From taking disposable cameras on school trips to actually owning a Canon DSLR, I’ve always had a camera in hand, but it wasn’t until I took my first point and shoot camera to a show that I knew I wanted to focus on music photography. So much energy and emotion is evoked during a live performance and I wanted to capture those moments into one still.
After taking photos from the crowd, I realized that if I wanted to get up close and personal to performers, I would need to get into the photo pit. In pursuit of a photo pass, I started emailing bands, publicists and management and was met with many denied requests.
That all changed in January 2013.
Metalcore band For Today was running a contest where they would choose one or two photographers for each date of their tour to shoot their shows. If chosen, they would get a ticket, photo pass and their photos would be published on the band’s Facebook page. I figured I should give it a shot, sent them my best five photos and waited. The day before the show, I had yet to get an email, so I figured I wasn’t chosen. I checked one more time later in the day and, lo and behold, got an email that read, “Gabriela, Thank you for your submission. You’re in!” A spew of emotions were stirring inside me– this was my shot and I was ready to take that first step.
The day of the show I was a nervous wreck, but I was also very excited. There were a few other photographers in the photo pit, many faces I recognized from frequently going to shows. When the lights dimmed and the first band came on, I felt a rush of adrenaline and began shooting. At the end of the night, I felt a way I’ve never felt before. I knew I had to do this again and again and again.
After shooting my first show with a photo pass, I uploaded my photos onto Flickr and started looking for online publications seeking photographers. Nobody was really looking to add to their staff and again I was left feeling discouraged. It wasn’t until I came across the website NextMosh that I felt I had a chance. I sent them an email and they quickly responded saying they would like to have me on staff. From there, I began getting more photo passes, shooting more shows and became part of UMusicians, which I’m still proudly a part of. With two publications backing me up, I was able to get photo passes a lot easier. Everything seemed to take off right after getting my first photo pass and I couldn’t be happier.
So how do you get access to these shows?
What I usually do is make a list of upcoming shows in New York City and Poughkeepsie for different venues. Because I’m still in school, I check my availability and take note of the shows I can and want to shoot. I then have a template email I send out to publicists. I make drafts and a week or two before the actual show, I send out the requests. The emails consists of my name, a short introduction about the publication I shoot for and what I want- a ticket and a photo pass for so and so date. If it’s been a couple of days and the show is coming up and I still haven’t gotten a response, I either send a follow up or send a request to one of the other bands on the lineup. However, I usually get quick responses. Sometimes confirmations telling me I will have a ticket and photo pass at the box office, other times I’m told they don’t have any more tickets, but can give me a photo pass if I get a ticket on my own. And sometimes they can’t accommodate me at all. No matter which of the three emails I get, I make sure to get back to them and thank them for their consideration. After I’ve shot the show and the photos are up on the website, I follow up with the publicist with a link to the coverage and thank them again.
The key to the emails are to be short and to the point. Publicists get many emails a day, so make sure you tell them exactly what you want and for what reason. And always be respectful and professional. You want to maintain a good relationship with them because chances are you’ll be emailing them again sometime in the future.
I’ve also shot many shows without photo passes at venues that don’t have photo pits and don’t require credentials, like The Loft in Poughkeepsie, NY. I also interned there earlier this year and kept a good relationship with the staff. I’ve met many bands there and every time they come back around, they get excited to see me shooting their shows. By maintaining these relationships, they begin to offer to guest list me in return for some photos. In this industry it’s about who you know and being social is highly important. I have many touring friends and when they’re in town, it’s nice to get to see them again.
In January I’ll make the two-year mark of shooting shows. Shooting live music is challenging yet exciting and exhilarating. I plan on shooting shows for many years to come and hopefully land a touring gig.