Hey again, friends and family!

Welcome back to the next installment of my Concert Photography 101 series. I already covered how to get a photo pass in the first post, now it’s time to talk about shooting your first show. In this edition, I’ll cover what to do upon arriving at the venue, as well as common restrictions that we photographers must abide by.

I’ll also go over the gear I use to shoot the shows I cover.

You already have your photo pass approved, now it’s showtime. Here’s what to expect when shooting your first show.

The first thing you’re going to need to do when arriving at the venue is to stop by the ticket office, or “will call” area. This is generally where you’ll find your point of contact who keeps the coveted “list”. If you’re not on said list, everything moving forward in this article will be irrelevant, because you’re not getting in with your camera.

This should go without saying – but just in case – make sure to bring your drivers license or photo ID. You’ll need that to verify that you are who you’re saying you are and that you are in fact on the list.

Once you’ve verified that you’re on the list, you’ll be given a photo pass sticker.

DO NOT LOSE THIS.

Without your photo pass, you’re not getting in the photo pit. So, either stick it on your shirt or invest in a press badge holder and wear it around your neck.

In the case of smaller bands, this will usually be it. They don’t always have a photo pit and extra security for smaller acts, so you won’t have to worry about any of that. But, there also won’t be a dedicated area for you to shoot from the crowd. This can make things trickier (and riskier for your gear) when you have to navigate through the crowd to compose a shot.

For the sake of this post, let’s assume you’re shooting a larger show that does have a photo pit and extra security staff in place.

I have some suggestions on what to do in this scenario.

First off, what is the photo pit?

Shim - Westfair Amphitheater - 8.25.18

The crowd at Wesfair Amphitheather during the Shim set on 8.25.18

I’ve gone to tons of shows in the past and never paid any attention to the fact that there were people taking photos up close to the stage.

Not just people with camera phones, I’m talking full-on professional camera gear. It wasn’t until I got into photography and – more specifically – shooting concerts that I realized that this was even a thing. So, you may or may not know about what is called the “photo pit”.

The photo pit is the area in between the stage and the barrier – the metal grate that keeps the crowd back about ten feet from the stage. Wooly’s, the venue where I shoot most of my concerts, actually only has about a five-foot gap in between the stage and barrier because the venue is so small.

Let me tell you now, this isn’t much room to work with.

It’s definitely doable, but not recommended for the claustrophobic type.

Always introduce yourself to security (and try your best to stay out of their way).

Now, this isn’t mandatory, but it will certainly be helpful to your cause. I usually try to stop by the security staff working the photo pit area and say hi while the lights are still on. This gives them a chance to verify your photo pass. It also gives them a heads up that I’ll be invading their space once the lights go out.

You see, the photo pit also doubles as the area for the security guards to stand during the show. This is more their space than it is the photographers’, for the record. They need to be able to do their job, and that means you need to stay out of their way as best you can.

Fights break out, people crowd surf – there’s lots of stuff going on that security needs to tend to during a show. This essentially requires you to have eyes in the back of your head.

You’ve finally made it to the photo pit – now, remember those restrictions!

Gemini Syndrome - Westfair Amphitheater - 8.25.18

Alessandro Paveri of Gemini Syndrome at Westfair Amphitheatre on 8.25.18

Unless you are shooting directly for a band which has explicitly given you “all access” to shoot freely, there’s a good chance you’re going to have some restrictions on when and where you can shoot. First, let’s take a look at the three most common locations where you can possibly shoot from.

  • The photo pit: As I described above, this is the area between the stage and the barrier. In the beginning, this will likely be the only place you get to shoot from.
  • Sidestage: Most venues have an area off to the side of the stage where you can shoot from, given you have access to the area. I’m honestly not a huge fan of shooting from side stage. You can get some decent shots, but it’s more challenging to come away with a solid composition.
  • Backstage: This is where the rockstars roam and do rockstar stuff while waiting to go onstage. Crew members and other VIP’s are scattered in this area. You’re likely going to need to know somebody to get backstage, but the photo opportunities here are plentiful. For example, I love to shoot over the drummer’s shoulders and catch the crowd out in front of them.

Now, unless you have that coveted all-access laminate, here’s where the challenge starts to set in.

For most larger acts you’re going to be restricted to shooting from the photo pit and you only have the first three songs of the band’s set to get your shots in.

This might not seem like much time – and it’s not, really. But, if you go in with the proper gear and relatively close to the proper camera settings, you should have plenty of time to come away with a bunch of solid photos.

You also won’t be able to use flash – for obvious reasons. No performer wants to have a speedlight blinding them while they’re already dealing with rapidly changing lighting and other challenging conditions that come along with performing live music.

The gear I use to shoot concerts

Camera Rain Sleeve

I don’t always shoot GWAR concerts, but when I do…

Now that you have a good understanding of what to expect when shooting your first show, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the gear I use when I’m doing my thing at a show.

Keep in mind, every photographer (and their budget) will vary – this is just what I use to get the job done. And, so far, so good. I’m pleased with the shots I get, in most situations. There’s always room for improvement, of course, but I am usually pretty confident I’ll come away with at least a few bangers from every show I shoot.

And that’s really it. I occasionally throw on my Sony 16-50mm kit lens because I don’t have anything with a wider focal length than 50mm with a fast aperture. The photos I get with the kit lens are usable, but they’re nowhere near as sharp as the 50mm F/1.8, as expected.

The next lens I have my sights set on is the Sigma 18-35mm F/1.8. This is exactly what I need!

In conclusion

Now you know what to do when shooting your first show.

Above and beyond everything I’ve detailed in this article, the most important thing is to go out there and have fun.

Don’t be discouraged if your shots don’t turn out the best the first time. Determine where you need to make adjustments next time, and consider it a learning lesson.

And speaking of next time, I’ll go over the best camera settings, as well as give you a look at how I edit my concert photos in the next installment of my Concert Photography 101 series.

Stay tuned!