By Nicholas Stalford
Congratulations. You’ve successfully obtained a press pass, taken pictures, and edited them. You got some fantastic shots, and all of your friends and family members agree that you have talent. But now what? You want to share your pictures with more people, and maybe even make a career of it, but how do you make the transition from first-time concert photographer to professional, published, and renowned?
In order to go beyond being a music-photography enthusiast, shooting the occasional show at local venues, concert photographers must not only have talent, but marketing skills as well. Because affordable technology has given so many people access to high quality cameras, even on their phones, these marketing skills will help you to establish yourself in an overcrowded and highly competitive market space.
One of the best and least expensive ways to begin establishing yourself as a concert photographer is through blogging. With so many free blogging websites available for use, such as Tumblr, Blogger, and WordPress, blogging is a great way to start showcasing your work and making the shift from concert photography hobbyist to amateur.
For amateur concert photographers still struggling to obtain press passes, blogging can be an especially powerful tool. The informal nature of blogging allows for amateurs to regularly post their work. An ideal photography blog would include regularly posted photosets from a wide variety of artists. And while of course concert photography content is ideal, this can be often hard to come by for beginners, so instead start by publishing written content related to concert photography and the music industry. This written content can range from full-length feature article posts to brief thoughts and insights. Text posts can cover any number of topics related to the music industry, including concert reviews, album reviews, and artist bios. Of these various written posts, concert reviews allow for closest content to photographs, and can even be supplemented by cell phone pictures (if you are able to capture a focused and well taken image, perhaps of the venue sign outside or the set-list on stage—do not post blurry and unprofessional pictures).
In addition to providing the ability to publish your work, blogging also allows you to interact with an online community. Depending on the nature of your blog or blogging website, this community can range from specific groups like other concert photographers to broader groups like music-lovers and fans. Engage with this community by following other blogs, liking and commenting on posts, and asking for advice.
Networking as a concert photographer is just as important, if not more, than it is in other professions. So much depends on being able to contact and work with music industry professionals such as artists’ publicists. Networking can be done both online through blogging communities, or in person at concerts. But regardless of where it happens, networking with other photographers and music industry professionals will help to further your career in concert photography.
In many cases, the agencies in charge of managing a band’s publicity are responsible for several other bands, so networking and building a strong relationship with these people may lead to opportunities to cover other bands. Better yet, if your network connections respect and appreciate your work, there is a possibility that you will be listed as a press contact, and therefore contacted when that publicist needs additional media coverage. Being listed as a media contact will provide you with a more extensive and wider variety of work, as it will often lead you to cover bands and artists that you had never heard. And sometimes, providing coverage of a requested band can be used as leverage to obtain a press pass for another artist within that publicist’s clientele.
In addition to networking with public relations, talking with other photographers, both amateur and professional, can often benefit your work. For the most part, other photographers are happy to share their experiences and advice with you. When networking with other photographers in person, try to have your contact information handy through a business card or something similar, as these interactions are sometimes brief.
While many concert photographers dream of photographing big name bands and artists, this usually takes years of experience photographing smaller acts. So rather than attempting to get a press pass for the Foo Fighters, start by turning to your local music scene. Emerging artists are almost always open to working with amateur photographers because, just like you, they are looking to become better known. Photographing local artists will provide you shoot concerts with little or no stress to fulfill a quota or deadline, as might be expected with better-known artists.
Take advantage of this practice by experimenting with different camera settings and lenses, shooting locations, editing software, and other variables of concert photography. Another advantage of photographing local artists is being able to photograph the other bands they are performing with, providing you with a press pass to a show that you would have otherwise been unable to obtain.
Once you have begun to establish yourself and regularly photograph concerts, the next step is to build an online portfolio to display your work. Having an online portfolio will help you obtain press passes and be perceived as more professional and legitimate.
When building an online portfolio, there are many different websites and sources to choose from. If you are simply looking for an easy and inexpensive way to put your work online, some options include blogging websites such as Tumblr or WordPress. On the other hand, if you are looking for more flexibility and customization, there are many affordable paid site-builder options including GoDaddy and Squarespace. But no matter which source you choose, the most important aspect to consider is whether or not it effectively displays your work.
Before making any decisions, be sure to consider how each source interacts with photographs, since this will be the main source of content on your portfolio. In order to fulfill this important aspect of a photography portfolio, choose a source with a picture gallery or similar feature that allows for a large or full screen picture viewing capability. You also want to be able to adequately label your images with basic information such as the band or artist name, venue location, and date. Additional information you may want to include along with your pictures includes artist bios, camera specifications, or picture/photoset titles.
Each photographer’s portfolio should be different and reflect that photographer’s style. Much of this can be achieved through simple decisions such as the way in which you organize and label your photographs. Are they ordered alphabetically, chronologically, according to quality, or by artist popularity and fame? Personal branding, such as developing a logo and working with specific fonts and a color palettes, is another way to make your portfolio distinct.
An optional but highly beneficial step towards establishing yourself as a concert photographer is working for a publication. Even if you just work as a freelance writer/photographer, being able to publish any of your work through a publication helps to add credibility to your work and is a great piece to include in your portfolio.
In order to be hired by a publication, use all of the skills and resources discussed above: networking with your connections, starting local, and providing example work from your blog and portfolio. You aren’t going to go from personal blogger to Rolling Stone contributor overnight, so do some research on local music blogs and publications. Once you find a local publication, contact them and ask if they are hiring, or better yet, let them know you have content from a recent show that you would like to be published.
As a recent college graduate with both a degree in Marketing Communications and several years of concert photography experience under my belt, I personally understand the woes of a passionate amateur trying to break into the concert photography scene. It’s certainly not an easy task, but I’ve learned that positioning yourself is the key to success. While expensive gear, editing software, talent, and other aspects of an accomplished concert photographer may be important in the long run, none of these qualities will make an impact on your work unless you are able to first establish yourself. The beginning is often the most difficult, but as you continue to cultivate a network of photographers and media contacts, develop a reputation, and build a portfolio, the process becomes easier and more enjoyable. All of my advice comes directly from my own experience, and hopefully by reading and listening to what I have to say, you will be able to position yourself to better pursue your passion as a concert photographer.