Club and band photography poses unique challenges for any photographer and is frequently one of the first paying gigs many land. I still shoot the occasional club or concert, though now only if there’s a news angle to it.
You’ll face a few challenges that you’ll need to plan for in advance. The first will be getting approval to shoot at the venue. I always shoot with permission. At small venues it’s usually as easy as the band manager speaking to the manager. At big venues you’ll likely need press credentials and be limited to the “three song” time limit. For news coverage, that’s plenty of time. For promo photos I need to be there end to end. That usually means working things in advance with the venue management or concert promoter.
I also try to shoot with available light unless there is no other option option to using flash. If there’s time in advance, try to work with the lighting people for what you need. It is sometimes also possible to work with the lighting during breaks if you need changes.
If you’re working back stage it’s possible to use a tripod, but most of the time that won’t be possible. In these situations a good monopod is invaluable and you’ll need a fast lens. Most of the time I shoot a Tamron 17-50 f2.8, it’s plenty fast enough for most stage lighting situations.
For my latest camera I picked the Canon 7D, if I made more of my living shooting concerts and bands, I would have opted for the Canon 5D instead because of its bigger sensor and better low light performance.
You’ll want to have a camera bag stashed somewhere, but you won’t be able to carry it with you. Usually you can stash it behind the bar, if the venue has one, or back stage if not. Be advised that getting back stage in the middle of a concert can be a challenge. I carry extra lenses, my monopod and batteries in my vest pockets and the only time I go back to my camera bag is in an emergency if I need the spare camera body.
One thing I always carry in my camera vest is at least two sets of ear plugs. Those are a must at music venues, since frequently I’m working up by the stage. The other thing you’ll want to carry with you is cleaning wipes and spare lens caps. While shooting at concerts I’ve had every imaginable fluid splashed on both myself and the camera. I’ve been body slammed, bumped, elbowed, jostled, puked on, and even had one guy take a swing at me. The spare lens caps are in case you drop one, you won’t want to go looking for it, trust me.
A small flashlight is indispensable, I fit mine with a red filter so it doesn’t bother the other concert goers.
The key to getting great concert shots is picking your spots, staying out of the way, and go with the flow if you’re down in the crowd.