Why I flew 6000km to hangout with Todd Owyoung!

Rockstarphotographers Matthias Hombauer and Todd Owyoung

Pssst. I´m about to let you in on some secrets of concert photographers today. I met up with no-one other than the guy who inspired me to become a Rockstar photographer by myself. Therefore I flew to Brooklyn, New York to hangout with Mr. Todd Owyoung to talk about passion, the music business and why you should always enjoy what you are working on.

If you have been into concert photography, you must really follow Todd Owyoung. If you haven´t until now, check out his awesome website at www.ishootshows.com. When I started out in concert photography, some six years ago, Todd was the first name that popped up in google andI could tell immediately that I need to know more about him. I checked out his awesome photos, blog articles and reviews and learned a lot about how to get started in a business where hardly anyone talks about their secrets as music photographers. We eventually got in contact via email and collaborated on some projects. I sent him my portrait photo of Atari Teenage Riot for his great project “The Image Story” and he reviewed my “Guide To Rockstar Concert Photography“. So it was just a matter of time before we met up in person and had a chat about our visions to change the world for a better Rockplace.

It really didn´t surprise me that Todd and I share almost the same mindset when it comes down to how the music photography business works. We talked for about 3 hours, had a couple of drinks and drew some conclusions about how we see the concert photography culture developing in the future.

As a result of our chat, I´ve got 5 tips to share with you about what you should know about concert photography.


1. Be passionate!

Todd and I totally agreed on the face that we both love being music photographers. If you´re considing starting out as a photographer in the music business, there´s probably only one way to be successful: find your passion for it. Don´t start for reasons like money, fame or because you’re a groupie of a specific band and want to get access to them. You don´t know if this is the right thing for you yet, then read my 10 tips to follow your passion.


2. Getting noticed!

Today, it´s easier then ever to reach millions of people using the world wide web. Social media platforms are your doorway through which you can to get in contact with people who share the same passion as you. It´s important to show your work and share your stories. Additionally, get your own webpage and show your portfolio. Have a look at Todd´s website “ishootshow” and my “How to become a Rockstar photographer” branding to get some inspirations. Also a good book to read is also Austin Kleon´s book Show Your Work!


3. Break the boundaries

As Todd and I have already been in the concert photography business for a while, we also discussed the limitations you have to deal with as a music photographer. There is the 3 songs rule“, which means that you´re only allowed to shoot the first 3 songs from the photopit. When shooting larger bands, you have to sign a contract (you´re not even allowed to use the pictures for your personal portfolio) and sometimes you´re more than 30m away from the stage. These are all challenges you will master,but after a while you´ll start looking for more. So, what Todd and I are doing is shooting directly for bands. This allows us to get different viewpoints such as shooting from the stage. It´s great fun and you can start doing it now too. Start out in small clubs and ask bands if you can shoot for them directly. They´ll be happy to get great pictures and you´ll have the opportunity to get some killer shots on stage.


4. How to make money in the music biz!

Todd told me a story about two photographers who were trying to get hired to shoot a band. One was an old friend of the band who wanted to do it for free and the other photographer was a stranger to them but he wanted to charge them. Who did the management choose? Surprisingly, it was the guy who wanted to get paid just like everyone gets paid for a providing a professional service.

I totally agree, that too many concert photographers give their work for free. And most of the time nobody will take you serious if you do so. Therefore, I talked to some influential guys like Ross Halfin and found myself a way how to get money out of my work. (and by the way start to help the concert photography business out of it´s fucked up state). My Manifesto is simple, easy and works:


That´s it. It´s fine to give your photos for free, if they´re only going to be used on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter , Instagram and so on. Reduce the size to 1500px on the longest side and the resolution to 72dpi, put your logo on it and ask for a link to your homepage.

BUT: DON´T give your photos away for free if a band wants to use them for Promo or press usage! Never! This is where the “hobby“ part ends and the business part begins. This is commercial usage and I don´t see any reason why bands/management shouldn´t pay for it. They don´t give their music away for free either.

So next time when a band ask you for free promo pics, remember the story that Todd told me and be clever enough not to get fooled by music management people.


5.Have fun!

This might be the most important point of all! Enjoy life and have fun doing what you´re doing. Don´t take yourself too seriously and be nice to other photographers. I think Todd and I are the perfect example in that even though we´re in the same competitive field as concert photographers, we´re happy to just meet up and talk about our experiences. It ´s about sharing, making new friends and helping others out. We´re all sitting in the same boat and it´s great for Karma too.

I would love to hear your tips for concert photographers. Post them below in the comment section

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  • Wm Riddle

    Fantastic Mathias, Todd and your blog, two blogs I read regularly and like a student who has a question, a question is answered. Thank you, a Big shout out to Todd, and safe travels! Cheers!!

    • Thanks Wm Riddle! Keep on reading there is a lot more to come in the future.

  • Thanks Matthias for the inside knowledge. Can I ask when you want to shoot for a band directly, who is you’re contacting? The band, management or pr?

    • Thanks Lee. The best way is to contact the band directly e.g. facebook fanpage. If you don´t find a direct contact try to reach the management. The contact is written somewhere on their official homepage. Good luck

      • Ok, and should I make it clear with that first contact that I would not be doing it for free, or does that negotiation come later?

        • Yes, always tell them your rules, because if you wait and just want to discuss after you took the photos, they will always complain that they didn´t know it. So just make clear from the beginning that they can use the pics online with your logo, but not for promo or press usage. The price you can discuss once they are in need for them. There will be some bands who wont pay you, but the aim is to work only with bands that respect your work and don´t just want to have everything for free.

  • Stefan Lucassen

    bless ya matthias! love the way you work and you and todds vision on the scene

    • Thank you Stefan! I am always trying to share insights that everybody can use immediately.

  • Kathy Dickson

    Thanks for sharing, Matthias! You and Todd are two of my inspirations.

  • Charla Stephenson

    Hi Matthias! Great article! I tried to talk to Todd about three years ago. Never received a response. I was so influenced by his work. Now I have you! Glad to have gotten to speak with you and learn some new tricks. Thank you!

    • Hi Charla! Great to hear that you have already learned some new tricks here!

  • Rachael Griffiths

    I was directed to Todd’s website by a music photographer friend of mine (at the very first gig I shot), and learnt so much from just poking around and seeing what information was there to uncover. I always go back there when I feel like I need some inspiration! (To your photos too!)
    Just to mention point 5 specifically – I always try and be nice to other photographers, and so far have met some lovely people. It’s nice to see that some of the more established names feel the same way!
    Great article!

    • Thanks Rachael! Todd and I have the same mindset when it comes down to help other music photographers. Since I am on tour I met already a lot of great people from all around the world. And I have also learned from guys like Todd so for me it´s the most natural thing to also share my experiences here.

  • This was a great read. Todd’s great. I haven’t met him, but I read an article of his a while ago about getting access to shows, and after reading his story and about his success, I was really inspired to keep trying…so much that I wrote and told him so, and to my surprise, he responded.

    Way to go sharing this knowledge. I’m still trying to cross over myself, and hopefully it’s right around the corner. Thanks for following my work as well, since I didn’t get to thank you sooner.

    • Hi @deshauncraddock:disqus. Thanks for your comment. Todd is a great guy to hang out with and getting inspired and motivated is also my aim with my blog. Good luck for you.

  • Melaine Schweighardt

    I follow Todd too… Awesome article!

  • Carla Durham

    Without Todd’s blog, I wouldn’t have known what to do at my first concert shoot. Unexpectedly, I had the pleasure of meeting him last year during PhotoPlus. Glad to find this blog too. Glad to have photographers telling us how you can do it instead of complaining about why you can’t.

    • Hi Carla! Thanks so much for your comment. Happy you like my blog!

  • Miss_Kitka

    Hi Matthias. So happy to have been directed to you. Do you have any blogs or articles on what to charge? I realize this will be different depending on the level we are at. I am in the process of revamping my website and my life and career. It’s all focused on music photography but when an offer comes in, I want to know how much to charge for studio work, live work, touring etc.? TonePros wanted a pic I took of their artist for free! They wanted the artist to sign 8×10 photo of my pic at NAMM and put it on their website all for free. Needless to say I declined and everyone around me thought I was crazy to give that up. But I stood my ground! In that situation, what would be an average pro fee? Thank you 🙂

    • Hi Miss_Kitka. thank you for your comment. I know the business side is always the hardest part as music photographer. Because the situation is normally like this: If you try to work with local bands, most of them won’t have the money to pay you properly (maybe you’ll get a t-shirt or an album for free). Then try to work with the big Rock Stars; they won’t pay you either because they know that they only have to ask 3 other photographers and 1of the 3 will give them their photos for free. And thats our main dilemma.
      From a business point of view, it makes sense for the music management to stick to the people who give their work for free. However, if you’re one of those guys, chances are that this band won’t pay you any more (“Why should we pay $600 this time? You gave us the press photos last time for free!”) and you won’t leave a professional impression. So you did the right thing to stay professional and don´t give them your work for free! I stick to the main rule: NEVER GIVE PROMO OR PRESS PICTURES FOR FREE.

      Regarding what to charge depends on the usage. Is it a tourposter or an album cover? Is it advertisement for a big concert venue or a press photo.
      It also depends if they ask you to do a photo shooting or you offer them to do it. Try to always get a deal where you can profit from. I was touring with a band and they paid all my travel expenses which was great. I guess it´s not so much how much money you get, but more that the band also appreciate your work. This is the basis of a good relationship with them.

      I´ldd definitely cover this topic in the future on my blog,. I hope that helps, best Matthias

  • Wezzy Cruze

    I’ll admit, in my short course on photography studies, Todd was a major inspiration to me. If anything, I took more away from reading his blogs and looking at his images, than I did from the course.

    Hell, ask me what my first or last assignment was and I wouldn’t know.

    Ask me what Todd Owyoung’s go-to kit is, and I’ll drop it out instantly.

    I’ve been guilty of giving away images for free, and I’ve always never spoken up and said “hey, just give me some credit when you use them, ok?”. Lately, that has changed, luckily.

    Along with your 5 tips, and this is something that I, I guess you would say, preach, is “stay hungry”. Don’t be too easily satisfied or grow too comfortable with what you’re doing, always push it to the next level. I see heaps of other photographers, and I try out their techniques or post process methods, I’ll copilot an event with them and just talk theories and ideas. At the end of the day, knowledge is power, and the more you have to work with, the further you’ll go. I don’t go out of my way to blatantly rip-off others, but it’s always fun and it’s a learning curve.

    • Thanks Wezley for sharing your thoughts here! “Stay hungry” is another good point!