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How To Be A Rock Photographer

If you want to get into concert photography, you’ll need to know quite a lot from camera settings to how to handle low light conditions in post-production.

That’s why we’ve written this guide to concert photography, it’s enough to get you started and ensure that your concert photos turn out well in most circumstances.

Guide To Concert Photography: How To Get Shooting At Concerts

If all you want to do is take pictures of your local pub band then you don’t need much to get started – just permission from the venue and/or the band.

And, in fact, the best way to get started is to shoot small, shows in your locality. Call venues when you see ads for gigs and ask them if they need a photographer.

One thing we love about shooting these gigs is that you can really push the envelope as to how you shoot and capture images that you would never be able to in bigger, more tightly controlled venues.

You can use your concert photography gained in this way to improve your chances of getting bigger gigs too.

Try For A Photo Pass

For larger shows, the venue tends to have very little to do with the choice of the photographer – you need to track down the publicist or booking agent and see if they will give you a music photography pass for the gig.

This will make it easy to take your gear into the venue (venues often prohibit camera gear beyond basic smartphones if you don’t have a pass) and into the photo pit to take your shots.

It can help to have your own blog or to be affiliated with a publication when hunting for photo passes – as the publicist is going to want publicity in return for letting you work through our guide to concert photography.

Network With Publications

If you want to make money from music photography then you need to master working with publishing outlets.

Talk to magazines, newspapers, and any other publication that you think might be in the market for concert photos and see if you can get some gigs as a freelance concert photographer and start getting paid.

You can also start your own blog to showcase your photography to potential buyers.

What Gear Do You Need For Concert Photography?

You don’t need a lot of gear to photograph concerts but you do need some and it needs, ideally, to perform well in low light.

We’d opt for:

  • A mirrorless camera – sure, you could opt for a DSLR but they’re bigger and heavier and you have to carry that camera all night long (something that most beginners guide advice seems to skip over) and that can get tedious. Nikon, Canon, Fujifilm, Panasonic, Olympus, and if you have the money, Leica all make great cameras that concert photographers can use.
  • A fast lens – a lot of photographers will opt for the 24-70mm F 2.8 and 70mm-200mm F 2.8 lenses which give them a wide range of focal lengths and the F 2.8 aperture is fast enough to handle low light. However, you might also consider a prime lens or two (50mm and 135mm might work) with a faster aperture which will let you use lower ISO and up shutter speed when shooting.
  • Spare batteries – you want to be able to take photos and for that you need power.
  • Flash – you won’t be allowed to use flash at every gig but if you can? It makes a huge difference to the images your camera and lens can create for you.

If you don’t have a huge budget, then you should look at buying secondhand equipment. And as every beginners guide says, you should prioritize the quality of your lens over the quality of the camera body. You will replace a camera every 2-3 years anyway, whereas a good lens can see you through your entire photography career!

How Do You Shoot Concerts (Shutter Speed and More)

OK now, it’s time to look at the nuts and bolts of shooting concerts.

Manual Shooting

Let’s start with camera settings – you want, ideally, to work in manual mode where you can control all the camera settings that you use but if that’s beyond your skill level, for now, opt for aperture priority and brush up your skills at a later date.

It’s worth noting that top music photojournalists tend to work in manual only because it gives them the opportunity to adjust settings on the fly and ensure that their aperture, ISO and shutter speed deliver the best results.

Aperture Open Wide

Then, open up your aperture as wide as it can go – well, unless you’re shooting with some insanely fast manual lens (F1.0 or less) then aim for about F1.8. This lets plenty of light into the sensor to deliver great photos – just watch out for over-exposure when you’re shooting under stage lighting and adjust this setting as you need on the fly.

And don’t forget, your aperture also controls your depth of field (how much of what’s in view is in focus), and sometimes, you’ll need to close up the aperture a little to get a greater depth of field.

Fast Shutter Speed

When it comes to the shutter, you want to opt for the fastest shutter speed you can get away with – 1/250th or faster.

This is because it will help you to freeze motion in your photos. That means your photography will reflect the energy and dynamism of the performers on the stage. Of course, sometimes, you will want to tweak your shutter settings in the camera to opt for a bit of motion blur (because it looks great when used sparingly) but then you want to make sure your shutter is fast again. Otherwise, all your shots will be blurred and you don’t want that.

Go With The Highest ISO You Can Get Away With

Only you can decide how much grain is “acceptable” in your images but many mirrorless cameras can easily be pushed to 3200 ISO and sometimes even 6400 ISO without compromising the photos that they take.

A high ISO ensures that your images are well lit and that you can be as flexible as possible with your other settings as you shoot.

Don’t forget you can always dial down the grain in Lightroom or Photoshop when the music is over but if your exposure is too far under? You will have no details to bring back into the shot.

It’s also worth noting – if your images are going to be black and white, you can get away with more grain than you can in color.

Use The Spot Meter

Spot metering makes it easy for you to get your exposure correct, it will be a built-in function on any digital camera – learn the settings related to spot metering and then put them into practice.

You’ll get far fewer underexposed faces when you do.

Flash Or Not?

Most indoor venues don’t allow you to create your own light as you shoot, but if they do you can use flash but do so sparingly. Don’t forget that it can distract performers and annoy the audience.


Ideally, you shoot both but if you have to choose between RAW and JPEG outputs – choose RAW.

RAW files contain much more information and if you want to edit your photos after the music has finished – it’s much easier with RAW files.

Developing Your Concert Photography Portfolio

If you want this kind of photography to lead to a career – then you need to develop a photography portfolio.

This doesn’t need to be complicated.

You can:

  • Start a portfolio website (Squarespace is a popular choice with photographers because it requires no web design or programming knowledge) and showcase your best work.
  • Always include high-quality images – that is the best of the best you’ve got and in high-res well-edited format. And don’t use a watermark, it won’t stop people from stealing your work but it will detract from your images.
  • Include contact information and a brief CV – make it easy for people to work with you if they see your portfolio. We’ll leave it up to you whether you include prices but if there’s no easy way to work out who you are and to get in contact? Then, the best portfolio on Earth won’t get you work.
  • Update your portfolio on a regular basis – a portfolio should be fresh and exciting and include your best and latest work. Make sure you set aside some time every month to update it.

Final Thoughts

Taking photos at music events is a lot of fun and it can lead to a relatively well-paid career too.

You just need to break into this kind of photo work in the right way and ensure that you follow some fairly basic steps to ensure that your images turn out well and that they help you to build a reputation that brings bands and promoters to you.

Whether you decide to do this kind of shooting as a photographer for fun or for profit, we hope that you have a ton of success as you capture images of the stars on the stage.