Concert photography: Shoot your first concert Part I

James Blake, Electronic Beats Festival, 20121010, Arena, Vienna, Austria

When you’re new to concert photography, it can all be a bit overwhelming at the beginning. Which clubs and concerts should I choose to shoot my first concert? What about my camera settings? Do I need a flash? Should I ask the band beforehand? In this 3 part series on how to “Shoot your first concert” I´ll unveil my experiences as concert photographer and help you to get a good start with your first concert.


Start in small clubs

The first advice I can give you is to start taking photos of concerts in small, local clubs. In these venues, you can almost always get in with your digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera without any limitations (read here to get advice on your first camera gear). For bigger venues you need a press accreditation, but don´t worry too much about it now. So, starting out in small venues is the easiest way for you to get some experience as a concert photographer. Check out which clubs allow you to enter with your camera equipment first. You can just go to concerts of these clubs beforehand. If there are security guards at the entrance and they check your bags, then you obviously can not enter and take photos with your digital SLR camera. (Some venues allow small pocket cameras, but you want to become a concert photographer, right?). So, the first step is to make sure there is no restriction in taking photos in the club.

Once you found a suitable venue, you want to search for cool concerts. The best way is to have a look at the following sources:

  • club/venue homepage
  • local newspapers
  • local blogs
  • event webpages
  • music magazines

And believe me, it doesn’t matter where you live, there will always be a club with some bands playing.

I AM X, 20131413, Arena, Vienna, Austria - shoot your first concert

I AM X Nikon D700 50mm@f1.8 1/200sec ISO 3200


Your first concert: Don’t be late!

Once you’ve found a concert you’d like to attend, (why not ask some friends who play in a band and offer them your skills?) buy a ticket and make sure you’re there on time. Being late to your first concert can give you a nervous breakdown if you have to push through to the first row and fiddle around with your camera settings whilst the band is already halfway through their playlist. Not good. Be there at least 1-2 hours before the show. If you recognize the band, either whilst they’re doing their sound- check or hanging around in the club, kindly ask if they mind you taking photos of them tonight. Most of the bands will be glad that there’s someone who’s thrilled by their music and will see it as an honor to be photographed by you.

Position yourself in front of the stage and respect other people who also want to enjoy and have paid for the concert. Then the concert starts! All of a sudden, the club lights go out, the only light is coming from some blue and red spotlights flickering away, the band enters the stage and a wall of sound smashes into your face. You grab your camera with your 50mm lens f1.8 ( , set the camera to automatic mode and — BAM — the little flash monster sitting on top of your camera pops up and throws the ugliest light you can think of onto the singer’s face. Not only is the poor guy half-blinded and irritated, but your photo will also look like sh*t. At this point, a lot of frustrated beginners just take their cameras home and never shoot a concert again.

So what’s going on? If you want to know which camera settings I use read my blogpost: Concert Photography Settings for Beginners here!

Where did you shoot your first concert? Tell me in the comment section below

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  • I started with “Die Toten Hosen” at Saarbrücken, Germany 2002 – I’ve taken my pics with an analog cam. 🙂 Great article!

    • Hi Andrea! Wow, shooting concerts with an analog camera is maybe the hardest thing you can do to start with ;). How did your pictures turn out?

      • Hm..they were “ok” 😉 But I would never do it again, because the cam was too slow for a concert shooting. Now I’m happy with my DSLR 🙂

        • I guess, it was hard. Great to hear that you didn´t give up after your first concert. The camera settings and the equipment are key to concert photography (which I will talk about in the next blog posts)

          • I’m looking forward to the next blog posts. 🙂

  • John Sarmiento

    Hi Matthias! I’d like to share with you a bit of my experience as a concert photographer (3 years in the biz). Below are my snapshots of American dubstep violinist Lindsey Stirling here in Manila, Philippines last year; as a photographic subject, she’s known for her speed and agility on stage which most photographers would find hard to capture. But here I managed to catch the action shots…the decisive or core moments. How did I accomplish this? Anticipation. Not to guess, but to anticipate the artist’s moves. Getting to know the artist before heading out to the shooting grounds. Otherwise, you won’t make it through the event even with the best camera settings. Excellent article by the way. Cheers! -John S. (Wonderstruck Photography)

    • Hi John! Thanks for sharing your awesome pics! Good point on knowing beforehand who the artist is and what stage performance you can expect. Youtube is a great source to get an idea how the show will be.

  • Johannes Rohrauer

    I think my first concert was EAV in Innsbruck. Must have been in 1992 or 1993… Something that way. But I was 10 years old and had a pocket analog cam. The results where all for the bin:) My last concert was Dog eat Dog in Munich, shot with my X100….

    • Haha Hannes this is awesome. I think EAV was also my first concert in lower Austria. And it´s interesting that you use a Fuji X100 for concerts. How does this camera perform in low light situations? The X100 has a fixed focal length, right?

      • Johannes Rohrauer

        What a coincidence 🙂 I took the X100 because of it´s size. If security staff would allow pocket size cams, I at least have one with decent quality. It´s my allways-with-me cam, when my D7100 is to bulky (or if I am sure I am not allowed to bring it). It has a fixed 23mm prime and performs awesome in low light situation. The drawback is that it isn´t very quick. No big deal in all-day situations, but at concerts you may miss some shots, and you need to be very close. But anyway, I like it, and I can put it into my pant´s backpocket. Here are two shots, out-of-cam, just resized. Unfortunatelly I went out of batteries (don´t ask…….), so these are my best shots from Dog eat Dog.

  • Leeza Gomez

    My first concert was Ellie Goulding here in LA and I shot with just a regular nikon coolpix l320 and the shots were okay as you can see below…. then my second show i used just a canon t3i and the shots were better because the opening act was in daylight but the main band was even harder since it was an outdoor nighttime set. but now I’m looking into getting better lenses at a college student budget lol, we’ll see how everything goes! Thank you for all your tips!!!

    • Hi Leeza, thanks for your comment. Using a compact camera for concert photography is almost impossible (from a technical point of view). The best would be to get a crop sensor DSLR with a cheap 50mm lens. If you haven´t read my article on how to start concert photography on a budget read on here:

      • dinadee

        Hi -regarding using a compact camera – This image is taken with a Canon SX280 – I have used it to take professional shots with, and highly recommend it to anyone one a tight budget 🙂

  • Karen pittman

    I’d love to take photos for big name groups. U2 being my Everest. Sadly, all the venues don’t allow DSLR cameras at all and will search your bags for them.
    So, its not that easy to get good quality photos while at shows unless you have the access to do so and sadly, not everyone has those.

    • Thanks Karen for your comment. You are absolutely right, taking concert photos of U2 is indeed not easy. They just give press accrediation to the biggest media channels. So if you are not a photographer for them it´s most likely not possible. However you can start with not so famous bands, build your portfolio and then apply for magazines. It will take some time. but if you want to shoot U2 you´ll find your way 😉

  • Roxanne

    Yeah Karen, I know how you feel. It has been my dream to shoot photos for U2 for the past 20 years. I know that it’s not very likely to happen no matter how hard I work for it, but I’ll never give up.

    • Roxanne, that´s the best attitude. never give up. You´ll never know what happens in the future. You can also just write them an email and say that you are trying to shoot photos of them the last 20 years. Maybe you´re lucky and they reply. The other possibility is to find a big medium where you can get a press accreditation for the concert.

  • Shannon Crowder

    Hi! I’ve only ever shot with my cell phone from my seats, but believe I still got great shots, composition-wise. I am shooting Candlebox, my first one with my DSLR, in a couple weeks. I’m really excited!

    I would love to get to shoot Paramore or 5 Seconds of Summer, but I doubt that will be happening any time soon! (any btw, I am a near 40yr old mom, not a teen!) Most of my favorite bands are no longer together, so I’ve been getting into fairly “new” bands, like 5SOS, All Time Low, Hey Violet, and Art of Dying.

    • Hi Shannon! thanks for you comment and it´s awesome to hear that you are a mom taking concert pics. I was 28 when I was starting out, so age doesn´t really matter. Good luck for your future concerts and let me know how it works out for you.

  • Hi Matthias, this wasn’t from my first concert, but it was my first photo credit on an Album. It also was because of this photo and album credit that motivated me to start shooting more on a serious, professional level. To follow up John Sarmiento’s comment, I came from being on the stage to shooting others, so knowing an artists movements helps with shooting. One thing I have learned is spend a bit of time looking at a bands concert or live performance videos. Watch and take mental notes of how they move on stage. Some players are static and stay in one place, while others move from side to side, or front to back. Also look at what other photos they have online and see what they don’t have. A piece of advice I would also pass on is look for the moments in between the music. As a blues player, it was always the pauses between the notes that had the most impact. I find that if you capture those moments say when a singer isn’t belting something out but is just standing there has a greater impact. Or that moment when the whole band clicks or is at the end of the song, and everyone on stage is smiling, knowing something magical just happened. Those are the moments that if captured make your photos stand out. As seen by the pic below, the band had just finished their set, left everything out on the stage after 45 minutes, and I had them stand for a quick shot at the side of the stage, a moment of accomplishment captured. Love your blog! Cheers!

    • Hi Keith! Thanks so much for sharing your insights. I totally agree, that sometimes the magic happens between the music. You can definitely see the adrenaline rush after the concert in your photo. Happy you like my blog, talk to you soon and good luck for your upcoming shots

  • Eugene

    Thanks for all the great advice and tips for shooting concerts. My first big opportunity will be 7/28/15 to photograph the band Imagine Dragons

  • Fia Aulia Nurbina

    I’m into K-pop and would sometimes take pictures during the concert I went to. The thing is, K-pop artists are usually dance groups with high dynamic performances and they rarely stay still during a show. And since taking pictures is not actually allowed, snapping shots while hiding from the security guys also pose as another challenge. I mostly take pictures using the sport setting and burst mode, but now that I’ve read your blog, I am very interested on how to take concert pictures properly. I also need to learn how to edit pictures since I know nothing about that. But I can’t wait to try your tips and trick on my next concert experience. These are some of the pictures I took on an EXO concert.

  • Emma Pinkerton

    Hi! I am hoping to shoot my first show on Monday. I have always been someone who stands front row and takes iphone pictures but this will hopefully be my first real shoot. I have shot things such as nature and portraits but this is what I really want to do. I am incredibly nervous but your site is helping a lot! So I guess I am just saying thanks and I can’t wait to show off some shots.

  • mikebaltierra

    I just recently ran across this article when looking up ‘concert photography tutorials’

    I had just purchased a Nikon D7200 a week or so before going to a club concert in Seattle. I then went and purchased a nikon 50mm f/1.8g nikkor lens after reading this article. So glad I did.

    I went and shot my first show. I was pretty happy with the results. My only mistake was not knowing that auto ISO is enabled by default.

    Hope you enjoy!

  • Sandee

    My experience is in portrait and sports photography and I will be shooting multiple acts at a release party in a few weeks – my first with a DSLR (shot some jazz concerts in college with film). This post was so helpful, thank you!!!

  • tmc

    I am shooting my daughter’s band Mirror Eyes in Nashville this Friday so I am very excited and hoping I can get some good shots. I shot them a while back with a lens that I rented online to try out and I wasn’t used to it but I got a few good shots. The first is my daughter, the second is her girlfriend in the audience and then my daughter with lead guitarist Sam. I’m really hoping I can get more shots to work out this time!