© 2011 Dani Cantó TheNotSo_Devinitive_Guide_to_Amateur_Music_Photography

The (Not So) Definitive Guide to Amateur Live Music Photography


I’ve been shooting gigs for about 7-8 years now, for all kind of clients, from the international (Pitchfork, The Line Of Best Fit, Bido Lito) to the National (Mondosonoro, Rockdelux, Heineken Music, Go), from the very known to the completely unknown. It has been the funniest thing in my life and I hope this will never end. I have plenty of bands to shoot and a lot of things to learn. Because after all this years I still consider myself an amateur, a lucky amateur probably.

I started from the very low and I reached points never expected, to be honest. But from all the things I’ve learned in this long journey let me give you some advice if you’re taking your first steps in live music photography. Remember, it ain’t easy but no one should stop you from trying.

Here’s the Not Definitive Decalogue to Amateur Live Photography. Enjoy (and don’t take it so seriously)

Technology is overrated

Most of the photographers would tell you that the minimum equipment for taking pictures includes a three figure camera with some L Series lenses. False. Pioneers on photography didn’t even have the chance to enjoy the virtues of digital and though the handicaps they produced way amazing images. Besides, expending 3.000 something on equipment it’s gonna take you years to rentabilize. Why don’t you go for a proper, though not massive, photo camera? 1.600 ISO, 8 to 10 Mpx, a and some fixed, and cheaper lenses (50mm 1.8 or 28mm 2.8)?

Know Your Enemy

Instinct would tell you that best place to stand on a gig is upfront on the microphone. MISTAKE. That’s where the singer uses to be, but you’re missing the point that you have a metallic thing covering the mouth of your subject. And that it’s possibly one of the most expresive areas. And you’re wasting it. Do your homework, check on youtube how the band lines up on a gig and stand always next to the mic but with enough distance to get a proper perspective to it.

Respect the Fans

Photographers forget (most of the times) how annoying they can be on a gig. A click sounds like glory when you’re shooting, but when you’re next to it it just sounds as a bomb. Always ask for permission if you’re late, try to stay as less as possible, if you’re tall just kneel or try not to cover the people and shoot while the noisiest part of the song when people won’t hear you. You’re doing your job but you forget that the people are actually paying to see the band. They are your ultimate clients, and thus they deserve respect.

Control your camera

No matter the camera you have it’s not gonna be designed to shoot gigs. Cameras were meant to daylight and this is not proper landscape photography. So forget about what camera says about the correct exposition. Every ISO you go up you should consider to under expose by a point. Then your background will be black (or colored) but not plain gray. Lie to your camera and she will get you the best results. Trust her and you’ll get plain, uncontrasted and boring shots. It’s up to you, not her.

Love the light, embrace the darkness

Gigs are not the best place to shoot. Most of the time the lights ain’t enough, too coloured, backlighted or whatever else. Well, they’re simply not designed to take pictures but to dramatically emphasize the music. So, get used to it. If there’s not enough light don’t panic. Don’t rush for your flash. Try to bypass the lack of light with long exposures, use the backlights for silhouettes,… you can do it.

Try to be creative

Ok. A band playing. Accept it, is pretty boring if you shoot just straight. I don’t think the musicians you’re shooting are playing just to play. Every band have an idiosincracy. Or the venue, or the condition that makes it interesting. Hell yeah! That’s a great story, that makes it interesting. So, why don’t you try yourself? Kneel, turn, jump, but don’t go plain, that won’t make your pictures any favour and neither to you. Try to reflect the sound of the band on your pics ’cause it’s a still so you don’t have any other chance to tell the people how the gig or the music was.

Don’t shoot a rat with a machine gun 

Ok, you bought yourself a big lense and your camera shoots 8 pics per second, do you think that is gonna help you get better pictures? Do yo have to use it? You’re not in a football match or a GP race. So act conscious. Shooting like a machine gun is only gonna annoy everyone around you. Sometimes is just best to wait for the picture and be ready when it appears in front of you. Take your time, change your position and then shoot. Sometimes you’ll get the best picture out of your first shots, you don’t even need three songs or the whole concert. Be patient, act like a fisher more than a hunter. Everyone would be happier. You have my word.

Be Professional

Professionality doesn’t depends on the money. So though you’re not getting paid or published yet that doesn’t mean that you can shoot the way you want. Try to be on time, get the first row (if possible) shoot for the time the photographers are allowed and keep your pics up to date. That means that you should edit them ASAP and try to publish them on your site, social media or whatever, send it to the bands. It won’t give you money but you’ll show your work and you’ll learn to develop your hobby in a professional way. Just in case someday it gets there.

Find your spot

Ok, your interest is to shoot real stars in super budget tours. Well, I think you shouldn’t be reading this then. It takes time to get there, not only you need a magazine to back you up but most of the time only a few even get to picture that gigs. I recommend you to go step by step. We talked before about building your portfolio, well there’s nothing better than small scenes for that. Prices are cheap, no one mess with permissions and promoters and bands are usually nicer. They will slightly get you to the big or bigger fishes. As long as you find a spot where your pictures are needed and your style fit it you’re half the way to bigger things, if that is what you wanted.

Enjoy yourself!

Music is all about entertaining (yourself and others). So wether you raise your fist and sing along the songs or you close your eyes and interiorize the music is about making the best of experience, enjoy it. Shooting gigs is great but not greater than actually see bands you may admire or love. So do not try to hide all the fun under layers of professionalism. Those that think that you shouldn’t show excitement while you’re working is because they don’t love their job as much as they think. Don’t dance on the pitch? Hell yes! I’ve been shooting gigs in the middle of a pogo, dancing on stage with the bands while working. And yes, it’s fun and it’s work (besides it produces some amazing pictures). Show you’ve got a soul behind that camera and have fun!

Note: Photos used in header are two of my early pictures. Taken with a Fuji 300 Digital Camera. Andrew Bird (left) and Beulah (right) taken in Rotterdam and in Amsterdam. Quality was poor, I know.


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