5 Things You Should Know About Music Photography

So you’re getting ready to shoot your first concert? That’s awesome. Here are five pointers to prepare you for your baptism into photographing live music. 

1. It’s noisy. 

Whether it’s a tiny venue with a pair of blue and red spotlights or a massive arena rock show, almost every concert will challenge you with unpredictable or dim lighting. And that means one thing – noisy images. The problem of grainy colours is why so many live music photographers tend to grade their images in black and white, as doing so neutralises the issue and can often lead to a more emotive photo (Shoot in RAW format for best post-processing results). However, the best approach is to maximise the light available to you by selecting a lens with a wide aperture, with a fixed 50mm 1.8 lens (“nifty fifty”) usually being the most affordable across all brands. 

1975 noise comparison.jpg
As the zoomed image (right) shows, image noise can be a real danger in low light.

2. It’s the other kind of noisy.

The press pit might be the best seat in the house, but it’s also the loudest. The average rock concert is around 120 dB – for comparison, heavy traffic is around 80 dB, and anything above 90 dB is considered harmful to your health and hearing. Even disposable earplugs will protect your ears against the dangers of tinnitus and prevent that dreaded post-gig ringing in your ears. If you’re shooting regularly, corded earplugs are reusable and much harder to lose in the chaos of a concert. Scrabbling around amongst the stage cables for a dropped foam plug doesn’t just make you look clumsy, it loses you valuable shooting time!


3. Three songs, no flash.

You may have heard of the ‘three songs, no flash’ rule. It’s exactly what you’d imagine – three songs of shooting the live band, no flash photography. The rule was allegedly first instated by Bruce Springsteen at his concerts in the 80s in response to overcrowded press pits that spoiled the performance for both him and the audience. In 2017, it has become the norm at most music concerts, though some smaller venues or DJ events are less fussy. It’s always best to confirm the situation with security if you’re unsure.


4. Dying of Exposure.

Just like the couple looking to cut costs on their wedding album by getting Uncle Stuart to take some snaps on his new camera he got for Christmas, more and more publications are paying photographers with nothing but ‘exposure’ and the offer of the press pass itself. The lower barrier for entry is great news for enthusiasts, but is doing no favours to professional shooters trying to pay the rent. If you want to become a music photographer in order to make your millions, well, as of right now you’re probably better off selling your camera kit and investing it into something more lucrative.


5. Understand Pit Etiquette.

Be nice to people. It’s a good rule for life in general, but an essential one for your time in the press pit. The security team can make your life a lot easier – but also an awful lot harder. Obey their rules and be polite to them, as it is ultimately their job to look after you and the people around you. Also take care that you aren’t getting in the way of your fellow shooters. A protruding camera lens or a wandering hand is the quickest way to ruin their shot and make needless enemies. You’re all there for the same reason, so if you need to get past, simply wait a moment, or give them a gently tap on the shoulder.  In the same spirit, bulky backpacks are a big no no. Above all, be nice to the paying fans at the front!

Tech crews are the backbone of a concert – so treat them with respect!
All photos © Jasper Wilkins (jjwilkins.com)