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Behind the Scenes: Life as a Music Photographer

Updated: Jun 26


Revealing the Thrills and Trials of a Music Photographer's Life

Photo credit: Phillip Pavliger Music lives on forever. And so do images. Combine the two and you get the exciting and sometimes difficult life of a music photographer. As a professional photographer, you get to witness exhilarating bands up close whilst documenting their live shows. The life of a live music photographer may seem like all fun and games. But it has many challenges as well. Not only do you get to capture iconic moments of a particular show, but you also need to manage the expectations that come with being a band’s chosen photographer. You may want to shoot the show in a particular style, and the band may want to go in a different direction. You may want white light and the band prefers a photographers' nightmare - low or colored lighting. Whatever the challenges may be, life as a concert photographer is indeed an adventure. Let’s go behind the scenes into the life of a music photographer. If you need a photographer, please contact me at: altermanimages@gmail.com  



Connecting With The Band

One of the first things a professional photographer does is try to understand their subject. The better you know the band you are working with, the easier your job becomes. Research plays an important role here. Even before a photographer meets the band, they may check out things like past interviews and the social media pages of the band members. And the bands past photos. This prepares the photographer to capture certain details during a concert. For instance, a photographer could highlight the musical skills of a band member who is quiet and reserved. Or capture the excess energy of the lead singer as they zip across the stage during the performance. Or like me, focus on the drummer at the back of the stage. If you need a photographer for your band photos, event, wedding, family photos, headshots etc please contact me at: altermanimages@gmail.com  

Balancing Artistic Vision and Band Expectations

© Cheryl Alterman Photography 2021


Prep For The Show

As a live music photographer, you can be on stage with the band and click them in close proximity. You can shoot from behind the band to capture the energy of the audience. But remember to ask their permission before the show. Some bands do not mind having a photographer on stage; others may prefer you stand on the side and do your job. I try to give a heads up to the band that I'll be onstage as not to startle them whilst playing. My prefered position tends to be near the drummer. I remember one gig in Utah, I was shooting onstage and the drummer was Kenny Aronoff. I let him know I'd be there as not to distract him. He laughed and told me that even if I were shooting from between his legs he wouldn't be at all distracted as he has laser focus on his kit and the music he's there to play. He then carved out a good place within his drum kit for me to shoot from. That was some of the most fun ever I've had shooting! The drums are my favorite instrument and I feel that the drummers never get enough love as they're always stuck at the back of the stage. In my opinion, if the drummer is not outstanding, the music will lack strength, as a strong beat makes the music. And as always...for me, when the drummer is good, the music is great!


The Big Show

What does a music photographer do during a live show?...

The primary aim of any professional is to capture the true essence of the concert. The best way to do this is to be ready to click spontaneous moments that encapsulate the band and their performance as a whole. It could be the smile of the guitarist after their solo, the emotion on the face of the lead singer, the last bang on the drum or the way the crowd responds to the music. This is where the intuition of a concert photographer comes to the forefront. Also predicting what may go on, onstage comes in handy, and as a lifelong music fan and attendee, I think I've gotten pretty good at this. I can usually predict the last beat of the drums, the twirl of the drumsticks or when the vocalist travels to the other side of the stage. The performance is usually full of surprises too. And I always expect, the unexpected! Like this one when Ty Taylor of Vintage Trouble slid on the stage and landed in front of me for this shot.


How a Music Photographer Navigates Live Performances

© Cheryl Alterman Photography 2022


One Show, Different Perspectives

The best professional music photographers capture different perspectives of the concert. Try capturing images from the perspective of the crowd. Or try taking some shots from the way a sound engineer views the show. All of this adds artistic depth to concert photography.

Some of the best images happen when a band member does something unexpected. A famous example is Johnny Cash giving the finger. Or when a Billie Joe Armstrong plays the from behind his head. Or the first time The Who demolished their instruments, and when Pete jumps into the air with one of his signature windmill moves, or that iconic moment when Neal Preston captured the dove that perched on Robert Plants' hand. As a music photographer, you need to be ready to capture these moments and more! If you need a photographer for your band photos, event, wedding, family photos, headshots etc please contact me at: altermanimages@gmail.com  

How a Music Photographer Captures Concert Energy

© Cheryl Alterman Photography 2021 When I started out shooting music more than a dozen years ago I thought that it was all about the camera operator that makes the difference - not the gear. Nowadays, I still think the artists' eye does make the difference no matter what the subject matter is, but I also beleive that your equipment palys a big role in sharp clean photos. I switched from only using Nikon to a Canon mirrorless body (R6) in 2022. I usually only use zoom lenses and stayed with my Canon 24-240 until about a year ago purchasing my 70-200 (2.8). Best decision ever. My photos are remarkably better (in my opinion). The only problem is that wide shots are impossible with that lens so I have had to get a dual camera harness to carry both lenses for some shoots, especially weddings, festivals and big events with crowds and group shots, so I can shoot wider if I want. Below is the gear I am using at this point in time. And just like any drummer or guitarist, there is always another piece of gear we are saving up for! There's always going to be another better lens, another guitar, another snare or cymbal we want to get!

Some of my favorite camera gear...

(Affiliate links): Canon Mirrorless R6 Body - https://amzn.to/47uF1LB Canon 70-200 2.8 Zoom Lens - https://amzn.to/4aM3EpU Canon 24–240 Lens - https://amzn.to/4aM3Pl4 If you need a photographer for your band photos, event, wedding, family photos, headshots etc please contact me at: altermanimages@gmail.com



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Wonderful perspective. Thanks for letting us have a glimpse from behind the lens. As with most things that appear simple to the outside world, the talent is in the details! 👍

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