What are the “must have” images to make as a concert photographer? While there are no real rules to music photography, there are some standard images that can make up a concert photography shotlist that you may want to consider when photographing live music. After all, concert photography is just photography. Or as I sometimes call it, loud storytelling.
So whether you're photographing for an editorial publication, an artist/band, or just want to know the standard images to create for live music, here's a list of common images to make as a music photographer.
First off, I'm not saying that you must create the images in this concert photography shotlist for every single client or every assignment. Everyone's vision is different, and concert photography is no different.
I'm presenting this list of common live music photography images as a reference for inspiration if you're a new music photographer or are looking for inspiration to increase the variety of your work.
Fans always love seeing a setlist for a tour or show. The diehard fans will always try and score a setlist after the show. The next best thing you can give them as a concert photographer is a photo of the setlist.
Fans on the Barricade
Fans make live music, full stop. Showing fans seeing their favorite artists, rocking out, and enjoying the set is a great concert photography image to make. As I like to say, sometimes the best image isn't on stage, but right behind you.
Similar to images of fans, setting the context for a concert is essential for concert coverage. Tight images of a band member or artist could be made anywhere. What places it at your specific venue?
Related to full stage shots, production photos focus on the production itself — lighting, effects, pyro, etc. These are images that capture the lighting design and full treatment, as well as the experience the tour creates.
Full Group/Band Photo
If you're photographing a band, it's essential to make an image that shows every member as clearly as possible. This can be a challenge for larger stages or bands with more than 4 members, but this image can be critical to concert photography storytelling.
Individuals of every band member
Beyond the full band photo, make images of every band member. This is often the easiest kind of image to make and one that you will likely gravitate towards naturally. But don't just focus on the lead singer or guitarist — make sure to create one great image of each band member.
Drummers are special and sacred. Drummer photos are often the most difficult and challenging, but the exact reason why I'm calling them out now even after the above advice. As I always say, “Don't forget the drummer!”
Multiple Combinations of Band Members
We've covered individuals and we've covered full band images. What's left? Different combinations of members. Drummer and bass player. Guitarist and bass player. Singer and guitarist. You get the idea.
In essence this list is all about covering different perspectives, but what I mean here specifically is to make sure you get as much coverage as possible from different vantage points. For example, getting a variety of images from the stage left, center and stage right. This is in addition to images from the photo pit, on stage (if you have the access), front of house, etc.
Multiple Focal lengths
In addition to covering your angles, try to vary the perspectives you make in terms of using different focal lengths. If all your images are made with the same or similar focal lengths, you're going to get a very similar look to your images.
The standards of photojournalism apply to music photography in creating a wide, mid and tight shots as part of the storytelling.
The Reverse from Stage
If you're blessed with all access and the ability to photograph from stage, there's nothing like a reverse shot to make the most of that access. A reverse shot is made from stage, looking out to the audience. Literally the reverse of what the audience sees.
I sometimes like to refer to music photography as “low light action portraiture.” Artist closeups are essentially tight portraits of a performer. Instead of studio lighting, these are simply portraits using the existing stage lighting, but which otherwise may fall into a portrait study that creates isolation and insight.
Similar to images of the setlist, it's always nice to have detail shots from a concert to fill out a set. Perhaps it's a closeup of a guitar, or the shoes a performer is wearing. Maybe it's an aspect of the show or venue that gives greater context or place setting. Whatever the detail, these images add variety and depth to the storytelling of your concert photography.
This one is situational and something that's pretty obvious in the moment, but artist-fan interaction photos are one that I live for. Particularly when you have photo pit access, this one is always great to create and gives you that feeling of being right there in the best seat in the house.
Special Effects (Pyro, Cryo, Confetti, etc)
If a concert has any special effects, these are a great element to capture that that help ground your images in a particular tour. Similar to capturing the particular lighting effects in the aforementioned production images, special effects at a concert are often one of the most memorable aspects of a tour or performance.
There are countless ways to approach concert photography and images to make. These are just a few and by no means how you must approach photographing live music. These are just some of the images on my mental checklist when I do concert photography.
In addition this list doesn't even start to get into the more artistic kinds of images you can make in live music photography. From abstracts to silhouettes to motion blur or more stylistic images.
More importantly, don't limit yourself to how others approach concert photography. Photograph live music the way you want to. Take the ideas and inspiration that align with the images you want to make. It's really that simple.
If you're new to music photography or just looking for ideas on how to approach concert photography, I hope this article gives you some ideas. This is no by no means a complete or definitive concert photography shotlist, but just some standard images you can make as a music photographer.
Your style and how you approach music photography can be as different as you make it. But if you're looking for conventional images to make, I hope this list gives you some ideas. Have fun in the pit.