Concert Photography: Getting Started

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As a brief history, I began using a dSLR at concerts with credentials in 2011—credentials meaning an issued photo pass approved by the band and/or their people. I had brief knowledge of what I was doing due to some intense Googling but I was still overwhelmingly unprepared. Before shooting my first show, I spent a lot of time sitting in my bedroom in the dark taking photographs of dim light. I also read a lot of Scott Kelby’s photography books that I bought for 10 dollars at Costco which were tremendously informative and helpful. I spent a lot of time on Todd Owyoung’s website because he’s super talented. But a lot of the practicing and reading I did beforehand really didn’t prepare me for what it’s like to shoot in an actual concert setting. As obvious as this is, the only way to gain experience is by going to as many shows as possible in order to familiarize yourself with concert lighting.

I photographed my first show with a borrowed entry-level Nikon from a friend who trusted me enough to let me borrow his baby for a night. It wasn’t until I was standing in the pit at Gramercy Theatre with less than ideal lighting settings that I realized the pickle I had gotten myself into. I was so nervous I even asked the photographer next to me to check my settings before the show started. I had no idea what I was doing but at the end of the first three songs, I had some decent pictures. Not only was it painfully obvious that I was a guppy in a sea of talented photographers but that underneath the stage lights, capturing an artist in their natural habitat was where I belonged. Concert photography is a thrilling experience and hopefully this series will help you towards your own personal goals within the field.

Check With Venues About Their Photo Restrictions

Starting out, I would suggest that any beginner go to local venues without photo restrictions and start shooting. Check with the venue to make sure there are no restrictions against photographic/recording equipment so you don’t get turned away at the door. Here’s a list of NYC concert venues.

If a venue does allow dSLR cameras, go and start shooting (but have a ticket). That way, you can get a feel for the lighting you will most likely encounter in future venues and learn to work with your surroundings. If a venue has no photo restrictions, I would still suggest getting there early to give yourself the best possible chance of being in front of the stage. What tends to happen is if a venue has no photo restrictions, there usually won’t be a photo pit. So the final tips for getting started?

1. Get there early. If there’s no photo pit, depending on the popularity of the artist, I will get to the venue an hour early.
2. Position yourself in the best spot. It’s your call whether that’s the center or slightly off-center.
3. Compose your shots wisely. Don’t “spray and pray”.
4. Don’t get in the way of other paying concert goers.
5. Put the camera down and enjoy the show.

Go to the next article in our Concert Photography Series: The Equipment
Follow Nancy Hoang:

Nancy Hoang created Hopeless Thunder in 2007. She conducts the interviews, writes the articles, photographs the concerts, and handles the site's coding & design. (Basically, she's a control freak.) Her work can also be seen on music publication, CMJ. Contact Nancy for image licensing, assignments, or just to say hi.