Music is a fantastic thing to photograph. The crowds, the excitement and the emotion of the artists all make great subjects. What we'll try to explain is this week's quick tip is how, with a few simple steps, you can get into a music festival as a photographer (often for free). So the next time your favorite band comes to town, keep these ideas in mind.
1. Find the media
Once you know what event you want to go, you'll have to contact websites or magazines that may have interest in coverage of the show. Often the smallest website can give you a pass as a photographer in exchange for some of your photos. In the U.S., alternative weekly newspapers are a good place to start. You can also contact music blogs and try to find help on music message boards.
It is important that you contact them as soon as possible, two months before the show or festival at least, because they have to achieve accreditation and then send it over to you. It is good to send a link to some of your work when you make requests like this. If you haven't covered live music before, shoot some local free shows in smaller bars and venues to build up your portfolio.
2. The show itself
Once you have received your credentials, you'll need to make sure you arrive on time and at the right gate. Many times, there will be a press entrance that is different from the regular one. Be aware of any restrictions on flash. There may also be a rule that you can only shoot the first three songs. Have fun and do a good job. Behaving like an audience member is alright to an extent, just remember that you're also are working, so do not forget to take pictures of the things that are important (band, crowds, etc..).
On the technical side, I personally like to use slow speeds around 1/30 of a second in burst mode. The thing lacking from most photos of these events is movement. The slow shutter speed captures it, but the burst mode will help you get a frame where something is sharp, allowing the image to have an entry point. I recommend you also look at the lights, concentrate of capturing how they look and how them illuminate the subject.
3. The post-work time
The speed at which you deliver the images depends on the publication and the act. If it's a touring act, you'll need the get the images in quickly. The band will be playing in front of other photographer's in other towns the next day. If it's something more local or you're working for weekly publication, you may have a few more days. Do not delay much or they may not be willing to work with you again.
As for the retouch, I do not recommend you take a very artistic approach, as some do in other personal photos. Remember that it most cases, you're working for the press. I always recommend you keep the colors as original as you can or if you do not like the colors to change the image to black and white. Beyond that, no weird saturation effects, no crazy vignettes.
If your contract or arrangement allows it, it's a good idea to share some images with the artist. This may open some doors for you to go to new festivals and venues. In addition to papers and websites, the bands themselves can get you into shows as well. They can even get you backstage, where you can make even more contacts.
4. Why it's worth it
Photographers often fall into the habit of wanting compensation for everything they do. As a photographer, I agree to an extent. Photography is a very competitive business. Getting ahead is hard, and using your skills for free to get your foot in the door is good way to do. It shows that you're dedicated to your craft.
Also keep in mind, that attending a show for free is actually a bit of compensation. People pay hundreds for front row seats, and you get them for doing some free coverage and publicity. If music photography is your passion, this is a great way to get started.
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