Photography has been a big part of my life since 2008, and I took my first concert photos as early as 2011, but I really consider 2014 to be the year that I started with concert photography. It was the first year that I started covering shows with a photo pass, the first year I ever worked with a publication, and the first year I got a paid gig. February 2024 will mark 10 years of concert photography for me, and it’s a milestone I’m really proud to reach. I wanted to write briefly about how I photograph a show, just to give some insight into what I’m looking for, how I prepare, and some of my habits. As always, there are many ways to do the same thing, so please don’t feel like these are rigid rules to be followed, or that you’re “doing it wrong” if you don’t do it the exactly the same way. The point of this is just to share information and provide some general perspective.
Before I head out, I try to do a quick equipment check. For me, that means answering the following questions:
- Is the battery in my camera charged?
- Have I packed a spare?
- Are my cards in the camera and formatted?
- Are my earplugs packed?
I make sure that I can answer “yes” to each of these questions before I make my way to the venue. I have forgotten to do this, usually when I’m in a hurry, but I do my best not to.
At the Venue
How early I arrive to a venue really depends on the size and type of venue, but in general the idea is to give myself enough time to deal with any potential hiccups. If it is a venue without a pit, then I try to be there early enough to secure a spot near the stage and get a feel for the space. Arriving early also allows me time to reach out to contacts in the event that my credentials aren’t at the box office.
In the Pit
Once I’m in the pit and waiting to start, I usually start doing some last-minute checks. This means double-checking to make sure I have my settings the way I want them. If I’ve been out taking pictures in broad daylight or doing long exposures, I don’t want to wait until the lights go down to have to change all of that. Making sure that my focus mode, metering, etc., are the way I want them lets me get right to work.
I also tend to get my camera settings to a place where I don’t expect to make major adjustments once the show starts. Personally, I start my ISO at 3200, but the actual value isn’t important. What’s important is that I don’t have to make drastic setting adjustments once things get underway.
Last year, I was asked how often I check my camera after I start working, and my answer was “almost never.” I usually do a quick check at the beginning to see what my photo is looking like, and make adjustments based on what I see. I used to check more often when I was starting out, but as I became more familiar with my equipment, that became less of a necessity. Even after switching to mirrorless, I still check my results. This is just because EVF settings can sometimes misrepresent what you’re seeing, particularly when it brightens a scene to give a better view in low light.
After I feel comfortable with my settings, I just keep moving and do my best to capture the kinds of moments I like best. I got to speak about this a while back in this article. I hope this gives a bit of insight, and maybe it’ll help you to look over your own processes and think about your own approach.