How to Get Into Concerts as a Photographer

While entertaining, attending concerts and sports events can get pretty expensive, especially if you want good seats for photographing. On top of the expense, many events won’t even allow you to bring a camera.

Here is how you can get free tickets to big events and gain practice with event photography. This method doesn’t always work, but it will work more often than you might think…

"George Adams" captured by Tom Marcello.

“George Adams” captured by Tom Marcello.

One thing all event promoters want is publicity. Even better is FREE publicity.

As soon as you hear about the event, contact magazines and newspapers that are not local. To save time, make a list of them in advance. The list will be handy for contacting publications every time a new event comes to town.

All of these newspapers and magazines have an entertainment section and they not only want photos and stories about these events, they really need them. But few have reporters in your area. It just isn’t worth the expense.

Here’s where you come in.

Offer to cover the event, but don’t ask for payment. The promoters and news outlets don’t know you and won’t want to make an offer. Tell the publications that you will send them photos and a story in exchange for a press pass. In the industry, this is called being a “stringer.” News outlets work with stringers all the time. Just as important, the event promoter works with them, too.

This tactic is particularly effective if the event is going to be coming to the news outlet area. The promoter will see your offer as free advance publicity, and the news outlet will see it as a multi-part story.

While you get free admission to the event and get to meet the stars, the news outlet has nothing to lose–a press pass doesn’t cost them anything. If the photos are good, the story can be edited or even rewritten, if necessary. And they have coverage of an event they would not otherwise have had.

If you do a bad job, if it is all garbage, they just toss the story and they haven’t lost anything. (Of course, I recommend you do the best job you can or you won’t be able to get any future passes.)

Do this a few times. Get copies of the published articles and start a portfolio of your work. It won’t be long before they actually will start paying you. Plus when you can send out samples, it will be easier to get the initial press passes from other outlets.

"The Flaming Lips Rock Austin @ SXSW" captured by Kris Krug.

“The Flaming Lips Rock Austin @ SXSW” captured by Kris Krug.

If you’re into concerts and sporting events, this photo tip could save you a ton of money, give you concert and sports event photography practice, and even lead to a professional photography career. For more information, check out the resources box!

About the Author:
Dan Eitreim writes for ontargetphototraining.com. He has been a professional photographer in Southern California for over 20 years. His philosophy is that learning photography is easy if you know a few tried and true strategies.

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13 responses to “How to Get Into Concerts as a Photographer”

  1. Ruth Spicer says:

    What if you are just a good band/musician photographer, but do not write stories with the photos for publication? How do you approach getting press passes to concerts to promote your own band photography portfolio without writing a story? Can that be done?

  2. Darren Skidmore says:

    I disagree with this and I have covered VFestival for two years but didn’t get a pass this year although I produced good pictures and they got a lot of hits on my website.
    1. I contacted a lot of magazines including more obscure ones and nobody was interested because they all used stock agencies and stock agencies were not interested because they had enough people on their books.
    2. If you do find a magazine/newspaper who will use your pictures in exchange for getting a pass and a credit in the publication, not only are you taking the work away from photographers who make a living from it but you won’t be paid eventually you will just been seen as the person who works for free and if you ask for payment the will just look for the next new person who will do it for free (remember that person? It was you last year!)

  3. Tara Bradford says:

    Photographers should not work for free. Do the musicians work for free? No. Photography has value, just as any other profession. Giving one’s work away helps undermine the business of photography. It’s one thing to donate work to a non-profit for a cause; quite another to give photos away to a newspaper or publication that pays its staff. Better to buy the ticket to the concert (if concert promoters don’t provide you with a press pass) and sell the photos.

  4. I have to agree with Darren and Tara – NEVER work for free no matter what your level of experience! I did it several times when I was starting out and later found it very difficult to get repeat work or generate paid referrals from people I had worked for on a pro-bono basis; you’ll become known as the guy who shoots photos as a hobby instead of the professional worth his rate-card. As Darren says, when you request payment for the second gig the promoter will just sidestep you for the next person who’ll do it ‘for the experience’.

  5. Dancetog says:

    I believe this post to be misleading, short-sighted and irresponsibly damaging to the photographic profession. If you’re good enough to be published then you’re good enough to be paid. I’ve explained why in my blog http://dancetog.com/2013/08/19/if-youre-good-enough-to-get-published-youre-good-enough-to-be-paid/

  6. You may get a pass but may not have permission from the promoter or the artist to shoot. I also agree that you should NEVER work for free. Working for free indicates the value of your work.

  7. There are a lot of Catch 22’s in photography. You have to have experience to get a paying job and you have to -shoot to get experience.

    I’m not an advocate of shooting for free, but I would shoot for free before I would shoot for cheap. Cheap can hurt you and the other photographers who are already doing. Everyone knows free is a proposition and and is going to come to an end, but cheap, they may think it’s the new going rate and hurt you or others.

    For promoters, they are going to want to see a strong FB following. What you you bring to the table for them?

    And it never hurts to walk around like you own the place. I shoot nightlife for the local paper and can get right in to big events and on stage with huge artists within a matter of minutes, all with out credentials for that event. Just gotta walk with a purpose, have real gear and be confident.

  8. Like Morgan, I’ve shot several music events. Having a large camera, a suitably big backpack, a couple of radio flashes and a confident swagger has generally allowed me to wander straight onto stage and into the DJ booth unchallenged :-)

    My one saving grace doing pro-bono is that I have always issued an invoice anyway – to make clear to the client just how big a favour I have done for them, and I’ve always requested (with unknown success) that they don’t make it public knowledge that I worked for nothing.

    That said, unless it really is too good an opportunity to turn down for your portfolio just let unpaid jobs pass by – from experience they often turn into massive commitments you didn’t really sign up for.

  9. I do agree about the FREE part. However, when I started shooting concerts, I would just contact the band directly and see if I could get a pass that way. It was usually a band I liked and I’d already have a ticket to see them. Flattery goes a long way, I’d tell them how much I enjoyed their last show and how i’d really love to shoot them again. Mots of the time, I’d get a pass. But then again, we’re talking about small to up and coming bands that would play at places like HOB. I haven’t done too many big arena shows.
    How about telling the publication that you would do the first gig for free, and if they were happy with your work, then you can talk fee for the next gig? No obligations!

  10. David says:

    If you have no experience at shooting concerts live then getting nonpaying gigs for experience only makes sense. With each concert, edit out your best images and keep those files/prints for your portfolio. Learning how to capture once-in-a-lifetime images with clarity and good composition is not kids play. Additionally, you will have to master the art of depth of filed and capturing tack-sharp action shots or the blurry moody action shots. Photography is an art, a skill that must be honed and perfected. Just because one owns nice digital equipment does not a photographer make.
    When you are confident that you can accurately capture any concert for pay then present yourself and your portfolio to the mags, venues, agents, etc. If you do not give up, you will nail a job and go from there. And if you can write, you will also open the door for articles with photos which is worth more than photos alone.

  11. Fraser says:

    Ridiculous. Why on earth should we devalue the industry to the point that we are getting paid in complementary tickets? How can you possibly think it’s a good idea to make promoters and event organisers believe that they can get photography for free? This means that next time they want photos, they will be unwilling to pay for them. To all the people who think it’s a fine way to get experience, a better way is to contact a professional and shadow him/her. There are also free and public shows and other opportunities to use your camera to practice without having to give your work away.

  12. Victoria says:

    The sad fact is that most promoters, venues and even many publications already don’t want to pay for photos. I have seen a very popular local press publish shoddy camera phone pics before paying a talented professional photographer.

    I can get myself into most small local shows and I feel like my grasp of skill is good enough that I could do great things with a bigger show (as well as getting paid).. but when contacting promoters, and even publications, the general response is “Sure in exchange for full use of photos.”

    When presented with the fact that I am a professional and my work requires compensation I never hear from them again. Some other chump just got access to the show because, even if I hold my ground, as many suggest, there is always going to be someone who takes the offer.
    Now that person has the experience etc etc.

    So the real question is if I am not going to shoot for experience, and I am not going to shoot without getting paid, and I don’t have a national act in my portfolio…. how am I going to get into the next Bruno Mars concert or whatever to shoot photos that might actually MAKE MONEY in the long term?

  13. Thanks for sharing useful information about press photographers. Your blog is very useful. I would really like to come back again right here for likewise good articles or blog posts. Thanks for sharing.

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