts as a fan, you will know that musicians are notoriously known for being late or running behind. We have all run into many incidences where the time has been pushed back anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes for unpredictable circumstances. Just remember to go with the flow!

Staying on the venue’s good side is more important than a shot you may be dying to have.

Make sure to follow the venue’s rules when shooting shows. This includes if the show is a soundboard shoot only, they don’t allow you to shoot from the house, or if they require you to return your camera to your care after the first three songs. Staying on the venue’s good side is more important than a shot you may be dying to have. This goes along with the fact that you must listen to security, even if they tell you to get out of the pit after one song and even though you know you should be able to shoot three.

Earplugs!

Something you will need to remember to bring with you when you shoot a show is EARPLUGS. This can not be stressed enough. Hearing loss is real. When shooting in the pit, you will be inches away from the speakers that are strong and loud enough to blast the band’s music all the way to the fans at the back of the venue. If you are like most concert photographers, one of the main reason you are beginning to shoot shows is because of your love for music. You definitely don’t want to sacrifice being able to listen to music for the rest of your life just because you chose not to wear earplugs.

Be polite

Pit etiquette is key when shooting a show. This applies to the fans, security members, and other photographers. You most likely won’t be the only person shooting the show so make sure to be mindful of the other photographers. If you are rude to one photographer, word gets around pretty quick. Make sure to move around the pit in order to let other photographers to get various shots and to not block their view when changing your stance. For etiquette with fans, if you are in the pit before the show starts, many fans will notice that you are a photographer and will want you to take a picture of them (with their phone). If they ask, politely take the photo! Also, when the show begins, try not to be blocking the fans view as they want to be there just as bad as you do. Keep in mind, most of the people who are standing front row have been waiting hours for their spot. We are not saying you should sacrifice your shot for the fans, but don’t stand directly in front of them for all three songs either!

Always be prepared for the unexpected.

Intro to camera settings

As far as camera settings go, manual is going to be your best bet. Shooting in low light can be extremely difficult especially dealing with various lights and weird stage set ups. Always be prepared for the unexpected. Plan to use a wide aperture, fast shutter speed, and a high ISO – we will be following up with a more in-depth article on camera settings you can expect to use at shows.

Sending coverage to PR

Once you have taken photos at a show, do not forget to send them to PR/ the band’s manager (if given their email or contact info)! Since they politely permitted a photo pass and granted you with a free ticket, it is not only the right thing to do but will also help you in the future if you ever want to shoot the band or artist again. Who knows, they may end up using your photos for promos or social media!

Concert photography is an art that is challenging yet rewarding and that is why we love it so much — and you will too. We hope this article has helped you to shoot your first show. Just remember to be polite, plan in advance and have fun!