Two years as a concert photographer. What I learned along the way.

Warpaint at Forbidden Fruit 2014, Dublin

You really don’t need the best equipment

I’ll start this off by telling you a bit about my kit and what’s in my camera bag. It’s pretty basic (an understatement) and hasn’t changed much in the past two years unfortunately but I feel it has made my photography a lot better. I’m constantly being restricted by the limitations of my camera and lenses but the more I use it the more I learn and I feel like it’s making me a better photographer. All the photos you will see on this page would have been taken on my beat up Nikon D90 and a couple of lenses including the Nikkor 50mm f1.8, Tokina 11–16mm f2.8 and the Nikkor 70–300mm f4–5.6. There are also a couple of lenses I borrow every now and then which are the Nikkor 35mm f1.8 and the Nikkor 10.5mm f2.8. Top-tip: If you’re starting out and have friends who have DSLR’s, always buy the same brand as them so you can beg, borrow and steal lenses from them when you need them!

Nikon D90

Develop a style

As I said, my set up is pretty basic and as you can see above, it has been used a lot over the past number of years but don’t let an old camera and basic equipment ever hold you back. It was pretty daunting the first time I walked into a photo pit at a festival and seeing everyone with multiple camera bodies and lenses the length of my forearm. I’m sure their camera straps cost more than the second hand 50mm f1.8 lens I was using but at the end of the day, it’s the photos that do the talking and not the equipment. Old shitty cameras only make your photography better. That’s the main thing I’ve learned for sure. I’ve been stressed out by blurry or dark photos, photos that are way to grainy to be useable and shots that I’ve missed because my autofocus couldn’t handle the lighting and movement. Like most people I blamed my camera and lenses but I knew I had to keep shooting even though I didn’t have the ‘ideal’ camera and set up for music photography. One day it clicked — I can’t take the amazingly sharp and beautifully lit photos when it’s dark like the rest of the guys in the photo pit so I changed my approach to suit my camera and it’s limitations: I’m going to take dark, moody photos and focus on composition to make the photo interesting. I would over-expose the image slightly and in Lightroom I would bring down the exposure and shadows which would cancel out some of the noise from my small, old sensor. This helped me develop my style and see photos no one else shot.

Ben Howard at The Olympia Theater, Dublin 2014
Hozier at Longitude Fesitval, Dublin 2015

Working for music blogs

Most cities have music blogs which review shows and have news about upcoming bands in the area. Email every single one of them with a portfolio. You don’t have a portfolio? Find a local venue and go there twice a week for two weeks and take photos. Most small venues don’t have restrictions on the camera equipment you can bring in and you can shoot the show from the crowd. Be courteous and only shoot the first three songs (normal shooting rules) and then leave the band alone after that. Maybe take a few room shots from the back and sides. Once you have some awesome photos throw them together on a website (even a Tumblr) and use that to apply as a photographer for music blogs.

Noel Gallagher at 3Arena Dublin, 2014

Be different

Shoot the moments in between, shoot the smiles the band members give each other, shoot them tuning, shoot interesting photos of their pedalboards or amps. Tell a story. A photo is awesome, but a collection of 10 photos which can tell a story and keep a viewer interested until the very end is even better. I’ve looked through too many photo albums of live shows and seen the same photo after photo after photo after photo. It gets boring and predictable. Shoot wide, shoot close. Don’t be the photographer with two angles of each band member and then one wide shot of the entire band at the end. Listen to the music, wait for the drops. Get your focus ready. Watch where the singer is looking. Is he reeling up a bunch of microphone cable into his hand? He’s probably going to jump into the pit and sing to the crowd from the barrier. Get your wide angle ready for that. It’s all about anticipating the shot, and also about being able to capture stuff you weren’t ready for with the wrong lens. That’s a bit contradictory but I’m trying to say it’s about being sharp. Think quick and never settle of average.

Keep everything. And backup.

At the first festival I shot I came home each night, went through each photos in the import window in Lightroom and manually selected wether to import or discard each photo then and there. Big mistake. Import everything and then edit the ones you like. I regularly go back to old albums in Lightroom and have a look through them. I find photos I never edited that I now love. My editing technique has come a long way since then and I also see photos differently. It really is amazing what you’ll see now and what you didn’t see then. Even if you’re not in the music photography field you should go through old albums. Learn, re-edit and see how far you’ve come.

Jerry Fish at Leixlip Festival 2016, Ireland



VFX Artist & Video Editor from Dublin, Ireland with a background in photography // //

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Colm Moore

Colm Moore

VFX Artist & Video Editor from Dublin, Ireland with a background in photography // //