Music photography is a tough business to make a living in, especially when starting out.  It takes time to build up a portfolio and credibility.  I’m only just beginning and I know I have a lot more to learn, but right now I will teach you the steps you need to know in order to begin getting to shoot some of your favorite bands.


1. Know your equipment.

Example of a lens to purchase when starting out in music photography. Photo: Josh Sorenson

Whoever said that camera equipment doesn’t matter has obviously never tried music photography.  Sure, knowing how to compose an image matters a lot, but what makes music photography tricky is the lighting. Especially in smaller venues, which is where you will start out, lighting is dim and hard to work with if you don’t have the right equipment. Equipment can get pretty expensive, but there are some tricks out there for beginners.

You must have a lens that goes to at least a f/2.8 aperture so your photos are properly exposed.  If you don’t know what aperture is on a camera, it’s the opening in the lens that lets light through. The wider the opening, the smaller the number, and the more light can get through. Most kit lenses only go up to f/4, so make sure you’re conscious of what lens you’re using. If you’re just getting started, a 50mm f/1.8 lens is the perfect option, and you can get it for only $100, which is very inexpensive for a lens! I use one from Canon, but Nikon and other companies make comparable ones.

Going along with that, do not shoot in automatic. Try to shoot mostly in manual if you can, so you have full control of the shutter speed and aperture. If you really need a little extra help from your camera, shoot in aperture priority mode. This way you can set your aperture to the right opening instead of letting the camera guess it for you.  With this setting, however, you run the risk of blurry photos because you don’t have control of the shutter speed. I try to have my shutter speed set to no slower than 1/160sec because often times the musicians will be moving around.

2. Reach out to local bands.

A band of Furman students plays at Furman’s Relay For Life. Photo: Sophie Harris

Most popular concerts only give photo passes to people who work for publications. It’s a good idea to start building up a portfolio as soon as you can, so reach out to bands on your college campus or anywhere in your city. They will appreciate you giving publicity, and there’s no such thing as too much practice!

3. Find a publication to shoot for.

One Ok Rock – Shot for Odyssey. Photo: Sophie Harris

The artists’ publicists are the ones who give out photo passes. If you don’t work for a publication, it’s harder for your content to circulate and give the artists good exposure.

I work for Odyssey, which is a social content platform where college students across the nation generate posts.  I would suggest researching different online publications (especially music publications) either based in your city or nationwide. There are countless music publications who are in need of photographers like you.

4. Be nice!

Sometimes you won’t get a photo pass or even a response back, but that’s just part of life. Don’t act like you’re entitled to receive a photo pass. Being nice will only make your life and other people’s lives easier. It’s important to be nice not only because people will be happier to work with you, but also because it will make you a better person.