Shooting in Front of the Stage

One of the most challenging fields of photography belongs to that of the concert photographer. The elements are always changing, you can’t use flash, and you have to get permission. The purpose of this article is to give you a run through of what you need to do if you want to shoot major label recording artists. It may not apply to everyone, such as newspaper photographers, but there might be a little something everyone can take from it.

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What Do You Need To Get Started?

A “major label recording artist” is simply a band such as Korn, Aerosmith, Metallica, the Rolling Stones, etc., and in order to be able to photograph them, there are three things you must have: a media outlet that is going to publish your photos, permission and good equipment.

A media outlet can be a website, a magazine, etc. If you can’t get a well known media outlet, don’t worry. Look around your area and see what you have, such as local/community editions of your regular newspaper. If you’re just starting out, then you are probably not going to get paid for awhile, but the good side is that you are getting experience and starting a portfolio.

Permission usually comes from the band’s publicist or record label. The main job of a publicist is to get their client - the band - as much publicity as they can. If you can’t help them do that, so to speak, then you aren’t going to have much luck shooting concerts. They are the ones that check in to your affiliation with a media outlet to see if you should get a photo pass or not.

Sometimes it is possible to offer to shoot the band in question and allow the band to use the photos free of charge (usually via their website or, etc.). This would also enable you to request that you receive a byline when the photos are used (a byline is credit, for example: Photos by your name). While this won’t get you paid, it does accomplish two things: experience and exposure. Not to mention, you will be free to use the photos for your own portfolio.

While you may not be getting paid the big bucks right off the bat, you need to remember that you are gaining valuable experience that will lead to the big bucks someday. If you have a hard time swallowing doing the shots for “free,” the important thing to remember is that there are photographers in every city waiting to shoot the band on their tour. You’re not the only one, so don’t get greedy early.

You don’t need to run out and buy the most expensive gear to start shooting. With that in mind, I wouldn’t recommend anything less than 6 megapixels, and definitely a SLR. If you show up with a “point and shoot” style camera, the professional demeanor that you want to portray will simply not be there. Some bands even prohibit point and shoot cameras. Your choice of lens is going to be just that – your choice. It boils down to your preference and your shooting style. Some photographers bring a change of lens, and some don’t. You should do your homework and get familiar with the different lenses that are available for your camera. If possible, you should spend a little extra money at this point on a good lens.


Now that you have everything confirmed, you should take some time to research the venue the band is playing at (if you don’t know it already). One thing to look for is the “photographer’s pit” which is a barricaded area between the crowd and the stage. This is usually where security stands as well. This is crucial as I am sure no one wants to shoot a show from within a crowd.

You should know the venue’s policy on cameras. Whenever you go to a concert, you have probably seen the postings that state “No Cameras Allowed.” All venues are different – some will keep you sequestered until its time to shoot, and then ask you to either leave or at least return your camera to your vehicle after shooting. Then, there are other venues that really don’t care what you do after you shoot the band. The one thing they have in common is that neither one will let you shoot photos anywhere else in the venue.
But being a photographer, don’t you have to take the shot if the shot is available? Just be careful, most venues don’t like photographers taking photos of the crowd because of liability reasons. You could be escorted out of the venue immediately and it could jeopardize your future at the particular venue.

The above two photos were taken from the very back of the venues.

This goes without saying, but make sure you have cleaned your lenses and charged your batteries. The last thing you want to happen is to be all ready to go and have no battery life! You’d be surprised how many photographers are astonished that they forgot to check their battery life until its too late.

If you are not that familiar with the band, now is a good time to acquaint yourself. Listen to their CDs. Find out where there are yells, screams, guitar solos, etc. It’s at that point where the stage lights are going to be concentrated during the show. This is going to be your best opportunity for great shots. You can also research previous reviews for the band’s performances and see what the live show is like, this will help you judge where to be when its time to take the shot.

You should get to the venue early, and you should have a printed confirmation that you have been allowed to photograph the band, as well as the tour manager’s name. Remember the standing rule – no one is perfect. There is a chance you could get to the venue and the will call window cannot find your photo pass. Having the printed confirmation and tour manager’s name should help you out in situations like this. And yes, it does happen.


Once you have your photo pass and tickets, and you’re walking in to the venue, walk in with a little attitude. Don’t be arrogant or snobby, but walk with an aura of confidence. Remember, most venues don’t allow cameras in to begin with, so you might get hassled by security a little until they see that you do have a photo/media pass. If questioned, always be polite and professional. If you show them respect, they will show you respect.

There are two more rules that you should be know by now and they are that you will only be allowed to shoot for the first three (3) songs, and under no circumstances can you use a flash. These are considered industry standards. Sometimes you may be shooting with another photographer that is using flash, or might not leave after the first three songs. Usually, this is the band photographer or someone else who has special privileges. Needless to say, the rules don’t apply.

Depending on the venue you’re at, you might be escorted to the photo pit (this usually happens in the venues that will not let you carry your camera around all night) or you’ll be free to go on your own (this usually happens in venues that don’t care what you do).
Since you can’t use a flash, this is where a little learning curve comes in, and this test should be able to evaluate your abilities. With no flash and constantly changing stage lights, you should be continually checking your ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Knowing the band’s movements from researching previous concert reviews comes in to play at this point as you will know where you need to be. If, in your research, you also happen to get a set list of the songs performed, you will know what to expect as far as lighting goes. A little homework goes a long way.

Doing your homework also allows you to take your time – don’t be in a rush just because you have only three songs. Three songs can last anywhere from 12 – 20 minutes. It is much more productive to come away with 20 awesome photos than 120 so-so photos.
Keep your eye on security and the crowd as you shoot. Depending on the style of music you’re shooting, you could get “crowd surfers” – people who basically body surf on the top of the crowd. Guess where they end up? That’s right, security pulls them over the barricade right next to you. If you don’t see it coming, they could land on you or at the very least, ruin a shot.

You’re Done, Now What?

Now that you’ve shot your show, what now? At this point, you need to do whatever it is you agreed to do with the photos that got you the photo pass in the first place. Did you promise them to the webmaster? Local paper? Either way, its time to complete your agreement.

But after that, if there are no restrictions that the band made you sign (some bands will make you sign a release stating that in order to photograph them, you agree not to sell the photos without their consent) you need to start marketing your photos.

The first way to do this by having your own website that you can display your portfolio. There are hundreds of web hosting companies out there and the competition is so great, you are not going to be paying an arm and a leg. After the initial purchase of your URL (i.e., for around $8-$10/year, start building your portfolio as soon as you can because this will be your resume. Don’t worry if you don’t know how or don’t have time to build a website – there are tons of programs and companies that can help you get started, or even set everything up for you.

Other ways to market your photos could be to send them to the band’s record label, the band’s publicist or even the venue that the band played at. Adobe Photoshop CS2 has a cool feature that will create a contact sheet from a directory of your photos, which you can then email. Send the contact sheets to anyone you think can give you exposure.


One issue facing today’s photographers is what happens if someone uses your photos without permission? You need to protect your photos and yourself.
According to the United States Copyright Office, a copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is “created” when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. “Copies” are material objects from which a work can be read or visually perceived either directly or with the aid of a machine or device, such as books, manuscripts, sheet music, film, videotape, or microfilm.

However, copyright registration provides greater advantages (see Image Copyright Protection for further details on image copyright registration). In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. Even though registration is not a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration. Among these advantages are the following:
  • Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
  • Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.
  • If made before or within 5 years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
  • If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.
  • Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U.S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies. For additional information, go to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at Click on “Intellectual Property Rights.”

The U.S. Copyright Office increased basic registration fees to $45 per application effective July 1, 2006. You may wish to research this further, but I believe that you can put your images on a CD, and submit it with your application and fee. The key to the CD is that you can put as many images as you want on it, and its still only $45. Again, this may be something you wish to research further if you plan to take this route.

You can also embed your information in your images via Photoshop. Check out this quick tutorial for more information: Adding a Copyright Metafile to your Photos in Photoshop CS2.

You can’t account for all variables, but this article should be able to give you a guideline that you can start with and morph in to something tailor made for you.
For more samples of some of the concerts I have shot, check out and let me know what you think.