5 things I wish I knew when I started concert photography

Two years ago, I got my first photo pass to shoot Dream Wife at Elsewhere in Brooklyn. In some ways, that show feels like forever ago. I was a total rookie, barely dipping my toes into the world of concert photography. But, it got me hooked. Though I sometimes still feel like a rookie (hello, imposter syndrome), I’ve learned quite a bit since then. To celebrate this mini-anniversary, I’m sharing five things I wish I knew when I started. 

Dream Wife at Elsewhere Brooklyn – January 2018


My camera in the dark

At the time, I was pretty reluctant to learn my way around a digital camera. I had been shooting analog exclusively for two years (and I didn’t really want to make the jump). Concert photography ended up being my crash course in digital, which was a blessing in disguise. I learned so much by troubleshooting on the go and pushing my camera to its limits. 

For about the first six months, I missed out on some great shots because I fumbled with my camera. I shoot fully manual. So when I started, I wasn’t able to change the ISO or shutter speed fast enough. Now, I can turn the dials in the dark without taking my eye off of the viewfinder. I could probably take concert photos in my sleep, too. 

How to get a photo pass

This is the question I get asked the most! About 80% of the time, I shoot as press. A month or two in advance, I’ll write a hit list of all the shows I want to see, contact my editors, and then email the respective PRs. It’s the easiest way to get access to the bigger shows. 

Many thanks to all the music blogs for running photo galleries – you’re the real MVPs.

You don’t always get approved, though. Sometimes, the list is already brimming with other photographers, or a show is very sold-out, or you emailed too last-minute, etc. Whatever the reason, not getting approved makes getting the yes’s so much better. And a healthy dose of rejection makes you not take the pass for granted. 

The other 20% of the time, I shoot friends’ gigs, get hired, or bring a camera into a room without a photo policy. I know all of this now, but there was a learning curve at the beginning. I started in New York, and the city is supersaturated with photographers. I requested way more shows than I ended up getting to shoot. Then, when I moved to Berlin, I had to figure it all out in another country. It turns out that the process is mostly the same.

All the technical stuff

For a while, I didn’t think my camera was built for concert photography, because it would freeze up. After taking a quick succession of photos, my screen would go black, the shutter wouldn’t take, and an orange light blinked to tell me “chill out.” I think I even once took out the battery in a photo pit to get my camera to work. Honestly, I’m surprised I didn’t end up with corrupted files. I then found out that I was using the wrong kind of SD card. Investing in UHS-II was game-changing. 

Lightroom was another learn-as-you-go tool. I’m still experimenting with it. I’m still learning how to cull and archive my files. I think I kept white balance “As Shot” for the first year because I didn’t know it was even an option. 

Getting the shot

Coming from film photography, I’d wait to see a moment through the viewfinder before I’d waste the frame. Analog is slower. Each frame is a decision. And nothing beats the delayed gratification of getting to see photos that you forgot you had ever taken.

Concert photography, however, requires you to anticipate movements. You take a lot of bad photos. Unlike my film photo habits, you have to click away before you see the right expression on someone’s face. I would leave shows, knowing that I clicked milliseconds too late because I waited for a photo. I had to change the way that I instinctually shot and learn to see in a different way. Not sure if that makes sense to anyone but me. 

Continuous mode wasn’t the answer either. I rarely use it unless someone is dancing or moving back and forth on the stage. I don’t want to end up with 1,000 photos of sorta similar shots.

Framing

Watch out for mics and monitors. Very early on, a photog friend kindly pointed out that every. single. one. of my photos had a mic in front of the singer’s face. Total rookie mistake. Probably a right of passage for anyone starting out, unless you’ve done your research. Do other blogs tell you this? I’m not sure; I haven’t googled concert photography tips in awhile. Mics are very unflattering and sometimes unavoidable. Monitors on the stage cut off legs. But, now you’ll notice that most photographers shoot at an angle to avoid this problem. I usually work a crowd or photo pit by starting on the left side (to catch all those right-handed musicians) and then move to the other side.

Dream Wife at Primavera Sound – May 2019

Using Format