I wanted to write a quick post about a question I get asked all the time. "How do you get into these concerts?' I always give a simple answer, " I am not afraid to ask and sometimes they say yes". The truth of the matter is it is a little more than that, but not much. I must say I have been turned down by a lot more concerts than approved, but I am never afraid to send that e-mail asking for photo passes.
Let me start off this article by telling you a little bit about me. I have been a photographer since I was 12 years old. I started shooting local Hardcore and Punk shows in Pennsylvania. Hardcore and Punk bands were more than happy to have the photos and it was really even unheard of to have to ask permission to shoot or film a live show. These rules were for pop bands and if a band would not let someone with a camera in their show, even with the absence of social media or the internet for that matter, word would have traveled fast that the band was a "Sell Out". So I was able to shoot bands like Sick of It All with no photo pass required.
Fast forward to the mid 90's when I got involved with a Tibetan Human Rights group called, "Students for a Free Tibet". This allowed me to overcome my fear of speaking to celebrities, managers, etc... and treating them like anyone else I would meet on the street. Having my own chapter of Students for a Free Tibet empowered me to call a bands management company and ask to set up a table where we could spread awareness about the human rights violations in Tibet.
What does this have to do with getting into concerts? Well one of the first bigger concerts I shot was Dropkick Murphy's. In the mid 90's Dropkick was on tour with the Mighty Bosstones and made a stop at a local college in my town. The bands management allowed me to set up an information table for the Students for a Free Tibet chapter. This helped me to make a connection when I sent the e-mail request to take photos at their show here in West Palm Beach.
Ok so punk bands are usually a pretty easy gig to shoot! But, what about the bigger concerts ? Well, some of those punk bands make it into the mainstream or some of the members you knew from 20 years ago start playing with bigger more mainstream bands. Concert photography is all about connections and producing quality work. I have been turned down by a bands management team and found an old friend that is playing with them and still got into the show! I have been turned down for a band I really wanted to shoot, but built a relationship with the managers through e-mails and got offered other gigs.
I know you are saying, "That is great for you! You have been blessed with these experiences to help you get a leg up! But, how do I get started?". It is very simple and it is a tip given on every concert photography forum, "Shoot every local venue you can!" Contact local venues and artists, most of them are all too happy to have photos. Build a portfolio! You will not get into bigger venues right away!
Once you get a solid portfolio, start contacting management companies about shooting bigger venues. How do you find their contact information? Google! Send a professional e-mail ( Do not sound like a fan). I know a lot of photographers frown on offering your images for the artist to use, but photos for passes are a good trade off for me (as long as I get credit and don't have to give them the rights to my photos). Yes you will get turned down, sometimes a day or two before the concert date, but don't get discouraged! It may take you several requests to different artists, but keep sending requests. Sometimes they say YES!