Since the advent of affordable DSLRs, concert and live music photography has become a burgeoning industry for a lot of photographers. Right along with the digital camera revolution, the indie music scene also has flourished, and this has opened up the doors for many photographers, both new and old, to have a shot at photographing live bands.
From the ’70s on up through the late ’90s and even into the early 2000s, most live music photographers were highly paid professionals shooting famous rock stars in concert halls for prestigious magazines. With the indie scene booming and many smaller venues opening, as well as the appearance of music blogs and web-based magazines, it has become easier for photographers new to the music business to get involved. Concert and live music photography has become an accessible and possibly lucrative option for any photographer who wants to try his or her hand at it.
One of the first questions you may have is how to gain photographer’s access to the shows. When starting out, you won’t be shooting the top-name acts. The best place to start is local. Most local bands and bars don’t require special permissions to have you photograph them; show up early and talk to the band. Offering a few shots for them is a good idea, too.
For regional or national acts that are still touring at the club level, get in touch with their management or PR people (this info is easy to find on the web). This usually gets you a spot on the guest list. They may or may not require you to be affiliated with some sort of publication in order for you to shoot them.
For the most famous bands, a photo pass request usually goes through the concert promoter, who forwards the requests to the band’s PR or management. You can generally find out who the promoter is by looking at the venue website. Look for phrases like "Presented by Acme Promotions" or "Acme Promotions Presents." Most of the top-name bands don’t have their management or PR info on their websites, and they would rather deal with the concert promoter than a photographer. If you attempt to reach out directly to them, you may not get a response. For these types of events, you definitely need to have an assignment for a publication or an image service.
What camera system you use doesn’t make a difference. What you do need is a DSLR (most places won’t let you shoot with a compact camera) and a fast zoom lens (ƒ/2.8 or faster is best). A camera that performs well in low light is obviously ideal, but almost any camera body will do. A semi-pro or pro camera is going to last longer overall if you plan on doing a lot of concert shooting because it can get pretty rough sometimes.
I recommend zoom lenses over faster primes because prime lenses limit your compositional options when confined to a small space. If you’re on a budget, there are a lot of affordable third-party ƒ/2.8 zooms made by Sigma, Tamron and Tokina to consider. If your budget is really tight, you may have to go with an inexpensive fast prime lens like a 50mm ƒ/1.8.