You’re at a concert, and you realize that shooting through your smartphone is just not enough. You want to take it to the next level.
I’ve shot concert photography professionally for more than a year. Some of my peers, and aspiring photographers have asked me how did I get a job shooting concerts? The answer to that question is, I can’t really remember, but I guess I was at the right place and at the right time. I did, however, worked hard to get where I am right now, and I will continue to work harder to get great images. My love for music led me to this specific genre of photography.
I have a friend who constantly told me that “back then” it was easier for photographers to take photos of their favorite artist. You can just go in, and snap, snap, you’re already shooting. Nowadays? Not so much. Why? Artists, or managers of these artists have become so overprotective over their image. This has created a flurry of problems in the live music photography industry. What is exactly my point? Well, if you’re an aspiring concert photographer, and want to do it for a living? Expect your trip to achieving your goal harder than you expect.
I remember when I first had the idea of becoming a concert photographer it was about 2 and half years ago, I didn’t know exactly what to do. Instead like an ignorant fan, I just brought in my camera and started snapping behind the pit on concerts that required a pass. Fair warning: if you have professional gear, but no pass, don’t bother bringing it. Because more than likely you will get caught by security, and they could either kick you out of the show, or at the door they will ask you to take it back to your car. I’ve managed to sneak it my camera in a couple of times, but when I learned a little about the industry, I felt bad for bringing it in the first place. Just think of this: you’re stealing another person’s job when they have every right to be taking photos in the first place. I know it’s in good intent, but regardless it is best to respect the photographer’s job.
So here is the actual question: “How exactly do I become a concert photographer?”
There are many answers to this question, and different photographers could say otherwise than myself, but these answers could give you a general idea.
1. Do research.
When I started, I had to learn. I had to learn how to take good quality photos. I learned of other concert photographers, and their style. I learned different techniques. What gear was the best to use. How to edit. I watched concert videos to study musicians. I was researching, and learning. Why did I do it? I wanted my images to stand out, and I wanted to take good photos.
2. Start small; start local.
This is very important to the genesis of your career. Your images may not be the best, but you’re getting practice. However, there are some very talented photographers, but they still have to start local. I remember going to local shows to small music venues, and I just photograph musicians. Sometimes your local music venue will have a larger show that are filled with local musicians. I remember Mercy Lounge was doing a free show on a Monday, and it was big show because they were showcasing bands that were pretty popular in Nashville, and they were competing so they can perform at Bonnaroo. I viewed that as a chance to take photos, but it also led me to my fourth answer.
3. Be open to constructive criticism.
Sometimes you think you got some really good images of that local musician, and you want to share it. Wait for a bit. Ask a friend who does photography, or even better who takes concert photography for a living. Ask for their honest opinion, and if it’s not the response you were hoping for, learn from what they have to say. I’m glad that I had the privilege in going to school for photography, so my work was constantly looked by working professionals. These professionals may not sugar coat their opinions, and it may hurt, but be open. They will give you tips in how to expose the artist, or when to capture the awesome moment in the show. Don’t get offended, because you will not grow as a photographer or artist if you cannot take criticism. We learn from our mistakes, and past.
Remember the second answer? This is the second part of that story. I remember getting awesome photos! I really wanted to share them, and in order for me to share them, I had to network. I will say this, I am not the most gracious person when it comes to socializing, but I had to push myself, and talk to these musicians. I will show them what I had in my camera, and if they liked it, they will tell me to send it to them. We would exchange information. What if you can’t reach the musician? Well there is Facebook, Twitter, and the internet, and most musicians will have an email address. It doesn’t hurt to contact them through via message. Sometimes these musicians will become one of your good friends. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to go to your local newspaper, and ask them if they need photographers. Some will say yes, some will say no. What is important is that you network.
5. Credit/Copyright your photos!!
This is the absolutely most important step you will have to do in your photography career! I cannot stress this enough. You will experience lots of issues if you do not do so. Maybe in the beginning it wasn’t as important, but if you’re getting exposure of your work, it is always important to have your images have your copyright in the metadata. Metadata is like a dog tag to your photos. If your photo does not have your information or copyright, and it is out there in the internet, consider it “lost”. Unless you have your original images, then put your information! What if a P.R. agency saw your work? What if the paper saw your work? They may want to use it, but who can they give credit to if they do not have the copyright or information? That is a missed opportunity in furthering your career. Also, if the musicians are using your images in social media, make sure that you are credited. Sometimes these musicians may forget, it is important to let them know to credit you. Afterall, this is a free way of advertising yourself as a live music event photographer.
Arcade Fire. I shot this at Bridgestone Arena. It was my first time shooting at that venue, and it happened this year. So time will take it’s course. Photography by Jamie Hernandez.
6. Remember to have fun! Time will take it’s course.
Don’t stress if you’re not advancing in your quest in becoming a full fledge concert photographer. Concert photography is one of the toughest industry to get into. It requires a certain eye for them. Also you’re also going to deal with the everchanging lighting situations. The reason why you want to be a concert photographer is because you love music. I will admit, sometimes I will feel a little burned out by it, but if I shoot just for fun, it revitalizes me. Start a blog if you are really serious in showing your work. If you’re in school, ask for internships. You will eventually will start asking permission for bigger shows for bigger artists. Press passes is what can get you to the door, not shooting within the crowd. When my work was beginning to get some attention, I had the privilege to shoot for a music newsletter that was based in Atlanta. The editor needed photographers from Nashville. This job led me to have even more connections with other musicians, and other P.R. people. It took some time to get that job.
I worked hard to get where I am, and I respect photographers who dedicate their life towards concert photography. I may be only doing it a little over a year professionally, but it took me 2 years to get to do it professionally. I cannot stress this enough, it is one of the toughest industry to get into, and actually earn a living. If you are persistent, consistent, and are willing to grow, you will get to see how fun concert photography really is.