If you’re a music lover and also a photographer, becoming a concert photographer seems like a natural next step. But, unlike other kinds photography — both commercial and artistic — shooting music shows has an literal barrier to entrance; you have to actually gain access to the event. You not only have to have all of the equipment, you also have to know how to get a photo pass for concerts you’d like to attend and shoot.
Fortunately, it’s not really that difficult to make friends with bookers and music reps and work your way into the pit.
Be credible. There are basically two ways to shoot music shows: You’re either a freelancer who sometimes shoots for media outlets, or you’re a staff photographer who already works for an outlet and part of that work is concert photography. But either way, your personal credibility matters.
If you’re a freelancer, you probably need to be working for a specific outlet to get credentials (bookers and bands want to make sure the photos will have an audience), which means you need to have an attractive, professional-looking website with previous music-specific experience on it. If you’re a staff photographer already, it’s kind of the same deal — you need to have shot some music before. Don’t try to apply for credentials if you’re usually a sports or lifestyle photographer who just wants to see the band — do some music photography on the side until you’re comfortable and adept. In both of these cases, building your chops means, yes, probably paying to get into some smaller, local concerts and shooting them to build up your portfolio.
If you don’t provide the venue or reps with any way to know your physical space there is going to be worth it, it’s unlikely you’ll get a photo pass. They’re essentially bartering for the price of a ticket, so they’re going to want to know it’s worth it.
Land the photos. Assuming you are not a staff photographer, you’ll need to find an outlet for your photos. You can do this by emailing editors of blogs and websites and news stations in your area and letting them know that the show is coming up (give at least a month’s notice — editors are busy!) and that you’d like to shoot it. It may seem weird to do this before you’ve got the green light on the pass itself, but the fact is that the venue or band is way more likely to give you the pass if you already have an outlet on board; it’s kind of a chicken/egg scenario. So reach out to a website that you know covers music events and let them know you want to shoot the concert. Then, if they agree to either buy the photos from you, or ask to publish them in exchange for a byline but no money (this is kind of controversial, but if you’re new to photography or just really want to see the concert for free, doing some volunteer work is probably a reality), you can move on to asking for the pass itself.
This step is also where the research aspect comes in — which websites and blogs usually run concert photos? Does it look like they’ve had good luck getting into concerts before? Unless you’re pretty well-known, you’ll likely be looking for local music websites, who may not have the resources to pay you, but can definitely help you get in the door.
Ask nicely. Just like your mama taught you, asking politely is the best way to get anything done. Contact the club, the organizing body, or the bands’ management and just ask nicely. Let them know where the images will be displayed (you’ve already got a publication dialed in, so let them know that — and, for good measure, let them know what your personal audience looks like, too), and what else you may have shot. Keep the email simple and direct — tell them you’re looking for a photo pass and ask what they can do for you. They may let you into the pit. They may only let you in and you’ll be forced to get familiar with your zoom. They may give you access to the wings. It really depends on the venue. But being polite is by far the best tactic, regardless of the size.
If you don’t get credentialed, don’t take it personally — some places only hire one to two very trusted photographers to cover all of their shows, and a lot of bands just travel with one person who does most of their coverage. In the meantime, take your camera with you to every show you go to (though be aware — some might not take too kindly to you shooting on your own, so, again, be polite), build your resume, and keep asking nicely.
Ready to learn from the pros how to do amazing concert photography? Two of the best in the business are at Photo Week 2016, and will be shooting a concert live during the event in NYC! Check out their course on Getting Started in Concert Photography now!