People often ask me for advice on photographing concerts. I get questions ranging from which lenses to use, how to get published, and how to improve technique, among others. All good, fair solicitations.
But, the single best piece of advice I can give to any concert photographer? Please: wear earplugs.
If the bass speakers up at the front of the pit are already shaking the floor, jiggling your bones, and otherwise helping you digest dinner with their sonic vibrations, imagine what they're doing to your ears.
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), sound levels for rock concerts reach an average rating of 112 dB, to which safe exposure is measured in minutes. Not like 20 or 30 minutes, but one or two. That won't even get you through the a full song in the pit, let alone the full set.
With repeated exposure, all those unchecked decibels translate into permanent hearing loss. That ringing in your ears is not a badge of honor, it's tinnitus.
I've tried all manner of earplugs, but I recommend two products in particular: the ER-20 and the Hearos Ultimate Softness Ear Plugs.
The ER-20 are made by Etymotic Research, which made its name in audiophile-quality ear-canal headphones. Just like their earphone offerings, the ER-20s are positioned as a high-fidelity product that allow for natural sound at lower, safer levels, making them well-suited for concerts.
There's no longer the excuse that the music “doesn't sound as good” when you have these earplugs as an option. Unlike conventional earplugs, which can produce a muffled hearing experience, the ER-20s lower noise levels more evenly, rendering more clarity at safer sound levels.
Pros: Great clarity without the muffled sound of conventional earplugs; they're easy to wash for repeated use.
Cons: The effective 20-dB rating isn't as effective for very regular or extended gigging as higher ratings. The comfort of these plugs isn't cut out for long events, but then again, neither is their dB-rating.
They look like most any other cheap, foam earplugs, but I was pleasantly surprised by the Hearos Ultimate Softness Ear Plugs. Not only do they live up to their name, but you'll wonder where the ringing in your ears went after a few shows.
While the polyurethane Hearos can't claim the hi-fi pedigree of the ER-20s, what they lack in finesse these earplugs make up for in stopping power with their 32-dB rating.
Thanks to the comfy fit, these easy-wearing ‘plugs are especially nice for long bills and extended sets.
Pros: They're dirt cheap, super comfy, and do a great job at blocking ear-killing squeals.
Cons: More muffled sound than the ER-20s; slower, more finicky insertion. Not made for repeated use.
The above two earplugs are just products I've tried and recommend, but whatever you use, just stick something in those holes. Your ears will thank you for it.