How can I do what you do?

Hey. Welcome back. This is blog #2 so if you  missed the first one you can read it HERE.

This is a bit of a follow on from the first one, as the frequent question 'How did you become a music photographer?' is inevitably followed with 'How can I do what you do?'  

Whether you're totally new to photography, just interested, or already out shooting live music, if you're wondering how to take the next step towards broadening your opportunities on the road to turning photography into a career, this blog will hopefully help you figure some stuff out.

One of the first things to tell you is that advertised music photography jobs are extremely few and far between. In effect you need to create your own role, and essentially your own job, and put yourself on the map as an available photographer. Photography assignments are often given based on recommendations, or to photographers already known to the client...whether that's a band, label, magazine, brand, event etc. But HOW do you get yourself into a position where you are recommended, or known to people who might be able to give you work?

Without solid secrets to success, which don't exist, I can only tell you and advise you based on what I have experienced personally, and a lot of what happened and still happens for me is as much luck and being in the right place at the right time as it is through knowing the right people or from recommendations. 

Here are some steps, and tips, to help guide you.

1. Go and shoot bands at shows (and different things too)
I'm assuming this is what you want to be doing anyway. But you might also be thinking right now 'well that's easier said than done eh'. As a new photographer, or perhaps a less experienced photographer, getting pit access to take photos of your favourite bands is probably not going to be as easy as you'd like it to be. Unless your favourite bands are the ones who visit your local, grassroots, small capacity venue which case you're laughing. Personally those are the ones I love shooting, and I spent nearly 3 years doing just that when I started off. A few opportunities came that enabled me to shoot much bigger and more established bands along the way but...for a long time I was very content to go to smaller venues with my camera. This enabled me to learn, hone my skills and build a portfolio, and most importantly it gave me easy opportunities to talk to and meet lots of people, including venue staff, managers and lots and lots of bands.

If you are lucky enough to live in or near a town or city with grassroots venues these are a great place to start. The awesome thing about smaller, local venues is that they are usually quite accessible to budding photographers, as in there is less likely to be any restriction that will stop you taking your camera in. Sure, you might need to buy a ticket to get in but YAY, think about how supportive you're being to those bands and to the scene generally by doing so. :D 

If you aren't very near to live music venues, or perhaps you're too young to drive, or can't afford to get to shows then looking in your local news papers at upcoming events, fetes, school concerts etc and offering to take some photos could be a great place to start until you are in a position to be able to get to those shows.

2. Have realistic goals
You want to shoot bands like Paramore really though, right? I mean, I know that's exactly what I wanted to do, even when I was in my local venue 3 or 4 times a week. I have been fortunate to shoot a heck of a lot of the bands that I personally like and admire, and Paramore are one of these bands. Things rarely happen overnight unfortunately but with experience and time those opportunities will come for you. Right now, as a new photographer, shooting internationally famous artists is perhaps not realistic. It's not impossible, and sometimes very unexpected opportunities could well arise for you, but the realism is that it's difficult to get photo access to signed artists without a credible press reason. Volunteering as a contributing photographer for an established web zine, being commissioned by a magazine or sponsoring brand, shooting for a photo agency or for a venue or music event as their in-house photographer, or working for the artist or their management or label, are some of the routes that will get you into that front of stage area. Most of these will almost certainly require you to have experience and a portfolio. If you're already shooting at local venues and starting to build your portfolio you could approach some music web zines to see if they're looking for new contributors. If you're at College or Uni you could maybe see what music events are happening on campus and enquire about taking photos at those.

3. Networking
I maybe should have put this as number 1 in the list. It's a pretty major thing for everyone in the music industry. I give the same advice to unsigned bands too - You gotta talk to people. Go talk to the bands playing, talk to the merch person, talk to the venue staff, get to know the regulars etc etc. Meeting new people and making new friends is COOL, plus all of them potentially have, or may at some point have, the ability to offer you opportunities. I realise not so easy if you're a shy person, but if you feel you can, and they're about, go say hello to the band.

4. Practice
Seems pretty obvious I know. Getting to know your camera inside out is really important. You never know when you might find yourself in a lighting situation you're not familiar with, or faced with taking photos of something you're unused to taking photos of. I can now walk into any venue, or find myself in any location with any number of natural lighting conditions or artificial lighting sources and instantly know what settings to use and how to judge when I might need to be constantly adjusting them or not. That's just taken lots of practice, along with some trial and error. If you've studied photography you're already a number of steps ahead of where I was when I started. It's just now putting that knowledge into practical use, perhaps in a live music environment.

It's probably also obvious, but shooting musicians on a stage whilst they're playing live is very much far removed from taking photos of pretty much anything else. They may move around a lot, can be fairly unpredictable and on top of keeping up with that you have to deal with the lighting, which is more often than not constantly changing. So your settings may need to be constantly changing also. And no 2 venues or shows are the same. It's going to keep you on your toes, so keep reviewing the photos you take as you go.

5. Build a portfolio (your best images)
No matter whether you've shot one show or dozens, or perhaps none yet but you do have photos of other things, thinking now about building a portfolio is a good step even early on. There are plenty of online sites that you can use to host these photos (I use Flickr), lots of them are free up to a certain number of images, and most will enable you to sort your photos into different categories or galleries.

Choosing photos for a portfolio can be tricky. All I can say here is BE FUSSY. Try to choose photos that are varied in subject matter, composition, lighting and location, if you can (it doesn't have to be just music photos). If you've got 20, 50, 100 photos from one shoot that you really like, whittle those down to the dozen best ones. Then cut that in half. Then half again. It's quite often that I might end up with hundreds of photos taken at one show, edited down to 20 or 30 that I think are quite good. And then maybe I'll create a folder on Facebook and put a dozen or so of those into it, but there might only be one that I like enough to put into my online portfolio or on my website.

As you shoot more and more things, or shows, your choice will get wider and you can keep adding to your portfolio, and take the less strong images out.

Online portfolios are great because it's easy to give someone a link, but sometimes having something more tangible is useful, especially if you need something instantly to show someone. Printed images in a proper portfolio case is great for College or Uni interviews, or even job interviews, but somewhat cumbersome to carry around casually on the off chance someone's going to ask to see your work. One of things I did for a while was to turn my images into a book, something small enough to carry in my camera bag, and pretty easy to whip out at a show or when I met interested people. Another thing I did for a while was to create a pdf version of those books to put on my ipad.

6. Effectively promote your work
LOADS of ways you can do this, and again it doesn't matter how new you are to photography or how many photos you have in a portfolio. Here are some of them.

* Portfolio - Already covered above.
* Social media - Get yourself set up on as many different socials as you can for your area of the world. This could just be on your personal page for a while, but having a dedicated photography page is the next step. Be proactive in sharing your work (linked in from your own site or portfolios if you prefer) and post across your socials every day.
* Tag in the bands when you share any photos of them online
* After you've met someone at a show look them up online and say hey
* Get some business cards made up, and hand them out whenever you meet someone new
* Get that mobile portfolio out that you put on your ipad/phone
* Set up a website - many benefits to this including getting a custom email and having somewhere to host your galleries and portfolios, post news etc. Do some's really not as difficult or as scary as you might think!

Okay, that's me done for this one. Thanks for reading. Hopefully see you at the next one when I'm going to be talking about the common misconceptions about being a music photographer. :)


Photo of Hayley Williams taken at Full Ponty 2007
View more of my photos of Paramore

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