I receive a lot of email from aspiring music photographers. One of the most common requests from young or beginning music photographers is for advice on starting out. In response, here's my open “letter” to all new music photographers with six tips and pieces of advice for anyone just starting out.
1) There Is No University of Rock Photography
Unlike say, a Master of Business Administration, you don't really need a piece of paper to prove your music photography chops – unless, of course, that piece of paper is a print in your portfolio.
My advice as your school counselor if you want to be a music photographer? Go to rock shows, bring your camera, and take some business courses. The only exception to the benefit of studying photography would be studio lighting and to have easy access to pro gear, but even then it's still possible to learn these skills on your own (or at least without incurring student loans).
2) The Photo Pass Is Just A Piece Of Fabric
There's a fallacy that you need photo passes to become a music photographer, but it's really the other way around.
To me, wanting to shoot shows that require a photo pass off the bat is like wanting to play your first baseball game in Yankee Stadium. Aspirational, but not practical.
3) Start Local
People think that there are all kinds of barriers to entry for live music photography – and they're right. But starting with small venues and local bands is the easiest way to jump into the world of music photography.
I can't tell you how many small indie rock shows I shot starting out where I stood in line for hours with all the die-hard fans just to grab a piece of the stage.
Smaller music venues often have few or no camera restrictions, so it's possible to build a great portfolio shooting at these clubs and dives – no photo passes required.
4) Shoot What You Love & Dig In
If you shoot what you love, it will show in the images. Even if you're just shooting shows on the barricade with a point & shoot at first, passion for one's subjects always translates into better images.
Moreover, dig into the scene. Immersing yourself in the concert culture of your city will build connections with venues, fans, and bands that will strengthen you as a music photographer.
Having the best lenses and cameras only makes the technical exercises of live music photography easier; they don't make you a better photographer, and they certainly won't teach you composition. I've put them to my ears and listened, but a nice f/1.4 prime or expensive f/2.8 zoom lens won't tell you how to anticipate a jump shot.
If the worst thing someone can say is that your photos are a little noisy or have a little motion blur, take it as a compliment. It means you have perfect composition and the lighting looks great.
When you are ready to upgrade, check out my Gear Guide for the equipment I use and recommend.
6) Shoot For A Publication – Or Start One
As I suggested in my previous article on How To Request A Photo Pass, publications are the best way to secure access to larger bands and tours. After all, there is no reason for bands to give you a photo pass unless you're shooting for a good reason – IE, giving them press.
For the new music photographer, even blogs and web-only publications are all fair game as music media shifts to be increasingly web-friendly. And of course, you can always try starting your own publication or website.
There Is No University of Rock Photography
The Photo Pass Is Just A Piece Of Fabric
Shoot What You Love & Dig In
Don't Worry About Your Camera
Shoot For A Publication – Or Start One
So there you go. Six pieces of advice for the aspiring music photographer. To everyone who has written me asking for advice, I hope this helps!
If you want more info on being a music photographer?
What advice would you give to a new music photographer? Have your say in the comments. If you're an experienced music photographer, what advice would you have loved to have when you were first snapping bands?