The Professional Music Photographer – Equipment
So you’ve found the next section of ‘So You Want to be a Music Photographer’ and we’re moving on to equipment and the essentials for a music photographer.
Physically shooting a Concert or a Music Festival is potentially one of the most challenging areas of spontaneous photography that you’ll get. You’re going to get one chance and one chance only. Probably, over a maximum of 9-10 minutes. You’re going to experience quickly changing lighting conditions, darkness, potentially awkward shooting positions combined with a subject that’s going to move around, sometimes seriously quickly. You’re also going to be competing against other Professional Music photographers to get the best shots possible. When you’re working for agencies, images sets are uploaded and Newspapers, Web sites and other media outlets have a number of large Media Agency content to choose from. It’s seriously important that your images reflect the kind of atmosphere and content that will ensure your photos sell. If your equipment won’t allow this, then you’re in trouble before you even start. It doesn’t matter if you’re not shooting for an agency. We live in a society where more and more importance is placed on imagery in websites social media and publications. The Professional Music Photographer is invaluable content for Venues, artists, bands and to promote future events.
I’ll feature some of the equipment that I personally use and give a bit of an insight as to why it’s great for Concert & Festival Work.
For the Professional Music Photographer, a hard-working, durable, weatherproofed camera body is essential. You’re not always going to be working outside and the weather is becoming more and more unpredictable. If like me, you live in the UK, rain is a big factor, particularly when shooting festivals. A full-frame DSLR camera combined with a fast focusing lens in low light and good high ISO performance is a must. A DSLR is probably your best option. I shoot with two Canon 5D MKIII bodies. They have a metal case, they’ve been dropped on the floor, knocked on scaffolding, banged on stages and traveled the world. They’ve shot in excess of 150,000 images each and are a solid workhorse body capable of shooting in low light. I’ve been using these camera bodies since 2014, so they owe me nothing. You don’t have to buy a new camera every time a new model is released. Working Professional Music Photographers use their camera as a tool.
They’re not kept in sterile, dustless environments. A camera body is out shooting in all environments and temperatures, so buy the most durable, best performing that you can. Nikon or Canon? Sony, mirrorless. I can’t answer that. It’s the most subjective, contentious subject out there and everybody will have an answer. You have to go with your gut, research, try out the bodies and buy what’s best for you.
Good Glass – The Importance of a Quality Lens
Apologies if I’m teaching anybody to suck eggs here. The Article, on the whole, is aimed at people trying to enter the world of Music Photography and my views on how this can be best achieved. If you’re now considering getting your first DSLR, then this section is pretty vital. Good glass will last a lifetime. Fact. I’m using lenses that are both over 9 years old and until such time that they can’t be serviced, they work and I’m able to produce commercial images for clients that expect the very best in photography. The right lens means getting the right shot. I’m not going to delve into the subject of focal lengths and aperture. This isn’t a technical blog after all. In my opinion, there are three main lenses that you need.
Short 24-70mm – The underlying tool of the trade for generic crowd shots, ambiance, portrait images, bands at the front of the stage. It’s the workhorse in your case that you can’t live without. I use a Canon L Series 24-70mm f2.8. It’s a fast focusing lens, that produces stunning images. It’s hard wearing and I use it 70% of the time for everything from close-ups. I don’t really ever use anything shorter than a 24mm and I avoid fish eyes or other lenses that distort.
Medium Zoom 70-200mm – Most concert stages in large venues, Arenas or decently sized festivals mean that if you rock up with just one 24-70mm lens, you’re going to look like an amateur and struggle to shoot anything decent. Artists work the whole stage, back to front and often emerge from the very back in a spectacular manner. You just won’t get these short using a short lens. Again, shooting with a 2.8F lens means you will be able to capture these money shots. It alsomeans you can work different angles in the pit and shot more creatively. A professional Music Photographer will aim to shoot images that sell and just one or two out pf the ordinary images may just make the difference in seling your images and making a living as a Professional Music Photographer.
Big Lens – 500mm / 600mm – The Big Guns come out mainly when an artists management decide that the press pit is out of bounds. There’s nothing worse for a Professional Music Photographer than when PR Agency sends over a contract with the Words “It’s 3 songs from the Mixing Desk” Actually, 1 song from the mixer is the worst case scenario, but without a 500mm or 600mm, you have no chance of shooting anything of value and may as well walk away from the contract and stay at home in front of the TV. As an example, here’s a shot from the Lighting Desk at London’s O2 Arena, here’s the 500mm lens and here’s the result of shooting on something long.
Accessories for the Professional Music Photographer
I’ll make this section brief because I really want to move on to the important areas of shooting at Concerts and Festivals. We have a lot of ground still to cover! There are a number of other important pieces of kit you’ll need for working as a Professional Music Photographer. Some may sound common sense, but I’ll cover them anyway.
Flash – Buy what you can afford. You can’t use flash at concerts while artists are performing. It’s for backstage, crowds and generic festival imagery only. There’s a lot of after market flash units that won’t break the bank.
Cases / Rucksacks – I swear by Peli-Cases. Ten Years old and never had a problem. The pressurized hard case, floatable and holds a lot of gear. These are heavy, so not the best for festivals. For urban venues, it’s on wheels and a great bit of kit to wheel and save your arms. Get a decent waterproof rucksack with lots of compartments that will handle a minimum of two cameras, 3 lenses, laptop, all your accessories. Buy small, you’ll buy twice. That’s from experience.
Camera Straps – Walking around for 12 hours shooting with heavy kit means your shoulders will know about it. Buy a strap that’s comfortable and allows easy access to lift your cameras up when using. Buy an uncomfortable strap will make you miserable. I use a Holdfastgear and swear by the Moneymaker strap. I’ve worn this now for 5 years and it’s amazing. But again, all personal choice.
Earplugs – You won’t get in the pit at any decent concert without earplugs. It’s a piece of safety equipment that will pay dividends if you invest in decent bespoke plugs. Go to a specialist hearing aid outlet and they will mold earplugs dedicated to music to your own ear. Expensive. Of course, they are. But you get what you pay for and they are an investment to save your hearing in later life.
Clothing – Decent boots, quick dry trouser, a quality breathable waterproof jacket, hats for summer and winter. All necessary invaluable pieces of kit you’ll need. Weather changes and if you’re left in the lurch early in the day and soaked through, you have a long miserable slog ahead. The flip side is, sunstroke by lunchtime and again, your day and work are ruined. Be safe.
INSURANCE – THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT OF WORKING AS A PROFESSIONAL MUSIC PHOTOGRAPHER.
Forget this and you may live to regret it. You’re going to be working in a busy, people orientated environment. Accidents happen and if you don’t have insurance it could be one of the most costly mistakes you ever make. You will need
Equipment Insurance – If your kit is stolen. You are covered for replacements (subject to the level of insurance and provider you use.. Read the small print.)
Public Liability & Profesional Indemnity – Covers any events such as you dropping a camera on somebody’s head or tripping up the headliner who then can’t perform (You don’t even want to think about that.) Many insurers require an additional clause or caveat with regards to shooting on stage. Some policies will not cover this so approach your insurance supplier with caution and get everything covered. Imagine the consequences of severely injuring somebody and not having insurance.
The worrying thing is… There’s a shed load of so called Professional Music Photohraphers out there working who have NO INSURANCE. It’s not recommended.