This summer, I started shooting concerts for multiple publications and clients for the first time in my life. I was never a professional photographer-- I still don’t consider myself one-- and the most experience I had was shooting concerts at my university. After two months of living in New York City, I’ve photographed big name artists including Khalid, Imagine Dragons, Paramore, and Jesse McCartney, and I've shot at venues including Madison Square Garden, Governor's Ball, and the Barclays Center. I’ve gotten a lot of questions regarding how the heck I do this, so I decided to make a “How To” blog post for wannabe concert photographers!
There are actually plenty of ways you can start photographing concerts. You just need to choose the method that works best for you.
If you’re in college, the easiest way to get started is by reaching out to your school’s programming board. That’s exactly how I got started. When I started taking pictures of our members during events, I ended up getting permission to take photos of the artists from the pit. Programming boards are way more chill when it comes to who they let photograph concerts, so it definitely doesn’t hurt to reach out and offer your services.
If you aren’t in college, starting with local music acts is usually the best way. Smaller acts performing in coffee shop venues, jazz clubs, restaurants, or public parks are easy to get access to, since you usually don’t have to pay for a ticket to see them, and you won’t need press credentials or a media pass to bring your camera.
Another great way to build up your portfolio is going to venues that allow professional cameras. While you will still have to buy a ticket to the show, you will be able to bring your camera and shoot away for as long as you’d like. I photographed Superfruit at the Bowery Ballroom this way, and they even re-posted a photo I took. It might be difficult shooting from the crowd, because you’ll have to deal with the people in front of you getting in your way, or not being close enough to the stage, but it’s a great way to get experience photographing bigger acts with low lighting and more movement.
Once you’ve built up a solid portfolio of these performers, start sending out inquiries to small music magazines, publications, and local news outlets. Being connected with a publication will make it much easier to acquire a photo pass to a concert, rather than just reaching out directly to the band’s management contact. The easiest way to find publications is to Google search a recent concert in the area, and see who covered it. Then, find the publication’s contact email, and explain who you are, which concert you’re trying to cover, and include a link to your portfolio (which you have to have). Make sure you’re choosing an artist that fits the genre of the publication you’re writing to, and it’s best to keep it small, rather than overshooting and asking to cover a Beyonce show.
If the publication likes your work, they will do one of two things. The most common process for smaller publications is to have you reach out to the band’s management yourself. You basically tell them that you’re a photographer for (insert publication here), and that you would like to see if it’s possible to get a ticket and a photo pass for that specific concert. Make sure to include a ticket when you ask, because the venue could either turn you away completely, or kick you out after the first 3 songs. If the publication is more established, they will reach out to their own contacts and set you up themselves.
If you don’t have much luck with publications hiring you, another option is to contact the band’s management directly. You can usually find the management’s contact in the About section of the artist’s Facebook page. In the email, again, explain who you are, your experience, and which show you want to cover. Offer to send them an edited grouping of 20 photos or so by the next day. While it’s very uncommon to shoot without a publication behind you, it’s not impossible to get a photo pass for yourself. Aim for smaller artists who don’t have a professional photographer already. I’ve sent out about 15 different emails and have only heard back from 3 (one acceptance and two very kind rejections), so don’t be disheartened if you don’t hear back from many.
Concert photography definitely requires a lot of hard work, networking, and dedication to get to where you want to be. You’ll get a lot of rejections before you start getting acceptances, but over time, you’ll find that one publication that loves your work and continues to have you shoot for them. It’s super rewarding, even though it’s mostly unpaid, and you’ll have the time of your life getting up close and personal with your favorite artists.