Tips – How to Research a Live Music Gig

Let’s say you’ve gotten the opportunity to photograph a well-known touring band. A photo pass with your name on it is waiting for you at will call, and you’re ready for it. Exciting right? To get some great shots, all the technical and gear requirements aside, what can you do, research-wise, to be ready for the gig? Plenty of things!

Enter the photo pit. All of these people will hate you for your 10-15 minutes.

You have to keep in mind, that the most common practice at a larger (say 500+ capacity) venue with a photo pit is the dreaded, “3 songs, no flash” rule. This means photographers get to shoot from the front of the stage for 3 songs (sometimes only 2, sometimes more, it depends on the venue and the restrictions placed by the artist). With such a short period, it is best to be ready for what the musicians are going to throw at you… or you may find yourself just missing those great shots because you were standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Setlist.FM offers users created content, showing setlists from bands, dating back as far back as people can remember. Usually, someone from the audience will upload the setlist from a band’s latest gig shortly after the show ends. While I typically try to shy away from looking at the setlist if I am going to see a band purely for enjoyment, if it’s a band I’m shooting, it’s a different story.

Setlist. FM

Bon Jovi setlist at

Many bands retain the same set, or very close to it, for an entire tour. The reason for this has a lot to do with everyone involved, from the person checking the sound, to the lighting, to the musicians themselves. While some bands DO change their set nightly (Pearl Jam comes to mind), it is quite rare. This means, if Bon Jovi opened up with “You Give Love a Bad Name”, on Tuesday night, you can pretty much guess that Thursday night, they’ll open with the same song. Peaking at the setlist allows you to venture to the next option, checking out videos.


Like it or not, everyone these days is recording songs at concerts with their phones and their point and shoot cameras. While this may cut into the profits of professional music photographers quite a bit, it does provide us with a new tool not available to photographers 10 years ago.

Let’s say you know the first three songs of a band’s set. Type the brand name, one of the songs, and the word live into the search bar (ie: Bon Jovi You Give Love a Bad Name Live) and you’ll almost certainly have something come up. Make sure that the video is from a recent play-through, say within the last week or so (you can do this by clicking on Filters, and changing the upload date to “This Week” or similar).

Sorting by “This Week” brings a few results of recent shows. These are your best bet for research.

While watching the video, look for things that make for a great photo, for instance:

-Does the lead guitarist jump all over the place?

-Is the drummer a wild cat, or do they look bored?

-Does the front man do anything in particular during certain songs?

Thanks to research, I knew when and where frontman Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons would be three minutes into their first song. When I entered the photo pit, I took my spot right where I knew I could get the best shot of Dan beating away at the large drum on stage.

-Most importantly… THE LIGHTING!!  Some time to analyze it. Are there clean, bright white lights on each performer? A lot of strobes? Or dreaded washes of blue, red and green?

Don’t always be afraid of the weird lighting. Some artists take great pride in their lighting setups and appreciate the mood set by the interesting washes of colours.


A simple method is to search for tags with the band’s name. Checking out photos and mini-reviews posted by fans is a great way to figure out how the band moves, plays, and all that jazz.

And that’s about it! It’s always better to be prepared than to go in blind.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 11th, 2013 at 2:24 pm. It is filed under Tips and tagged with concert photography, live music, photoshoot, research, shoot, three songs, and tips. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.