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Getting Started

Lesson 20 from: Getting Started in Music Photography with Red Bull Photographer Todd Owyoung

Todd Owyoung

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Lesson Info

20. Getting Started

Next Lesson: The Photo Pass

Lesson Info

Getting Started

All right, so now we're gonna jump into getting started in live music photography, music photography in general. Start local, this is the number one advice I give to all new music photographers. There is kind of maybe, I don't know if it's a misconception, a goal that people have, they might wanna photograph their favorite artist in the biggest arenas and amphitheaters. They get hung up on trying to get that access when starting small, local artists, local bands, small venues, dive bars even, clubs, these are the venues where you're gonna have the lowest barrier to entry, and where you're gonna have the most opportunity to photograph bands without restrictions. So this is Scott Avett of The Avett Brothers, and this is a photo from the very first concert I ever photographed. My best friend invited me to his show, and I had no idea who the bands were. I kind of thought to myself, well I don't know these bands, but I can bring my camera and I can entertain myself by shooting photos and ma...

ybe it'll be a good time that way, even if the music's garbage. As it happened, the bands were awesome. This is The Avett Brothers before they were playing to sold out arenas and stadiums. They were playing about 50 people, including myself. For me, something just clicked with this show. It was the challenge of photographing musicians on stage with the stage lighting, having limited time, limited access, limited shooting angles, and it was just electrifying for me. I just loved that opportunity, and I remember going through the photos the next day, and I thought to myself, this is it, this is what I wanna do, this is what I wanna photograph. 'Cause at the time, I was photographing weddings and macro photography and portraits, and certainly anything anyone would pay me to do. But after photographing this concert, I definitely poured myself into just concentrating on music and digging in and trying to photograph musicians and work with them at every opportunity. So when it comes to photographing smaller artists, there are definitely challenges and opportunities. The pros of it, there's no song limit. There's no photo pass, there's no gatekeepers that are in charge of these smaller bands. You can show up to the venue, get a piece of the stage, and shoot for the entire set, and you're gonna come away with far more variety in lighting, poses, and action than if you're just shooting for three songs. There are fewer gatekeepers. A local band, they're not gonna have a manager or a publicist necessarily who is trying to protect their artist and thus, limit your access. In addition, you might be working with more eager artists who want those photos of themselves and will give you stage access or do candids behind the scenes, et cetera. In addition, because there are fewer things in between you and the artist, you're gonna be able to network with them and start building relationships. You never know who might start at a smaller venue, who would go onto be the next big thing, a rising talent, and take you onto or give you that access at these larger venues. The other pro is really trial by fire, is being able to cut your teeth, shooting these very challenging conditions in small venues because if you can shoot these small venues in low lighting, cramped quarters, fast action, the bigger shows are really, really much easier because you have more room to work, better lighting by far, and it's a whole different experience. So I would say, if you can shoot a small show, the big shows are easy. Certainly the cons of shooting smaller artists are that there's limited production. You're not gonna have pyro or confetti blasts. There's low light. Low light is a huge, huge issue because obviously photography is all about capturing and utilizing light. So in small concert venues, with a limited access to that production, low production, it does limit what you can do. So that's a constant kind of caveat and consideration. As a result, you have limited variety. You're only going to be able to make a certain number of movements and angles and positions in a small venue when you don't have that much space to move around. You can't get on stage and can't make all the different images you might at a larger venue. For photographing larger artists, at the same time, you have these big names at a price. By contrast with the pros, you have known artists, you have celebrities, you have famous faces, and if you show someone that portfolio, it's going to be impressive, but only if it's a good photo. You're gonna have better production, great lighting, pyro, cryo, confetti. Those things create an atmosphere that you're not going to have at a small venue. More light is a huge one. Again, there's production that is lit, it's design, there are lighting designers, these engineers who are making sure it looks good for the fans, it looks good for the IMAG or for television. And certainly increased variety, having larger venues, different acts at a festival, whatever it might be, when you're shooting larger productions, you're gonna have more variety. It's not just going to be the same small venues you might be shooting in if you're covering local artists. On the flip side, the cons, you're gonna have way more restrictions covering big name national artists, touring artists, because there are managers and publicists who are trying to protect the interest of their clients, and we'll get into this more in the business section. So you have more gatekeepers, you have more limited access, you're going to be shooting for just three songs maybe, at the best case scenario for many artists, if not shooting from the sound board, or shooting from other less than optimal situations and positions. And you're going to have a photo pass that's required. You're gonna have to be credentialed. You're going to have to shoot for a publication and request access and you could be denied, whereas when you're shooting local artists, there so much more opportunity to get this access and work undisturbed. Now when you're working with local bands, and starting out small, you have a variety of things you can do. Obviously there's live music, but small bands, if you're just kind of befriending these groups and working with them, you're maybe trading images for access, whatever the case may be, you're gonna have access to do portraits, to do candids, to do behind the scenes, and maybe these small bands can't pay a ton, but you're gonna get access and to be able to build this portfolio that will be able to show people what you can do as a photographer in ways that are going to be much different than just shooting the first three songs of the same tours that everyone else is photographing and having almost no access, and making the same images that everyone else is. When you work with these local bands, you can hone these critical skills that allow you to really, these skills will serve you at every single level, whether it's live music, portrait, working with candids, just being able to hang back and blend in, which is what you have to do as a touring photographer, kind of knowing how to operate with a band and a crew, and these are just really critical basic skills that will serve you in the music industry. So photographing in small venues, first tip is simply to arrive early. I can't tell you how many times I just went as a fan to these venues that had no camera restrictions, and lined up with all the die hards, two or three hours early because that was my way of guaranteeing that I'd be at the front of the stage, I wouldn't have to compete walking through the crowd like a jerk to have access, to have the best spot to photograph these bands. So if you're serious about doing this for local small bands, even larger bands or for venues that might not have a camera restriction, show up early, show up with those fans, getting wing doors open and grab a piece of the stage and claim your spot and do it respectfully because no one likes someone who's gonna be barging in right when the headliner's coming in, coming through with a camera and pushing people around. Second tip is gonna be to make friends, make friends with people in the crowd. If you're shooting from the crowd, there's no photo pit, it does a world of good simply to introduce yourself to the people around you. They will be your advocates, they'll be your allies, and they'll save your spot if you need to, in between sets, oh, I gotta grab a drink, go to the bathroom, whatever, do you mind if you watch my camera gear, can I come back here? And most people will be totally understanding and more than willing because they're curious about what photographers are doing, and when you just take the little effort to talk to them, say, "Hey, I'm just photographing the band. "I'm shooting for this publication, "I'm shooting for myself, shooting for my portfolio," just cluing them in, they'll be like, "Oh yeah, cool, yeah." And then if you need to switch spots with them during the show, that's an opportunity. So it's really gonna do a world of good for you to just make a friend at the show if you're not going with friends already. The third would be to take your time. When you're shooting in a small venue, and you have no shooting restrictions, there are parts of the set that might not be the best opportunity to photograph, and simply to use the time you have with this additional time and access to choose your shots, wait for lighting, and lighting's not always gonna be great at small venues, so with small bands and small venues, you have the luxury to take a beat, put your camera down, enjoy the song, enjoy a couple songs or the set, and then when the moment comes up, make your shot. This point is really important, and it's critical. Respect the fans. This kind of goes along with the first point of getting there early. Live music is put on for the paying customers, for the fans. And they're the ones paying for it. If you're shooting, and maybe you get access through the bands or otherwise, you might not be paying for your ticket, but regardless of how you have access, and especially if you're shooting from the crowd, respecting the fan is critical. If you're at the front, not doing hail marys with the camera overhead, blocking people's views, not running around or pushing your way through the crowd. It's kind of basic etiquette, but it requires saying that you really, first and foremost, respecting the fans is something that's critical for music photography, and especially when you're shooting from the crowd.

Ratings and Reviews

Alexandra U

I highly reccomend this class for any one who would like to get started or dip their toes in the concert photography scene. This class has many useful tips and trick for any level of photographer, not just beginners. I have been in the music scene for over 10 years and I was able to gather so much information in every chapter. Watching this video boosted up my confidence as a photographer because it validated that I am already succeeding in my concert career. Thank you for this amazing stream. It sparked my creative soul once again.

Kris Comer

Wow, this was awesome! I have been a concert photographer for almost 3 years now and I still learned some great tips! I loved that he covered different ideas for promo shots which is one of my weaknesses. Any beginner should definitely check out this course! It is straight and to the point with all of the most important steps.

Mark Balmer

This is a really great course! I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in this type of photography. It is presented in an easy to understand way. Todd gives clear and informative tips and shows how to set up lights, poses etc! I found it very helpful, and will definitely put what i've learned to work. Thanks, Mark

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