Photographing Your First Concert? Music Photography 101

Music photographers, lovers, and enthusiasts!

This one's for you. When I'm at shows and festivals I somehow manage to look like a person who knows what they're doing long enough to get a question or two every now and then. Often times, people ask me these questions while at a concert where the noise level prevents us from actually having a decent conversation. I tried to put together a few questions I typically get and things I wish I knew when I first started shooting shows. I hope these help, and feel free to ask me something that's not answered below!

If you're more of a visual person, here is a video of me answering these questions for your viewing pleasure.

How did you get started in concert photography?

I first got started by cold emailing venues in Birmingham, AL to see if they would let me come shoot a couple shows for free in exchange for photos. I had two that said yes (RIP the Syndicate Lounge). After building a portfolio, I got the chance to shoot a few shows for BhamRocks (a local music magazine) and things took off from there.

Who do you shoot for?

Currently, I shoot for MNPR Magazine (AKA the best group of international photographers known to man/woman/nonbinary-kind), and the occasional request from record labels, artists, and publicists.

What kind of camera and lenses do you use?

I use two Canon 6Ds. Two of the same camera body? YES. As far as lenses go, I use: Canon 28mm f1.8, Canon 70-200mm f2.8, and Canon 50mm f1.4.

What camera and lenses do you recommend for a beginner?

That honestly really depends on your personal preference. All brands have really stepped up their game with beginner and intermediate cameras. I started with Nikon, and if I didn't transition to doing video/filming I would probably still be with that brand. I may be biased in saying Canon has the best color science, but eh, it's kind of true. Sony is also a good option if you want to do photos and videos but want a more lightweight setup.

Do you ever rent equipment for shows?

I personally don't. I know that it's not unheard of, but it's just not something I'm into.

Do you shoot in raw?


What camera settings do you use?

This one is kind of an impossible question to answer. I'll start by addressing which camera features I take advantage of before diving into the ISO/Aperture/Shutter Speed trio. I use back button auto focus rather than manual focus or half-clicking the shutter to autofocus. Nikon cameras are a little more ergonomic (i.e. the buttons are placed in areas that mesh seamlessly with natural hand placement), and I found that on Canon camera's I had to change the way I shot a little bit to make things work for better for me in fast paced situations. Using back button focus allows for fewer hand movements and doesn't make me have to mentally choose the pressure I put on the shutter function to focus when I'm shooting fast-spaced shows and events. I use AI-Servo as my focus setting (as opposed to one shot or AI-Focus) which allows for faster focusing when shooting moving subjects.

Your camera settings are going to depend on your surroundings and available light. Lighting is different in every venue, and even from act to act, as stage lighting setups can change throughout the show. More often than not, your ISO setting will be high (i.e. 1000+), and you won't want a shutter speed less than 1/100 (and even that's pushing it, but dark venues are relentless am I right?). Aperture depends on the lens, and when you're first starting out you may not be able to afford "fast glass" (lenses with an aperture of 2.8 or higher), so just go with that works. I've played around with different white balance settings, and I typically use Auto white balance or I'll set my white balance manually using the Kelvin setting.

How do you get to shoot in the photo pit or get a photo pass?

You have to get approval from the press contact of the band/music artist or venue to get into the photo pit with a photo pass.

Who I contact for a photo pass?

The press contact for a music act/band is my first point of reference. General managers and other managers are next in line if a press contact is unavailable.

What if I can't find a contact for a photo pass?

That's when it gets tricky. There are facebook groups for concert photographers who can offer help/support, which is a line of defense that people use when they can't find a contact on their own or don't get a response from the contact listed.

If I get a photo pass, does that include a ticket?

Most of the time it does, but it doesn't hurt to ask just in case.

If I don't get/have a photo pass, should I sneak my camera into the venue?

There was a time in my life where I would've said "Yes, be sneaky and try it anyway!" BUT, given the current climate for concert/music photographers, I'm going to have to be that person and say "For all that is good, please don't." There are more and more restrictions being placed on photographers everyday because of people who have tried to take advantage of that privilege. From being escorted to the photo pit, to having to put up our gear following shooting the artist in the pit, there are already enough precautions being taken so that we don't really have a lot of freedom to betray the trust that we'll behave professionally. It might take a minute to start getting approved for shows regularly, but be patient. The last thing you want to do is start your music photography career with the reputation of being a person who tries to get around security or as someone who does not work well with venue marketing staff.

Hopefully that answered most of your questions about what I do, how I operate, and how you can get started as a music photographer. Have more questions? Hit me up on social media, email, whatever; I'll always try to help if I can!

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