I know that we are still in a panini (panoramic, panorama, pandemic) but the world is opening back up and that means live music is a thing again – and I am SO HAPPY about it. If you’ve been following me for awhile, you’ll know that concert photography was how I cut my teeth in the photojournalism world, as many of us have. I used to shoot a lot of arts & entertainment for The Baltimore Sun years ago – I was able to cover festivals and all the shows of my favorite artists. A dream for an early twenty-something in a multitude of ways.
These days I don’t spend a ton of time covering the music world but I sure do miss it, so I take every opportunity I can to get back in the photo pit. Whenever I post photos post concert my DMs get flooded with questions ranging from gear to access to post processing. Recently I was able to photograph Yungblud with openers Palaye Royale and Charlotte Sands and everyone had questions! To me that means time for a new blog post.
What lens are you using?
I get this question asked the most! I actually use a combination of two, sometimes three. To fully capture the energy and atmosphere you need varying focal points, as with any documentary photo coverage. My gear system is Canon, so my go-to is a 70-200 f/2.8 and a 16-35 f/2.8 and sometimes a 100-400 f/4 if I’m shooting in the daytime outside, bright light, or from the soundboard. I use a Canon 5DIII and a Canon 5IV. I also have a few glass filters in my pocket to give my frames some variation and artistic edge.
How do you edit your photos to look like *THAT*?
If I have to shoot at a higher ISO (3200 and above) I will usually de-noise them a bit to get rid of the grain if there is any. I also will do some color adjusting as well as some toning if the highlights are blown out or the shadows need to be brought up. I don’t do anything more – documentary photography comes with a high ethical standard where you cannot remove, edit out our airbrush anything. All I do is your regular toning without compromising image integrity. This ethical standard helps me be more mindful when photographing. For example, I can’t remove a microphone stand coming out of someone’s head, so I make sure it doesn’t look like that when I do my framing.
What are your camera settings for shooting concerts?
Ok, this is another most asked question. You’re not going to like the answer to it simply because I don’t have one. The lights for live music are all over the place and you’re at the mercy of the lighting person. Sometimes we get lucky and there’s a beautiful clear white spotlight on the artist and other times it’s fog machines and red lighting (cameras hate red lighting). Lighting can also vary venue to venue, so watching a show before it comes to your area of shooting doesn’t mean anything. I’ve shot in extreme low light (a reason I shoot with f/2.8’s) and bright daylight. You are constantly calculating camera settings based on where the light is and where the performer is. So, while I don’t have a direct answer to this one, I can give you some tips : I wouldn’t push ISO over 6400. I usually keep the shutter speed above 1/100 and it’s probably the lowest I’ll go. I always shoot with a 2.8 so I have the widest aperture range – sometimes the 400mm f/4 in daylight or bright stage lights. If you’re stuck in the dark, remember you can always lighten in post editing but you can’t darken.
How do you get access to shoot shows?
This one is a big one – an obvious answer but harder to execute. There are three ways to do this. One is NETWORK. Get to know your venue managers, public relations people, booking agents and marketing people – these people make it all happen. Make yourself known, what you do and send them your portfolio. Ask to get put on their PR roster for show photographers. Don’t have a portfolio? Start photographing tinier shows for newer or lesser known bands – you don’t need to photograph someone hugely famous or famous at all to show what you can do with a camera in the photo pit.
The next way to do this is work for a publication. This was my route. I was an intern at a big paper in the city I live in some years ago while I was still in journalism school. After my internship I was a perma-lancer (freelancer but they used me so frequently I might as well have been an employee) and I was assigned a lot of the arts and entertainment work. This is how I got to know a lot of my friends who work at the venues. You can also have a blog and get cleared to shoot shows on your own accord, you don’t always need publication backing to be given a press pass – just make sure the blog is super specific, has great photos on it, and has consistent posts on it. Don’t make a blog and submit for a press pass without having anything on it. You can start a blog by building it along with your portfolio I talked about in the beginning of this section.
Finally, the third route is to become a tour photographer. This is probably the hardest because it requires you know the band and be friendly with them before they become successful enough to tour. It’s not a glamorous life 24/7 like it seems – I personally have not been a tour photographer but many of my colleagues have. You really have to love doing it to find it worthwhile.
I hope this helped answer your questions! If you have any others feel free to ask me on social media or on here and I’ll do my best to help. Happy photographing.