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How to get into gig photography on a budget

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young person playing the guitar on stage
Credit Bethan McConnell

WRITTEN BY NEXTGEN CONTRIBUTING WRITER BETHAN MCCONNELL

If you’ve ever been to a live show or festival, you might have seen a few people at the event with camera or recording equipment. Music journalists are often commissioned by artists or promoters to cover their events, taking photos and videos to share online. Although many established photographers have expensive equipment and years of experience, everyone has to start somewhere.

I have worked since 2016 as a music photographer and writer, and hopefully my experience and advice can help some new music journalists get into the industry. So, how do you get into photographing live music on a budget? Here are some tips and advice for anyone interested in working as a multimedia music journalist.

1. Work with the equipment you have

It might sound obvious, but understanding the camera you have is the first step into working in a new area of photography. You might have previously enjoyed taking photos of landscapes or architecture, but that does not always transfer into another area of photography.

Live concerts are a difficult setting to get used to, especially when you are trying to capture images of the event. You have more control over your camera, and the photos you take, if you learn to shoot in ‘manual’. This setting allows you to control many aspects of your camera settings.

Many established photographers invest a lot of money into their camera gear, but this happens over a long period of time. Nobody expects a new music photographer to walk into the photo pit with 2 brand new cameras, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re using your old family camera. Photography is about what you do with the camera, rather than what kind of camera you have.

2. Working for ‘exposure’

Unfortunately, there are many aspects of the music industry which can require working for ‘exposure’. This means that most music photographers work for free for the beginning period of their career, to gain experience and build their brand. It can be frustrating at first, particularly if you are looking to work full time in a photography role, but hard work does pay off.

As an example, if a huge touring band were looking to hire a photographer, they are far more likely to hire someone who has worked for years and built up their reputation, rather than someone who is only just starting out. The majority of music photographers start out by shooting shows for free, reaching out to artists and venues and seeing whether their services are needed.

3. Networking

So, how do you find contacts and build a network of friends in the music industry?

Creating a more professional social media account for your photography is recommended, as you can differentiate your personal self from your work. Following other photographers and music industry professionals on sites like Twitter and Instagram are a great way to get your work seen. Using LinkedIn can also put you in touch with a range of creative professionals, and is a good way to get your work seen by a wide range of potential clients.

If you are looking to work with an artist and photograph their live events, they will usually have a contact email on their website or Facebook page. If you don’t reach out, then you never know whether an artist would say yes to you working with them.

young person playing guitar on stage
Credit Bethan McConnell

4. Building a portfolio

Once you have started to take photographs at live events, you will have a range of images that you can use to develop a portfolio.

A portfolio is a small collection of your best images, used to promote yourself to future clients and artists. Every photographer has their own portfolio, and it is usually the best way to get paid work as a photographer.

There are many different options for building an online portfolio. You can use paid website services to create a website, or you can use free social media sites like Facebook Pages and Instagram. A good thing about using social media as a portfolio, is the fact that artists and managers can follow you and see more of your work. It is a far more cost-effective method, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t use social media and a custom website.

5. Working for a publication

Most photographers start out photographing small concerts and buskers events where there are no camera restrictions.

If you would like to work with larger artists in bigger venues, press teams and PR often require photographers and writers to work for a publication. A publication can be anything from Pitchfork and NME, to smaller, independent music blogs. The reason for this is simple: A PR’s job is to promote and publicise the artists on their roster.

Smaller music publications are often looking for new writers and photographers, but rarely have a budget to be able to pay their contributors. However, working for an unpaid publication does have mutual benefits. You are able to gain more experience working at larger shows that require you to work for a music website, and the website is able to post new and engaging content.

Working as a live music photographer can be difficult, and getting started in the industry can take time. If you find that you are struggling to find contacts, build a website or work your camera, there are always going to be people you can reach out to for help. The majority of photographers who work in the music industry remember how hard it was to break through and get themselves seen. Asking for advice and help when you need it can never be a bad thing, and is another great way to make professional connections.

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