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Behind the Scenes: Life as a Music Photographer

Updated: Jan 8

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

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 while 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.

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.

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 showed me a good place within his drum kit to shoot from. Now 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 a strength, a strong beat makes the music. 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 or when the vocalist will travel to the other end of the stage. Saying this, the performance is usually full of surprises too. And I always expect, the unexpected!

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, 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!

How a Music Photographer Captures Concert Energy

© Cheryl Alterman Photography 2021 Top photo - Photo credit: Phillip Pavliger

Some of my favorite camera gear...

(Affiliate links): Canon Mirrorless R6 Body - Canon 70-200 2.8 Zoom Lens - Canon 24–240 Lens -

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