A pro walks you through shooting live music in small- to medium-sized venues.
Selling the Shots
Using these tips and examples, most photographers should be able to capture excellent live shots under difficult conditions, within the limitations of their equipment. Getting great music photos is extremely rewarding, and if you are able to do so consistently, you may quickly find yourself in demand. The acts, venues, and the press are always in need of good live pictures; so if your work is good, get it seen. Build up relationships within the industry and in your area. Show your work either as prints or as e-mails. Be persistent, but not pushy. Promoters and venue owners are often the best place to start, as you may be able to get access to a wide variety of gigs. Gugai, co-owner of The Roisin Dubh in Galway, uses my work on a regular basis and describes music photography as follows:
"As I own the venue, I tend to look for a shot that really captured the atmosphere of the night. You can tell what the room was like sometimes just by looking at a photo. When it's done right, it not only frames that moment, it will also remind everyone who was there just how it felt and give them a little shiver of excitement. The best live shows can be intensely personal experiences and the best photos are the ones that remind us of that."
The photos I took for Gugai when he was a promoter were instrumental in building a strong enough portfolio to freelance for the national magazines and papers, so if you are thinking of shooting music for profit, developing a similar connection is ideal. Promoters often like shots where the venue is recognizable (stage backdrops, logos, etc.), and often want large prints, so sharp hi-resolution shots are important. When shooting for the press, the most important thing is sharp, good contrast images with recognizable performers. Due to the limitations of newsprint, simple strong shots often reproduce best.
Regarding potential profit, this can be tricky. Shooting for the press is straightforward, often with set rates. Promoters and venue owners may want everything from 11x14 prints, hi-res cds for use in promotional materials, or low-res pics for website and slide-slows. Negotiate carefully for fair compensation. Acts are always interested in photos. However, if the act is up and coming, they are often low on cash. If the act is more well-known and financially secure, they may have more live photos than they know what to do with. Get a truly unique photo, however, and they may come knocking on your door.
Enjoy the shooting and the music, and get a set of earplugs (trust me).