Insider Tips with Kristin Breitkreutz: Concert Photography
Hey! I’m Kristin. In addition to being URBANYEG’s blog manager, I’m also a live music photographer.
Flashback to January 2017 – I was living in Vancouver, studying screenwriting, when one of my friend’s invited me to a concert. I’ve always loved music and going to live shows, so despite not being familiar with the artist I agreed to go. Then I got thinking… what if I photographed this concert? I was a hobbyist photographer at the time, and the idea of combining two things I enjoyed excited me. I emailed the venue manager and she told me I was allowed to bring my camera. I photographed Flor and Great Good Fine Ok at the Alexander Gastown and that night kind of changed my life.
Since then, I’ve been photographing shows for online publication Concert Addicts and have worked for local artists such as Natalia Chai, Raani, Golden Grey as well as concert promoter MRG Concerts. I’ve shot in small pubs to massive arenas, and I’ve photographed artists such as Judas Priest, Halestorm, Marianas Trench, Queens of the Stone Age, and many others.
I photograph concerts not only because I’m passionate about music and photography, but also because it’s something that gets me out of my head. As someone who has struggled with their mental health for years, being behind a camera at a live show is the one thing that quiets my crazy thoughts.
Photographing concerts is a blast, but it’s not exactly a walk in the park. Below are a few tips!
1. Know your camera – and yourself.
When you’re photographing a concert, you have minimal control – the lighting changes constantly and artists jump around stage with no warning. The only thing you have control over is yourself and your camera. Sometimes you have to adapt to the scene and change your settings on the fly, so the more familiar you are with it the better. Concerts are normally dimly lit, so for settings you want to stick to a wider aperture such as 1.8 or 2.8, higher ISO (be careful – the higher you go, the more noise you’ll get!), and a faster shutter speed to capture the artist’s movement. Don’t forget to shoot in RAW!
Not only do you have to be flexible with your camera settings, but also with yourself. I’ve been in photo pits where I have to crouch, I’ve had to sprint upstairs to get a specific shot, I’ve had to stand on benches and chairs to reach a perfect height, all while wielding two cameras. Some concerts are a workout – don’t be afraid to stop at the bar for a water break.
2. Know the restrictions.
There’s a difference between a photo pass and all access and it’s important to know where you are and aren’t allowed. A typical photo pass at a big show grants you access to the photo pit (normally between the barrier and the stage) to photograph the first 3 songs with no flash. While that is the standard, every show is different – for example, I recently photographed The Offspring and their restrictions were shooting songs 3, 4, and 5 from FOH (front of house, AKA the soundboard). If you’re going into a show unclear on where and when you can shoot, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Between your press contact and the employees working the show, someone has an answer for you.
Often there are less restrictions with smaller shows, or shows where you work directly with the artist. I’ve shot at smaller venues that don’t require a photo pass and I’ve had bands allow me on the stage with permission to photograph their entire set. Every show is a new experience and restrictions will vary, so again, never be afraid to ask questions!
3. Be courteous.
We all want to get good photos, but it’s important to constantly be aware of your surroundings and to be courteous. Respect everyone – venue employees and concert staff are trying to do their jobs just like you, and the audience paid good money to be there. If I’m moving past crowd members, I always aim to be as polite as possible. If I’m standing in front of someone to get a few shots, I try to let them know I’ll only be there a moment. If I’m standing near security, I like to chat with them a bit. You don’t necessarily have to be invisible, just be polite and respectful.
4. Accept that nothing will be perfect.
If you’re looking to get crystal clear, posed, perfect shots, concerts are not the place for that. I’ve had photos blown out with noise, I’ve had unexpected strobe lights completely white out my shot, I’ve been caught in mosh pits that resulted in unwanted motion blur, and I have SO many photos where I accidentally focused on the microphone stand instead of the singer. I’ve come home from shows only to look through my photos and feel absolutely defeated. Shooting in RAW can help fix those dark, noisy photos to an extent (editing photos in black and white also helps), but it’s never going to be as crisp as a studio shoot. The thing I’ve learned with live music photography is that what you capture is more important than how sharp it is. You’re capturing moments that will never happen again, you’re documenting the essence of the artist, and I believe that matters more than trying to get a perfect shot.
5. Wear hearing protection.
I cannot stress this enough! When you go to as many concerts as I do, earplugs are a must. I love music and I want to keep my hearing intact so I can keep enjoying it, and often I find myself close enough to the stage that the sound is vibrating my whole body. I use Earpeace earplugs – only thirty dollars on Amazon, they protect your hearing without ruining the quality of the music too much.
I hope these tips provide a bit of insight into the music photography world. Below you can find two videos by photographer Adam Elmakias that go a bit more in depth when it comes to getting started as a music photographer and learning how to pick up a photo pass at a show!