Becoming a Concert Photographer

Andrew Bird performing at the Pageant in St. Louis, Missouri on March 22, 2012. (Todd Owyoung)

Andrew Bird, whose kind manager, Andrea Troolin, granted me my first photo pass.

A reader asks about how I got my start as a concert photographer. From the first show and the first photo pass to the first big break and beyond, here's my story so far.

Hi Todd,

I am interested in hearing about your journey in concert photography and how you got started and how you grew into the photographer that you are today.

Thanks,
Eva Nowakowski
www.evatography.com

Hi Eva, thanks for the question. My start with concert photography came about, like so many things, as a fortuitous combination of whim and serendipity. As for the longer journey, it's been a few years of hard work, Google miracles, and a little luck.

The First Show, First Photo Pass

A friend invited me out to see the bands BR549 and the Avett Brothers. While I wasn't familiar with either group, I decided to come out and bring my camera. I figured that if I didn't like the music, I could always entertain myself photographing the show.

As it turned out, the music was great and I had a blast photographing the concert. In hindsight, it was the natural combination of two lifelong passions; music and visual art.

A week later, I had tickets to another concert and decided to contact the band’s manager about photographing the event, resulting in my first photo pass. To the wonderful Andrea Troolin, where ever you are, thank you.

Starting Local

The same time I set up my first photo credentials, I also got in touch with a local music magazine. Within a few weeks I was contributing to the publication as a freelancer and pitching assignments at every opportunity.

Shooting for a print publication – even if it was only a small street press – granted a tremendous amount of connections and access to the workings of live music.

In addition, I also began freelancing for other media sources, from alt-weekly papers to entertainment-lifestyle websites.

If it Moves, Shoot It

In my first years of shooting concerts, the gamut of shows I covered ranged from basement dives to free concerts at universities to acts like Radiohead, the Police, and festivals like Lollapalooza.

For all the shows with photo passes and cushy barricades for press and security I shot when I was starting out, there were an equal number of gigs where I lined up early with the superfans before doors to grab a piece of stage in a standing-room-only club with an open camera policy.

The Portfolio Building Years

While I started off shooting mostly bands to which I listened, I soon branched out to shoot anything and everything I thought might be good shoot for photography. This time of steady shooting translated into an incredible opportunity to build a portfolio, which I consider to be just as essential a tool as a good camera or fast lens for the concert photographer.

While assignments, editors, and contacts come and go, a great portfolio commands attention and opens doors.

Those first years starting out were relatively quiet as I gained experience; I shot as many assignments as I could, worked to expand the range and quality of my work, and tried to fend of tinnitus.

When It Rains, It Pours

My first big breaks came in early 2008. The year started off with the good fortune of landing a solo photography exhibit of concert work in January, which marked a huge milestone for me and my music photography.

Little did I know, the rest of the year would hold even more exciting opportunities.

In April of 2008, I landed the position of house photographer for a 10,000-capacity arena. A few months later, I received my first assignment for Rolling Stone to cover Warped Tour 2008.

Around the same time, I received my first major placement with a shot of Radiohead, which SPIN magazine ran as double-page spread in the July 2008 issue. This was accompanied placement in the New York Times, Billboard, Alternative Press, and the Village Voice, among other publications.

The year rounded out with national assignments, including a shoot at Lincoln Center in New York, and my first album cover for Dave Matthew's Band's live recording at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. In addition, clients in 2008 included Atlantic Records, Live Nation, Emmis Communications, and Razor & Tie Entertainment.

2009 has started out with a contracted shoot for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, half-a-dozen promotional shoots with bands, and a commercial assignment for a national apparel company.

Going Forward

It feels a little strange to tell this story now, since I believe that I've just scratched the surface of all the work that's ahead of me as a music photographer.

It's been a fun ride, but it's far from over! This is just the start.

Share Your Own Concert Photography Story

In the second part of this Q&A piece, I'll put together a few tips for those starting out with concert photography.

In the meantime, whether you're a decade-deep pro or you've just gotten your first photo pass, I'd love to hear about your own journey into music photography.

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon D750:
I use two Nikon D750 for my live music photography. Amazing high ISO performance in a compact body with tons of pro features.
nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 24-70mm f/2.8:
For most gigs, the 24-70mm is my go-to lens. Exceptional image quality at wide apertures and super-functional range.
Nikon-70-200-squareNikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.
nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.
More Gear Recommendations

Help Support www.ishootshows.com

If this article or any other content on www.ishootshows.com was helpful to you, please consider supporting this site and grabbing your next photo gear purchase through one of my affiliate links:

Simply clicking through any product links on this site helps me bring you free content like the photography tips and gear reviews regularly posted on www.ishootshows.com, and naturally it doesn't cost you a cent more. 



There are 86 comments

Add yours
    • Amanda

      Todd! Really inspiring work and words you have here! I have been trying to find my creative side and put it to some good use, but finding the right fit was/has been hard. Just yesterday I picked up a camera that my dad had (which was given to him from a friend) a Dynax 7D, and I went out and took pictures. I did not take many because there wasn’t enough memory on the memory card (didn’t realize that until it was too late) but I had a blast! After taking pictures my friend and I went to a rock concert and I instantly knew I wanted to take a shot at being a music photographer!!! I LOVE CONCERTS! Everything about them from the music to watching the crowd vibe at the same time. I wouldn’t say I love photography because I have literally just started it- but I really enjoyed seeing my pictures have a life of their own. So, with the help of photography classes, your blog, and a lot of happiness and passion- I hope to be an amazing music photographer! Thanks so much for all of your advice! By the way, do you think the camera I have now would work well at concerts?! I do not mind buying a different one if need be, but I know that my dad would be so proud of me if I used his! Thanks again! Best of wishes to you and yours!

  1. Jorge

    Nice! Your story is inspiring for someone as me wo is starting in photography.

    I like rock n roll and I’ve been in shows for years and now I’m starting in concert photography.

    What about the gear? Did you start with modest camera/lens?

    Your photographs are really nice

    • Todd

      Hey Jorge,

      Thanks for the comment. At the first concert I shot, I used the Nikon D70. I left my D2x at home because I didn’t want it to reek of smoke. That policy quickly went out the window, so to speak, and I shot with the D2x almost exclusively before switching to the Nikon D3 in 2008.

      Regarding lenses, I used the Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 with the D2x, along with the Nikon 50/1.4 and 85/1.4. I also shot with the Sigma 30/1.4 at times. You can see the gear I use now in the Gear Guide section: http://ishootshows.com/gear-guide/

  2. Kevin deLeon

    Awesome post Todd.

    It just goes to show that with a lot of practice and hard work, it can be done.

    I think you hit the nail on the head though with the portfolio statement. A solid product and the ability to show it to clients on demand is as essential, if not more, as gear is. I think in this day, with the internet, a portfolio is even more important than gear.

    I have ran into at least a dozen “professionals” with amazing gear that I would die for that either, IMHO, couldn’t shoot their way out of a wet paper bag, or had no way/horrible way of displaying their amazing work.

    • Todd

      Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for the comment on this post, nice to hear from you here.

      Just like a lens or camera, a portfolio is a tool, and it should never be ignored. Better yet, a portfolio can work tireless for the photographer, all the time, 24/7.

  3. JerryFetus

    I’d like to ask how much of a role the internet has played in shaping, developing and furthering your career? :) Like did you start out without much use of the interwebz?

    • Todd8

      Jerry,

      Great quesetion, I’ll expand on this at a later time. I’d say that the internet has been a boon for introducing people – clients and fellow photographers alike – to my work. The ability to show a potential client what you can do with a simple link is a powerful thing indeed.

  4. Jeremy

    This QandA idea is great. My story parallels your own. I started by working for an urban weekly and leveraged those credentials, while making and maintaining relationships with venue managers, bands and band management.I think the key is Tenacity – sticking with it and finding ways to make it happen every day by slowing prying open cracked doors. It takes a while for the returns of that determination to show, but they will. I, too, feel it’s only beginning. Rock on.

    • Todd

      Hey Jeremy,

      Thanks very much for sharing your own story. You’re right, tenacity is really key, and your summary is a great distillation of what it takes.

      Leveraging credentials is really an important aspect, too. On assignment, you shouldn’t be working for the publication, you should be making the publication work for you.

  5. Ryan

    Very interesting article Todd. It’s great to hear about how other photographers started out. Myself, it took some time, in that I had taken my camera along to a few small local shows, and posted a link on a message board one day. A freelance writer saw the images and contacted me, asking me if I wanted to shoot a show with her (Motion City Soundtrack & The Matches), as she had a plus 1.
    Afterwards, she submitted the article to a small startup site, which contacted me about the pictures, and asked me if I would be interested in shooting more shows for them.

    3 years later, I’ve been mainly trying to shoot for my own site, but still take the odd show for that same site, as I am not able to shoot everything on my own.

    I also have to say that I agree 100% about shooting bands unknown to you, as I have gotten some of my better shots from openers and random bands that I had never heard of. I find that when the bands are younger or trying to make their big break, they put a lot into their stage show, and it makes for some very exciting photo opportunities.

    Keep up the good work, Todd.

    • Todd

      Hey Ryan,

      Thanks for the comment, and thanks for sharing your own journey-thus-far as a concert photographer.

      I’d say that overwhelmingly, a lot of my favorite images are of bands that I never listen to in my own sphere of music. I think it’s definitely important to stretch one’s range of subjects – both in genre and the popularity of the bands.

  6. Emon

    Admire your zeal and your generosity in sharing your process. Few people would take the time to do so. So, thank you.

    In my case, I’d gotten into music photography pretty much as a way to add to my guitar blog. I’d started interviewing guitar players, then bands, then went on to shoot their performances to have them accompany my blog posts. Boy was it a huge learning experience for me! Having no schooling in photography, I’d pretty much had to learn on the job, if you will.

    I think a lot of what we end up doing happens by way of chance, but you could also call it destiny. One element of destiny we’re never ready to face – happy accidents!

    May 2009 be your best so far!

  7. Taylor Mahaffey

    My Story:

    I was at a concert in 2007 @ Concrete Street Amphitheatre in Corpus Christi, TX. I was just another fan right up front, viewing the heavy security in the front of the pit and wondering if a job as the security guys would be a good one. None of them see to enjoy themselves and dont bang their heads or dance or ANYTHING. I wondered if I was up front, how the hell would I be able to sit still and not enjoy a great band like Godsmack. Just then WAY up on the stage, in between the high hat and snare drum, was a HUGE black SLR on the end of a photographers hand, who was himself almost sitting on top of the bass drum. He was wrapped in between rack of the drums and the drummer was posing and making wicked faces for the photographer.

    I had to know who this guy was.

    Turns out, he is a local photographer from Corpus Christi, TX named Ash Newell. ( http://www.ashnewell.com )

    I was bewildered as to how this guy got the right to get up on the stage for this show, a very large band with big security. I wanted to be HIM. This was my first view at Concert Photography.

    In late 2008 I bought a DSLR NIKON D90 with a 50mm 1.8 lens, and started out to the local bars shooting all the bands I could. I started a website to upload my photos, and began shooting everything. Mostly Texas Country. Early 2009 I got a call from the same Venue that I saw the crazy photographer on the drumset shooting at. It was the owner. He saw my pictures, and liked them, and now I get unlimited Photo passed to the venue as the House Photographer.

    All in all, I have spent about 4 months shooting shows, and it seems to have paid off, I have some pretty good pictures of KORN and HURT on their websites, and this year holds a LARGE number of headlining Rock shows to this venue where I will have unlimited Access.

    I cant think Ash Newell, Chris Owyoung, and Todd Owyoung enouph for all the pictures they put up for me too look at and get more and more Ideas on pictures and gear. You guys are the best.

    See you in the pit!

    -Taylor

  8. Dan

    :)
    Your first published shots of Radiohead, got my placements than I have gotten total haha!

    I like reading how others have gotten to where they are today.

    As for me, not an exciting story at all

    I covered my first show in 2006 for a local QLD band with the Canon 350D/18-55mm stock lens & looking back now, wow they were bad haha – but the band were happy with them, which is what matters.

    From there I got a 50mm f1.8 & used myspace to get in contact with other local bands performing in the area to get experience in low light conditions & after awhile you get an idea for when a performer is about to peak, you can see what’s coming before it happens which helps your timing 10fold.

    After a few months I joined a webzine & within a month I got my first taste of arena shows alongside the press togs with their 1D’s & Canon L lenses, it was very intimidating as I thought at the time that if I had their gear I would be a better photographer, but looking back now…I have a lot of fav shots taken with just the 350D/50mm setup – this was all I had for at least 1.5-2 years, so I learnt how to get the best out of my tools & make do with what I had.

    Now I shoot for an agency but it is more pap based, so sales are pretty much non existant for me, I do this as a hobby to keep myself sane from all the other stressful things in life.

    My first published piece of work was from an old club show covering From Autumn To Ashes, it was run in Alternative Press (US Mag)

    I love the rush of those 3 songs & I still get butterflys when the lights cut out as the band comes to stage, I think when that stops happening…I’ll find something else to do – but that won’t be anytime soon

  9. Ian Dunn

    I started shooting for a local website http://www.brumlive.com nearly 10 momths ago,and its been a fantastic journey,to be up close and personal with some truley talented artist’s is a dream come true.I’m still learning and i day i stop learning will be the day i put the camera down. Thank you Steve Gerrard for making it happen.

  10. Tom K Clarke

    As ever an awesome post Todd.

    I really fell into concert photography in 2007. I was the music editor for my university magazine, I went to an Incubus gig at the Bournemouth International Centre and when I picked up my tickets there was a photopass there as well but I didnt have a camera with me since upto that point I only ever went along and reviewed gigs never photographed them.

    Couple of days later I was doing an interview with Straylight Run before they played the Portsmouth Pyramids with Motion City Soundtrack this time i brought along a bridge DSLR camera and when the interview had finished i asked there TM if I could get a photopass, he wondered off and 5 minutes later he brought one back. 3 songs infront of the barrier for Zolof, Straylight Run and then Motion City Soundtrack was amazing and I’ve never looked back.

  11. c

    Todd, great Q & A. I’m still waiting for that fortuitous combination of whim and serendipity, miracle and luck to happen myself. In the meantime I shoot, I learn.

    cheers!

  12. jhs

    Todd,

    I finally had a moment to come up for air and like always, I ended up on your site.

    Thanks for sharing your path to rocktography. I always get a kick out of hearing my fellow photographers “how I made it” stories.

    My story follows much the same as yours.. except I started out shooting professionally while I was still in college getting my degree in photography ( this was almost 15 years ago and when film was the standard and digital was just a dream of the future).

    I took studied to do all forms of photography and ended up going more into commercial photography, with freelancing photojournalist on the side. A few years ago a newspaper started sending me in to shoot their concerts, and from that I grew into the place where you are.

    Like always your photos are fantastic. I just finished up shooting Opeth, Ben Folds, Fleetwood Mac, and 311, with the New York Dolls coming up next… I honestly cannot wait for that one.. an Iconic band in rock history .. as always, Keep up the great work!

  13. Olivier

    As many of you, it started with a friend who know a performer. That’s how it started in november 2005. A really good friend of mine asked me if I was interested to come with him to see Anne Clark. I said OK why not. His answer was: Oh by the way, take you camera with you (a D70). I need pictures of that show. It was not really easy as I didn’t concert pics for a really long time (1993 was the last time I think at this moment).

    Then again in 2006 same friend toke me to a festival for the same performer. again, pictures pictures pictures. It was occasionally and not to serious. Did some shows that year but not much.

    Came 2007 with some shows and a big festival here in Belgium called Les Ardentes(was really unexpected). It’s where I told myself: why not continue that way?

    In august my D70 died and I bought a D200. Nice camera but noisy above 800. Continued concert with things like Gravehurst, Laibach, Front 242 (Todd, you should try it, a joy to do!!), And Also The Trees, etc.

    In 2008, I started the year in… february with Hooverphonic and Nada Surf. I really started to make a lot of request. I had something to show and it became more easy. In april a friend and I started http://www.beautiful-noise.be. That’s the site we put our shows/concerts. It’s not a big site but it’s ours :-)

    Like what, in most case it begins with someone who is asking you to take pictures at a show.

    I not a pro, I don’t sell any pictures, I don’t work for a magazine or anything. I just a guy who love music and photography. So, when I can do both, I go for it!

  14. Jeff

    well lets see min started when i had been taking pictures for about 6 months i like you had a nikon d70 and i had a tamron 19-35 a friend contacted me to shoot for his band at a show here where i live. I latter found out that he was opening for the faceless and the tony danza tapdance extravaganza. this really wasnt all that great as i had not found your website yet take in mind this was only in march of 2009.

    i had since then switched to canon and started doing more local shows and thats all i really had done up until last night. Last night i photographed my first major lable bands as in plural. Atreyu Hollywood undead Escape The Fate and the sleeping. Not only was it fun but all the bands requestid pictures to be emailed to them including hollywood records for atreyu.

  15. Anja

    Hey Todd!

    your story is awesome!!!

    I miss something tough, the VERY beginning.
    What was up with your studies? were you allready done with the uni when you started out? or did you do it paralell to shooting?

    I`m asking because I want to study Visual Communications, in an english speaking country, I`m from sweden but moved to Germany a year ago, where I discovered my big passion for shooting live shows.
    Could you maybe share some info about where the best place would be to study VC? I´d be very grateful!

    keep up the awesomeness

    -Anja

  16. Wendy

    Hi Todd,

    I’ve been following your site for quite some time now. I studied photography in college and have been working as a retoucher since graduating in 2004. Lately I’ve been getting the itch to get back into my own shooting after spending many years focusing on the photography of others. When I first picked up a camera at age 12, it was concert photography that I dreamed of doing. Fast forward to over a decade later, I finally have the gumption to take the bull by the horns and follow that dream.

    So far I have shot two bands (1 headliner and their support act). I received the credentials through the manager who was nice enough to give me the pass out of the kindness of his heart. As I read through your Q&A, I realize he is a rare case. But I am anxious to keep the ball rolling and wondering where to go from here. I’m looking forward to reading part 2 of your “getting started” series.

    Keep up the good work!

    Best,
    Wendy

  17. Liana

    Hi Todd! I just have to tell you that your website is exactly what I’ve been looking for: the inside info on and journey of a young working concert photographer. Your site is truly awesome and inspiring. As for my own story, it’s still a work in progress really.

    I always took my camera to shows in middle school and high school, but it was more for memories than trying to get good images. In high school I took a Mass Media class and had a very interesting and mentally-stimulating teacher who was always pushing me to go further. He basically gave me my first assignment, to shoot some bands that were playing in the courtyard of my school. After that I was hooked and I knew this was something I wanted to do as more than a hobby. In college I joined the school newspaper and shot an all day music festival that landed me the cover of our paper. Then after college I discovered a small local music paper that was geared towards young adults and joined up with them. I’ve been freelancing for them almost two years now and I often write articles as well. I’ve shot some big shows like Green Day, No Doubt, Harvest of Hope Fest; as well as smaller ones which I sometimes prefer. This year I was an official photographer for Harvest of Hope Fest and I’m looking to shoot for other papers now that I’ve amassed a nice collection of images for my portfolio.

  18. Brandon

    Hey Todd,

    Looks like I am about a year late on this conversation. I just read your article, as I have a new-found interest in live music photography. Really great article. It was great to read about your beginnings and be able to relate – I just contacted the editor of a local music publication a few days ago about shooting for his magazine.

    Your work is an inspiration!

  19. Dan Savinelli

    Todd,
    Just want to start off by saying I LOVE YOUR WORK. Your shots are beautiful. I have been very lucky to have a friend who is a local promoter who has had some pretty cool shows. Not any bands super huge; still a great opportunity. Some of the photos have generated interest among the bands. Which is great. But here is the problem. No matter how good or great the photos are, everyone expects you to give them for free. I do not get it, or what to do. The worst part is the band and their management groups look at you like you have six heads when you don’t. What do I do, How much should you charge? I feel like Im trying to work in a industry where your expected to give everything away for free.
    The other question I have is how do you get to sell photos of bands like Aerosmith? They actually give you model releases? I tried to get one band to give me model releases for the photos. Of course they do not want anybody making money off their pics but them. HELP… I know I may be asking to much, I just do not understand how this works, but I know I cannot pay bills and buy equipment with photo credits.

    Thanks, Dan

  20. Arseny

    We spoke over email a few months back, and your feedback tipped the boat for me..
    Although, I haven’t switched to the d3 as of yet, the upgrade to d700 from d300s was a huge leap. Thank you for the inspiration, and for your open mind.

  21. Earl

    Hi Todd. I recently shot a show and a local magazine wants to publish one of my images. I sent them a link to my website where they were able to view them, but I am unsure of how I should go about sending them a copy. Should I enable right-click save on my website? Should I email them the file that they request? If you could explain the technical side of selling your images to publishers that would be great. Thanks.

  22. Harald O.

    My journey as a METAL photographer (part #2) or “How I washed dishes for Metallica !!” by Harald O.

    WOW !! Yer site is outta site dude !! I totally wish I had a cool informative resource for advice when I first started !!

    I eventually got to know the guys in Metallica pretty well..Hanging out with them here in the SF bay area (Placement & timing are crucial !! ) I was also very fortunate to shoot a buncha real dramatic shots of original bassist Cliff Burton ….who of course was tragically killed in a bus accident in Sweden !! I also was fortunate enuff to interview him ..( he seldom did interviews…) I also got to know his parents & family pretty well who really appreciated all the photos I had taken of Cliff..Especially considering the tragedy of his passing !!
    The Metallidudes eventually used a buncha my pix on there Cliff em’ All Home Video (which was a thrill to see my name on the credits on a TV screen !)
    As Metallica got bigger & bigger… I started seeing less of them hanging out at other bands gigs..One of the coolest parts of living here in The SF BAY AREA was being able to shoot all the bands hanging out together offstage !! This is where I was able to really excel at…
    A coupla cool examples: SLAYER meeting METALLICA for the first time after a buncha mud-slinging back & forth between the groups in the press !! Getting the photos back & noticing some subliminal schism in the shots ..that i didn’t notice when I took em’ originally !! Megadeth’s first few shows EVER featuring an upcoming guitarist named Kerry KING from a rival band called SLAYER who was playing double duty for a while !!
    These shots of Kerry & Dave Mustaine ended up being majorly historic when both Megadeth & Slayer became HUGE !!

    Over the years I’ve kept in touch with the bands & I’ve ended up making a pretty healthy supplemental income w/ Metallica refering me to Video Documentary makers..writers.. & anyone needing Classic Vintage shots of da boys !! (Plus they ended up using a buncha my pix for their websites,fanclub mags & official publications !!)

    Then it happened !! OMFG !! I got a phone call from the head of Metallica’s Fan Club saying the band wanted to fly me & 150 or so of their old pals to Cleveland for a Private Roast party followed by their induction to the RNR Hall of fame !! I couldn’t believe it !! They paid for everything & put us all up in a killer hotel !! This ended up being the funnest ..most exciting thing I EVER did !! I got to meet Jimmy Page & Joe Perry (who were both really cool & friendly !!) The only problem was a total maniacal fotographer named Ross Halfin who was there to cover the event…I was one of the only other people there who were allowed to shoot the party authorized by their management !! Ross Halfin saw me attempting to shoot some pix of James talking to Jimmy Page & had the nerve to actually block my camera with his hand and yell “NO !” to me !! Who the F did he think he was ?? I had permission to snap some shots too !! Of course he wanted the exclusive w/Pagey meeting Metallica !! He has always been a rude complaining little snob to me over the years ..But I persevered & continued to snap shots as he frantically tried to block my camera while taking some himself !!
    I wasn’t about to let that jerk ruin the best weekend of my LIFE !!
    Anyway the shots I got came out killer & the next night was spectacular too
    (You know this cause you shot it !!)
    Fast forward a coupla years & I get a publishing deal for a huge Coffee Table size photo book of all my shots to be released late next year !!
    This book thang is a dream come true for me !!!
    The moral of the story is ..you never know whose gonna become huge or fade into obscurity so diversify & shoot as many bands as possible !!

    Thanks fer laetting me vent & share my story with yer readers Todd !!
    Sincerely,Harald Oimoen !!

    • Todd

      Hey Harald,

      Thank you very much for sharing your journey as a metal photographer and musician, Harald. Really enjoyed reading about your experiences, they’re a great bit of perspective for some of us who are just starting out.

      Very cool about Metallica remembering you over the years and referring folks to you for classic images, not to mention inviting you out to Cleveland for the Rock Hall gig! I had to laugh about the whole Halfin bit. I feel like getting the evil eye from Ross must be a merit badge for rock photography.

      Would love to check out that coffee table book when it’s out – is there anywhere else we can see your work in the meantime?

      Thanks again for writing and sharing your story, Harald – going to tell everyone to check out your comments.

      • Harald O.

        Hey Todd !! Thanx fer the swift reply..What a great forum for aspiring concert photogs !! I gotta buncha my pix up on facebook !! Here’s the address !!
        facebook.com/haraldoimoen
        Thanks again for all you do !!
        You are very cool to be so generous w/ yer free time like this !!!
        Sincerely,Harald O.

      • Harald O.

        Hey Todd !! I just discovered the coolest most hilarious thing EVER !!
        Remember my post about how much of a jerk Ross Halfin was @ the RR Hof in Cleveland ???
        Well I was so disgusted by his behavior that I decided to let him know exactly how I felt by sending him a brutally derogatory email !!
        Well ..Safe to say I never heard back from him…
        However I picked up his new Metalliphotobook “The Ultimate Metallica” which came out a few months ago…& there it was !!
        My letter was on the very last page of the book entitled
        “a personal letter from a fan ”
        The only thing that was missing was my name & email address which he had scratched out with a pen !!
        Can you believe it ?? He was actually proud that he had been such an asshole !!!
        Anyway the book thing is proceeding well & I finally have a working title (Murder in the Front Row) & it should be out before the end of the year !!
        Cheers & thanks..I thought you might getta kick outta this !!

        • Todd

          Hey Harald,

          Nice to hear from you. That’s a hilarious story – and actually, I’m almost unsurprised. Kind of cool, even.

          I haven’t checked out the photo book yet – though I’d love to see the letter you wrote to him as much as the photos.

          Good luck with you book and please keep me posted.

          • Harald O.

            HEY TODD !! I JUST FINISHED PUTTING MY BOOK …”MURDER IN THR FRONT ROW” TOGETHER & IT CAME OUT AWESOME !!! IT WILL BE AVAILABLE DEC 13TH 2011 FROM BAZILLION POINTS PUBLISHING !! THE PREORDERS ON AMAZON HAVE BEEN AMAZING !! THANKS FOR ALL YER ENCOURAGEMENT !! CHEERS,HARALD O.

    • Jeff

      Hi Harald Oimoen;
      I thoroughly enjoyed your story of eventually meeting Metallica & the opportunity at the RR Hall of Fame. I am working on my own very similiar photography interests that Todd & his brother Chris have developed.
      I would love to hear more of these stories. How can we exchange contact info to correspond?

      BTW, a friend of mine,Joey Z of Life of Agony, is very good friends with Metalica’s lead guitarists Kirk Hammett. I see him frequently as the Method of Groove studio in Brooklyn, NY.

      Jeff

  23. Sydney Hohenstein

    Great post, it gives me hope for my own endeavors. I’ve grown up with the dream of being a photographer and in the past few years, I decided music photography is my goal. My step dad runs a recording studio in Lake Stevens, WA and I’ve had the chance to photograph the bands that come through to record and I’ve had such a blast. I think it’d be the ULTIMATELY greatest job to work as you do. The only problem is I don’t know where to begin- who to contact, what gear to get, blah blah blah.. So I’m stuck in school with a dream without a solid plan. But your post gives me hope!

  24. Daryll Willoughby

    Hey Todd,

    I stumble upon you while reading a digital photo magazine. I got my camera as a birthday gift two and half years ago. I had some friends who use to shoot in clubs and parties etc. They invited me out a few times to get practice using my camera because I had no idea how to use it. From the time I took the first photo I never stopped. Concert photography is a niche market they is not much people doing it professionally do it here in Barbados but I have risen to the challenge of be the best so far.I create a company called IN AH FRENZY. I have shot concert for two years with a kit lens it has been a task because I could afford to get a better one. It never stop me. I have photo of some of the biggest celebrities in the world nevertheless. Example Justin Beiber, Rihanna, Baby Face, Robin Thicke, Rick Ross and much more. Finding your website and the information contained it will definitely take to the next level. One day I will love to shoot a rock band.

    http://Www.facebook.com/inahfrenzyworld (page)
    http://Www.facebook.com/ (profile)
    http://www.inahfrenzyworld.com
    http://Www.twitter.com/inahfrenzy

    Thank You
    Daryll Willoughby
    In Ah Frenzy

  25. Arseny

    One thing Todd needs to touch on here, though, is the legal aspect..

    I was recently involved in a legal issue with one of the local bands.. Luckily, my attorney was there for me, and shut the clowns up, but.. Contracts seem to be a very important piece of shooting any live performance.

  26. Rachael

    I managed to get a press pass to a music festival this summer and it will be my first time photographing concerts. I love how you capture the music. I am super nervous because I’m a highschool student and don’t have the experience that the other photographers will. I don’t want to come off as if I have no clue what I’m doing. Your site has helped a bunch, but if you have any pointers please let me know.

  27. Keith Doyle

    I started off with a huge interest in music itself, I had been to many concerts as a fan never thinking of shooting them!My girlfriend bought me my first camera at the age of 22 and I photographed everything I could, mostly focusing on landscapes. Once I was comfortable with the camera and using it, I started to ask some bands if i could photograph them, once I got a yes, I was in a very dark and smokey bar filled with drunk people dancing (obviously,no barrier);-). I then started to photograph tribute bands in theatres and enjoyed this very much. I slowly started to get noticed and eventually got asked to shoot for a publication. Thats when the photopasses started coming, my portfolio now consists of artists such as Kings Of Leon, Tony Christie, Janet Jackson, Elton John, Ice Cube and Naughty By Nature. I have also photographed some music festivals and I will not be sowing down any time soon!

  28. Lance Puckett

    Hey Todd

    Im doing an outdoor band shoot for my buddies band tomorrow and was googling outdoor band pic tips, when I stumbled upon your site. My passion for photography continues to grow each day and its sites like these that give me inspiration. I love how you talk about each of your shoots and how much you give back to the photography community. I have been on the site for maybe ten minutes now and am just completely blown away by how incredibly helpful it is. I also share your passion for music and would love to make it apart of my journey as a photographer. Thank you so much for all of the tips you give on this site, it truly mean a lot to me. It speaks volumes that you get back on your pages and comment back on other peoples posts. I really admire your work and hope that one day I will be able to produce the level of quality that you consistently produce. You are truly blessed as a photographer. Keep up the great work and thanks again for all the advice on this site. Consider yourself bookmarked lol ha ha

  29. lie zahariman

    hi, i got my first break last year shooting for local underground gigs.Apart from taking photos, i also love to write. This year, my luck is getting better. I got a job as a journalist for a rock and metal magazine in Malaysia called KARISMA. This coming November will be my first major concert as i got an assignment to write/review and shot photos for a well known heavy metal band from Finland, Children Of Bodom in Jakarta, Indonesia. My second assignment would be this December,also in Jakarta. Its like a dream come true for me. I got a chance to interview and shoot photos for a legendary thrash metal band, Anthrax. I got the all access passes for both of this concerts. \m/

  30. Karla Reina

    Todd,
    I am currently in the process of applying for SXSW in Austin. I am a Senior Photocommunications major at St. Edward’s University. I have photographed many concerts but never gotten a legit pass. If I get the SXSW gig I might be able to get a platinum badge which is just under all access!! =) Music is a passion of mine as well photography. But being that I am living in the Live Music Capital of the World (Austin,TX), it is difficult to stand out and be noticed. Any suggestions on how to establish myself in this concentrated live music city? Also will you be attending the SXSW festival in the Spring?? If so, it would be an honor to meet you.
    Thank you for your time.

    The facebook page is updated more frequently than the wix page. (fyi)

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Karla-Reina-Photography/199015779280

  31. Hannah

    Wow. Amazing story. Certainly the most informative piece I’ve read about how to approach breaking into ‘the business’. Certainly inspiring. I’m still in the process of what I can only describe as ‘building my portfolio’ through a fan attendance at shows with my Nikon P90 or Panasonic TZ20. Can only dream of getting my Canon 40d into a gig at the moment.

    I certainly long for the day (if ever) when I get a phonecall saying “so and so” wants you to shoot them”. A girl can dream right? ;)

    Thanks for sharing your story. :)

    ~Hannah

  32. Arin

    Hey Todd-
    I came across your site when I was looking for some more insight into which lenses to get since I have decided to get one with some graduation money. I have been shooting shows with a photo pass for a little over a year now and my story is somewhat similar to yours! I had been running my website, ateenview.com, since the fall of 2009 and after going to a bunch of shows and interviewing bands, I decided I might as well bring a DSLR along and start taking photos. When I realized how much fun it was to be in the pit (Railroad Revival Tour in April 2011 was my first) I made sure to always ask for a photo pass. I can happily say that within the past year I have shot the likes of Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Gavin DeGraw, OneRepublic and more just to name a few. I think the advice you have on this site is incredible and super helpful for a young photographer like me! I get good shots but I know there is always room to learn :) Congrats on all your success so far!

    Arin

  33. Cara

    This is so weird. Came across your site in a how to become a concert photographer search. I just shot the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in Fredericton, New Brunswick with my very first media pass. (I’m the photo editor for my university’s student paper) One of the shows I covered during this: The Avett Brothers!

  34. Kasey

    2 Questions for you Todd – or anyone who wants to answer:

    1) I’ve been approached about a gallery opening, and with that comes a deal to get my work published in a book – do I need to back track all my shows and get model releases just to go forward with this book??? I’ve covered a lot of bands, and wanted to showcase a lot of my best work.

    2) I want to start my own publication so I have more freedom with photographing who I want to photograph – Do I need to do this, or is there another way to request coverage (since I have established myself with a lot of these big name clients) ??? – I just still feel weird about asking to shoot if its not for someone else. Do you still shoot for a publication, or is there a way to communicate with your contacts you just want to shoot and not get turned down after shooting for them many many times in the past??

    Thank!

  35. Brian

    I’ve decided to take my photography hobby to the next level and stumbled into your site. My main focus is going to be concert photography. Thanks for the advice you have given here. I’m trying to learn as much about this area as I can so I’m not spinning my wheels.

    I currently own a Canon 7D with a 28-55mm 2.8 lens, but getting that into a show without a photo pass is going to prove a challenge. I’m thinking about investing in a Sony RX100 and going with general admission seating or pits whenever I can just to be able to get a very good low-light pocket camera into shows to start getting a portfolio together.

  36. Rilee

    Hey Todd! Do you tour with bands? I’m a junior in high school and I plan on going to college for videography and photography and realized, while at a Twenty One Pilots concert that it would be awesome to be on stage with them or just right up front documenting their every move. I put two and two together; I love music and the visual arts so why not do that? Any advice would be great! I don’t really know how to become into the business; do you approach a music company or vise versa?
    Thank you!

  37. Heaven Leigh.

    Hey Todd. I was wondering if a Canon T3I is a good camera for music photography. Especially in low lighting and everything

  38. Orlando

    Hey Todd,

    Not sure if your gonna read this since the blog post is pretty old. But after reading your article which is very inspiring, I decided to give music photography a shot since I love photography and music. So I landed my first photo pass at a moderate venue here in Pasadena CA. In you article you said you got in touch with a local publicist in order spread you name.

    My question is, what do you say or ask when writing to the publicist?

    This is my 1st concert with a photo pass, so I don’t have a portfolio of concert images.

    Hope to hear from you back Todd,
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  39. Mandy C

    Hey there, Tod!

    I am considering getting into concert photography in the future.
    I have been to many concerts over the years, and love photography and music above almost all other things. I’m beginning to realize that the combination of the two makes me really happy.
    I have taken quite a few shots that I am very proud of. Ones that I took as a fan in the audience, usually front row, at these shows.
    But I was wondering, can those photos can be included in a future portfolio?
    Would they count, even if they were taken as a fan in the audience, with a camera? And not a photographer that was hired or given a photo pass?
    I was also wondering how to go about getting photo passes for shows in general. Is it always the band or artists’ manager that you have to contact and get approval from? And how do you even find out their contact information? Google searches?

    It would mean a lot to me to have you answer my questions!!!
    I tried chatting with an acquaintance about this stuff, who is just starting out in the business, but she wasn’t willing to share anything with me (I believe she sees me as competition).

  40. Shanna Franke

    Hey Todd!

    I really wanna get in the concert photography scene and I’ve been enrolled in digital media classes at a tech school instead of taking electives in my high school. My friend has been playing some local shows and I’ve been shooting for him and his band to try and get some pictures for their page. I realized at their show how much I love the energy of taking photos for them and listening to music while I do what I love. Other bands that were playing wanted me to shoot for them but I don’t know how to get everything started except for helping them out at their shows. >.<

  41. Bella Tazare

    I’ve recently started getting into photography over the past year and now into the new year, with this weekend being my first proper gig to shoot at. I started getting interested in photography early last and decided to take a photography A-level course in order to help me improve my work and to get access to PhotoShop, something which I couldn’t afford for myself. Over the past year I have shot on a small digital camera at shows to try and entertain my love of concert photography but with the recent purchase of a bridge camera and a handed down DSLR camera along with the new knowledge of teshniques, I am now fully prepared for shooting properly at gigs. My first concerts to work at will be a few local bands, some whose members I know personally. I’m hoping to build on this and eventually be able to do this for a career.

  42. sjoester92

    Hey Todd! I just came across this site and instantly fell in love! You’re reviews and tips are awesome and extremely helpful.

    I’m kind of still a beginner in my career, but I was given a great opportunity to be a photographer for a couple of radio stations. My goal is to be a tour photographer or a venue photographer.

    What basic steps should I follow? I have no idea where to look for those type of jobs just to see the qualifications because I feel like they’re never posted online. Do I just “pitch” myself to certain people?

    Any feedback would be amazing.

    Thanks –

    Shannen

  43. sjoester92

    Hey Todd~

    I just came across your site and instantly fell in love. Your tips and reviews are amazing and extremely helpful.

    I’m still a beginner photographer, but I’ve been given a great opportunity to photograph events and concerts for a few radio stations. My overall goal would to become a tour photographer or a venue photographer for concerts. I guess what I’m trying to ask is what are my steps?

    I never see those types of jobs posted anywhere, so where should I look? I just want to see qualifications necessary or even the current photographers’ work, so I have an idea in my head.

    Sorry if this comment posts twice, but my server failed the first time. Any feedback would be GREATLY appreciated.

    Keep on rocking!

  44. Roberto Olivan

    hi there i just started two years ago as a nightclub photographer, siince then i’ve been in concerts more for the hispanic market doesnt matter what type of event you do

    practice,practice understand your equipment and then have a good composition or lets say it “frame it good”

  45. Tom Ellis-Harding (@hd_ng)

    Good article and certainly eye-opening.

    I’ve recently passed the 30 mark and I’m beginning to wonder if now’s the time to think about a career change. I’m not getting any younger and the daunting thought of being old and regretful about not finding a true passion is scary.

    I have 3 career dreams – getting a career in music, travelling the world and getting paid to take pictures, which would mean a career similar to this would be perfect for me!

    “As it turned out, the music was great and I had a blast photographing the concert. In hindsight, it was the natural combination of two lifelong passions; music and visual art.” – That resonated with me and I feel the exact same way.

    Anyway, this is just a passing comment to say thanks for helping me, this is certainly another tick in the “yes” column.


Join in the Discussion