Pre-show Concert Photography Checklist


Preparing can mean the difference between a successful concert photography shoot and having a big steaming pile of underexposed JPGs. Beyond just making sure you have your earplugs and have your cards formatted, here's a run-down of what to do before every live music shoot.

Confirm Your Credentials

Many publicists will ask you to follow up the day before or the day-of a show, as that's often when final media lists are confirmed. If you don't hear back from the publicist with a final confirmation, just double-check to make sure you are set for a photo pass and/or ticket for the show.

Furthermore, make sure you have a copy of the confirmation email easily accessible, either on your phone or printed out. Media lists might be changing up until doors at the show and mistakes can happen. If your name isn't on the list, having the confirmation for credentials is critical.

Get an On-Site Contact 

Many times, the publicist or other confirming party will give you the number of someone on-site, but if they don't, request one in case you run into an issue at the venue. Often, you'll be given the tour manager's phone number, who can sort out any access issues. Between a copy of the pass confirmation and having an on-site contact, you'll be set in case you run into any snags picking up your credentials.

Research the show

If you can, it's always helpful to do research before a concert, both to see what the production and live performance is like, as well as to see what images other photographers have already made from the tour. Searching YouTube for fan videos of the show will give you an idea of the lighting, setup of the band, and perhaps give you performance or blocking cues that you will want to capture. Similarly, by viewing images from other music photographers who have covered the tour, you can get an idea of what has been done and what opportunities you can see to bring something unique in your images.

A few minutes of research will tell you whether you should be packing primes or zooms, and it can give you an edge in knowing how you can make your images stand out with a good plan of attack.

Check Your Gear

Before the show, check your gear. Here's a basic checklist for what to check on your cameras and lenses before heading out to the show.

  • Confirm all images are downloaded from cards
  • Format memory cards
  • Check battery levels and recharge as needed
  • Clean lenses
  • Clean sensor
  • Check proper function (autofocus, read/write of cards, etc)

These are all very simple procedures, but they only take a few minutes. Having all your gear in order (or identifying problems early on) just might save your shoot.

Camera Settings

Checking your preferred camera settings is must-do that is worth mentioning in it's own section. This is particularly for file type, confirming you're shooting in RAW instead of JPG, as well as autofocus mode (continuous AF instead of single AF, mode), and making sure VR/IS is activated if you need it. Double-check all your critical camera settings and you'll be good to go in the pit.

Got Earplugs?

Are your earplugs in your bag? Double check. For me this is as essential has having memory cards and fresh batteries.

I like the Hearos Ultimate Softness earplugs or the Etymotic Research ER20 earplugs. I like the Hearos for comfort and the Etymotic Research for ease of use (especially if you have to take out earplugs and re-insert them frequently, such as at a festival).

End Notes

This is my basic pre-show checklist. Some of these things, such as confirming your camera settings, are things that you can do in the photo pit or at the venue while waiting for the show to start. Did I miss anything? Hit me up in the comments or on Twitter.

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.
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There are 6 comments

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  1. Daf

    – Make sure you have someone’s phone number in case something does go wrong with the list.
    – If likely to be shooting from the sound desk or further – consider a monopod if allowed

  2. 3songsbonnJohn

    Would also add taking a lanyard. I’ve lost count of the shows where I had a non-sticking photo pass falling off my jacket all evening. Also, once at the venue, check where you need to be to get access to the photo pit and if possible say hello to the security so they know you are a legit photographer when the pit opens and things can get crazy.

  3. Lewis Berghoff

    Thanks, Todd for sharing so much here. Your work and this fantastic site have been a great inspiration and resource. I am an aspiring music photographer and have been shooting local small venues as a freelance for just a couple weeks, now. The tip on using YouTube video to scout out a loc and band is something I have done to good effect. Facebook has been a great source, too.

    Some may laugh at this question, but I wondered if you have used knee pads during a shoot? Maybe because I am shooting such small venues like dive bars I find myself often going to the ground for a shot or to stay clear of fans, but I am thinking some padding on the knees might be nice.

    I just bought a large mixng bowl to try my hand at a Chinatown Special beauty dish. I want to adopt your design toward use with some old Novatron studio strobes I have. Should be fun!

    Thanks again,

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