Music Photographers: Bigger Shows Aren’t Better Shows

KISS performs on the Alive/35 World Tour in Kansas City on December 15, 2009. (TODD OWYOUNG)

Almost every single music photographer has had the same thought at one point or another: “I want to shoot bigger shows.” In music photography, this desire to shoot bigger and bigger acts is a seemingly natural progression, especially for many photographers who start out shooting small indie acts in dives and club venues.

With larger names and venues come a lot of perceived benefits, including better production, brighter lights, road-tested performances and dedicated areas for photographers, not to mention the bragging rights of having photographed big name acts.

However, for all their allure, not the least of which is access to shoot well-known bands, bigger shows aren't always better shows.

The Allure of The Big Rock Show

For most music photographers, the allure of shooting bigger shows is one that's inescapable. After all, music photographers are almost universally music fans first, so the escalation to photograph one's favorite bands is a natural progression. At the very least, there are bragging rights to having bigs acts in one's book.

Aside from the star appeal of bigger shows, there's also the technical consideration that the bigger the show, the bigger the production. Better lighting, bigger effects, and bigger venues with guaranteed barricades – these are all perks of bigger shows.

The Trap

So, what's wrong with shooting rock shows? Nothing, inherently – but there are some considerations to understand.

Sure, big concerts often have the best and more elaborate production value, which translates into bright, photo-friendly lighting. But these same big shows are often designed and choreographed in such a way that photographers are presented with very limited access to the band.

Moreover, photographers shooting large tours are also the most likely to be limited with photography, both in terms of shooting time and unique stage moments.

The Paradox

The paradox of shooting larger shows is that they're they're the gigs that, arguably, need the least coverage. And by extension, they're the shows where photographers often have the least freedom to make unique images or capture moments of any significant value.

With multiple photographers for more each photographing any given date of a 20-50+ stop national tour, the number of images generated for the total run is enormous.

For the most unique opportunities with music photography, one might be well advised to run in the opposite direction of your city's arenas and amphitheaters.

 (Todd Owyoung)

Bright Lights, Big Crowds & The Trap of the Big Show

Arguably, the best music photography happening today isn't being done in the photo pits of 20,000-capacity arenas. It's certainly not being done from their soundboards.

There's nothing wrong with shooting big gigs (I know I appreciate shooting at lower than ISO 6400, and I'm sure you do, too), but for anyone who's really hungry to carve out something unique in the world of live music photography, shooting big shows shouldn't be your end goal, only a roadstop.

My advice to new photographers? The photo pit isn't the be-all & end-all of music photography. In fact, it might be the last place you want to be if you want to stand out.