My Life as a Concert Photographer

Screaming fans at a Dream Theater concert

By Peter Andersson

Have you ever thought about how it would feel to stand a couple of feet away from music legends on stage in your home town, with a camera in your hand and a Photo Pass around your neck? It’s a funny feeling, I will give you that. The best way to describe it would be stressful fascination.

What I mean by that is that the feeling has two sides — one is that it is supercool to stand at an arm’s length from mega super legends, but on the other side, you often only have three or fewer songs to take the best pictures you can possibly take, and you don’t want to return from a Jay-Z show with all blurry pictures…

This is my story about my biggest interest in life, music photography.

It all started in a small pub in the Gamla Stan (Old Town) district in Stockholm, Sweden, as I started photographing singer/songwriters for an Open Mic club. A few months later, I was part of the crew and I met Julyssa, one of YAM Magazine’s greatly talented editors. One night she asked me if I wanted to shoot — take pictures of — Portuguese indie singer Noiserv. That was my first of many gigs for YAM Magazine.

It was far from my best, but it taught me a lot.

One of the best things about shooting concerts is not just that you get a chance to stand very close to music stars, but from a photograph’s perspective, it is a very challenging situation that you face as you raise you camera towards the stage. There are heaps of factors that you have to master before taking a good picture:  positioning, lightning, objects around you, ISO sensitivity, aperture, shutter speed. These challenges are, for me, some of the most interesting parts of being a photographer.

Another part is the show. No gig is the same. The audience always has a huge part in creating an atmosphere, and the feeling of standing between fans screaming their lungs out at an artist or band is hard to explain.

Some weeks ago, I went to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. That gig was just perfect. The mood of the audience was at its best, the guys playing had a good time, the shooting took place at the photographing pit (just front stage), and the lightning on the stage was great. After two out of three songs that we were allowed to be there for, I felt that I had all the pictures I needed, so I just stood there and embraced the atmosphere and listened and sang along to their classic song I Won’t Back Down.

Tom Petty

10 Responses

  1. This was fascinating to read about. Keep up the great work!

  2. amy says:

    how do you deal with venues you’ve never been to? Or do you just carry all your lenses around? xD

    • Peter says:

      @amy, I actually do carry most of my equipment with me since the rules are different from gig to gig. I invested in an good backpack (Lowepro 400AW) and my back thanks me for it :)

      • amy says:

        @Peter, I have one obstacle that you don’t have. When I go out with my camera, I have a high percentage of getting mugged. LOL So I prefer not having to carry all my equipment with me xD

        Maybe I should do a “My Life as a Peruvian Concert Photographer” hahaha

        • Peter says:

          @amy, Haha, yeah that sound like fun! Maybe you can have your equipment list like this:

          – Nikon D700
          – Nikkor 50mm Ai 1.8
          – Magnum 57
          – Kevlar vest
          – Tamron 28-75mm 2.8

  3. Holger says:

    Thanks for the great and honest read, Peter.
    I really enjoy your photos here and on your website!
    Keep it up!

    • Peter says:

      @Holger, Thanks a bunch!

      I like you pictures as well, especially the HDRs. Are you going to take more pictures of that band you shot earlier? It was nice pictures.


  4. Holger says:

    thanks mate,
    I did another band shoot last week. The bands feedback was: “nice try but not a single one is of use to us”. ;-)
    I’ve asked them to come up with a shooting vision of what would be of use and we’re working on that.
    I have a few concerts scheduled in the next weeks – trying to build a portfolio and hopefully find a way to affiliate with a magazine/online mag as well to shoot for them.
    that’s nice, at least so I read ;)

  5. Peter says:

    Haha, thats pretty harsh. But sure, its hard to know what bands look for in a shots from the show. My experience is that bands often want pictures of themselves with the audience but also pictures that show the atmosphere of the gig…but often its just full profile with cool and raw expressions on their faces.

    Nice to hear that you are shooting more shows. I bet you will have a nice concert portfolio to display soon.

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