Frequently Asked Questions
Hi all. In response to all the questions I receive, I thought I’d put together a little FAQ that may help answer some of the recurring inquiries I get. I really hope this helps.
Frequently Asked Questions:
- How did you get into photography?
- How did you get started photographing concerts?
- Do you have any advice on starting out and becoming established?
- How do you set up photo passes with bands? Who do you contact?
- Your shots are really clear, do you ever use flash?
- What camera equipment do you use?
- What camera settings (AF, WB, ISO, etc) do you use?
- Can you recommend good lenses for concert photography?
- Do you shoot RAW or JPG?
- What photo editing software do you use?
- Do you think you can give me some advice?
I’ve always been visually inclined and drew constantly as a kid. Around my first year at university, I decided that a camera was a good tool for an artist to have, so I saved to buy a manual focus film camera. I enjoyed driving a manual transmission car, so I assumed that I’d prefer a manual camera to one with autofocus. Nikon had just released the Nikon FM3a around this time, which I bought as my first camera.
The first show I shot was in 2006 at a small club with about a one-foot stage and what felt like likek about four stage lights. I had a friend who was going to see the bands BR-549 and the Avett Brothers. I wasn’t familiar with either bands at the time, so, on a whim, I brought my Nikon D70 and 50mm f/1.4. I figured that if I didn’t like the music, I could always entertain myself with photography. As it turned out, the bands were fantastic and I loved shooting them.While I had a Nikon D2x at the time, I brought the lowly D70 because I didn’t want the D2x to reek of cigarette smoke. Naturally this aversion to bringing expensive camera gear to smoky dives went out the window immediately.A week later, I had tickets to see Andrew Bird. Emboldened by the thrill of that first gig, I decided to contact Andrew Bird’s publicist about photographing the show. Even though I wasn’t shooting for any publication, she was nice enough to set up credentials, which I think I was very luck with. After that first photo pass, I was hooked.
My best advice would be to start out shooting in smaller venues that don’t have a restriction on cameras. These camera-friendly venues might be bars or small clubs – anywhere that has live music is an opportunity for practice and image making.
In addition to being able to bring your camera and shoot without being hassled at these smaller shows, in most instances you’ll be able to photograph the entire performance, which will increase your chances of producing compelling images.
Moreover, I’d recommend digging into a music scene that you love, but also being open to photographing a variety of bands as well. Diversifying your work will show range and the ability to work with different types of musicians.
After building up a collection of work, put together a portfolio and approach publications as a contributing photographer. Contact local magazines, newspapers, blogs, and websites – anything editorial source that covers music in your area. Having a publication backing you is the single best way to secure credentials for concerts, and to graduate to larger bands and bigger venues.
When shooting on assignment, one’s editor at the publication generally sets up photo credentials.
However, if I’m requesting credentials on my own, the band’s publicist is usually my main contact. Depending on the size of the band, the manager or band members themselves may be able to set you up, but a publicist usually handles the list.
Alternatively, in some markets, promoters may control the guestlisting and be able to set you up with the appropriate credentials.
For many of the gigs I shoot, I work exclusively with the stage lighting of the event, for a couple of reasons. First, flash is very rarely allowed. Second, I usually prefer to use the available light to capture the look and feel of the concert as closely as possible. Fast lenses, proper technique, and good timing go a long way toward producing crisp shots, even in low light.
That said, I do use flash when the opportunity and situation lend themselves to it. For larger tours with their own dedicated lighting rigs, flash is often unnecessary. For other situations, flash can be a great asset for creating dynamic images in what might otherwise be flat lighting.
At the end of the day, it’s only gear. I happen to shoot with Nikon at the moment, but I’m interested in results, not brands. Both Nikon and Canon make great pieces of kit.
If you’re curious about the tools I use, check out my Gear Guide for a list of the gear I use and my thoughts on the role each piece serves. I’ve also included some general recommendations on camera equipment for concert photography.
I use continuous mode (AF-C) most of the time, occasionally changing to single mode (AF-S) if continuous mode is not appropriate for the lighting or subject. I use single-point focusing.
I use auto WB most of the time. Happily with my D3 and D700, I find this modus operandi is quite accurate most of the time, and shooting RAW, I can always make minor tweaks if the WB as-shot isn’t appropriate. Very rarely will I pre-set WB.
Really, I keep most of my settings pretty stock, with the default sharpening, color, contrast, etc.
I personally use the following gear:
- Nikon D3
- Nikon D700
- Nikon 50mm f/1.4
- Nikon 85mm f/1.4
- Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8
- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
- Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
For other thoughts on lenses suitable for shooting live music photography, please see my article on Choosing Lenses for Concert Photography. Also, check out the Gear Guide , which details all the gear that I use and endorse for shooting shows.
For those on a budget, here’s a quick list of popular and affordable lenses that are popular choices for live music shooting:
I shoot exclusively in RAW with my cameras for the greatest flexibility and quality of the final files.
- Adobe Photoshop CS5
- Adobe Lightroom 3
- Photo Mechanic
If neither this page nor the Gear Guide answered your questions, try doing a search on the topic you’re trying to get more info about. Unfortunately I’m not able to reply to all individual emails and try to share as much as I can here on www.ishootshows.com for the maximum benefit. Thanks very much.