Starting a career as a photographer has become difficult. I was lucky enough to have some strong supporters, but in the end i decided to call it a day when things kept getting worse.
But how did it all start? I was still in school when the editors of our local newspaper came up with the idea of a page being created by students. They asked me if i'd like to visit a concert - and guess who it was? Ray Charles, the archpriest of soul in our little town and i was able to stand next to the stage and take photos. I think i didn't realise what a big opportunity grew up there.
So i went there without special expectations, somehow unprepared with my trusty Minolta 300 and some rolls of b/w film. No second camera, not even a second lens - just the standard 50mm and nothing else. Very soon i got really excited about the atmosphere. Standing right next to such a superstar, handling the difficult lighting situation - what an adventure. So i took my shots and prayed that the outcome was good enough to satisfy the editors and have one of my pictures printed. It got, and i was instantly addicted to concert photography. So the editors sent me to more concerts, where i got more chances to learn and train my skills. A great opportunity for a student.
As i was moving to the south, i got in touch with the people from laut.de who again gave me the opportunity to take pictures for their magazine. Getting permits was hard, since online magazines didn't have a standing like the long-established newspapers and print magazines. The whole music industry had somehow missed the connection to the web and an online magazine must have been like a red rag to a bull. So we wrote lots of emails and all we got was some permits for minor bands. Meanwhile i had moved to cologne and got in contact to other photographers who sent me to concerts as a substitute when their schedule was to tight to show up by themselves. So i gained some reputation and over the years we finally got almost all permits we wanted. But as you may have noted - it took me years to get the chance for big shows and more superstars in front of my lens.
With a stronger portfolio it got easier to get in contact with interesting magazines. I got assignments from the Rheinische Post which booked me for the really big shows like Madonna or The Rolling Stones. So the business grew and somewhen i had the idea to get in contact with photo agencies to spread my pictures to a bigger audience. Again, i had to wait for many months until Getty Images showed some interest (Thanks, Christine!) and sent me a contract. I was lucky to get one of the old contracts with higher shares than you can get today. Working for an agency had two advantages: First, they sold my pictures all over the world. Literally. Reading the monthly reports with the publications in magazines and websites from all over the planet was very exciting.
But the second advantage was way more important - photo agencies demand the highest quality level and deny everything which is not marketable. Editing is unwanted except of minor corrections to framing and levels. So i learned how to produce pictures right out of the camera for the market - and i learned it the hard way. Often enough i was totally excited about my pictures and the editors at Getty rejected almost everything. By looking at the pictures they already had in their archive and looking at the results of other photographers i got better in deciding what could be a "good picture" for them and not a nice one for me. And it worked, soon i had pictures in the holy grail of Rock'n'Roll magazines, the Rolling Stone.
Getty Images also gave me assigments for other entertainment events like TV shows and red carpets. That was great, because it paid a lot of bills and i could afford to invest in gear but on the other side it prevented me from doing concerts. I often had to skip a good concert due to an assignment for a TV show which promised more sold pictures than the concert. Also, at the same time the prices for pictures began dropping and newspapers started to cut their budgets. To give you an example: In 2012 you got paid around 400€ for half a page in a newspaper, two years later we were lucky with about 80€ for the same size. On the other hand, gear didn't become cheaper - and neither did insurances, taxes and costs for accounting and so on.
In 2015 i was taking photos for almost twenty years, from 1993 to 2015 with some intermittences. I had seen almost everyone (at least those who were still alive back then) on my concert photography bucket list and so i decided to stop as long it was fun instead of waiting until the anger grows. I went to a concert of the fabulous U2 which took place in Cologne, had a really great night and called it a day afterwards.
I was lucky to have a great time in concert photography, meet many people, had the chance to work with very talented and cooperative colleagues. I got so much response from people asking me how to become a concert photographer, wrote articles and held speeches and classes about concert photography. So i don't look back in anger, which is very important to me. Everytime i think of it or browse through my photos i'm pleased to have had such a great time.
Do i miss it? As of today - yes, i do. Being in the pit is such a special experience - the loudness, the people and the tension to bring at least two handful of useable pictures back home... it's a very intense and exciting experience. Sometimes it's frustrating, sometimes it's annoying (shoutout to Lady Gaga who insisted that we show up at 7 p.m. but entered the stage around 11 p.m.) - but with some distance i've forgotten about the industry's bad habits and mainly remember the great shows and the positive excitement.
And - maybe there is still some gear in my shelf which might see the pit again someday. Who knows.
What's my advice for people loving music and photography? To be true, hands off concert photography if you like music. Go and buy some tickets for your favourite bands and enjoy their music. Take some pictures with your smartphone. Don't try to make a living of it, because it won't work todays. Many bloggers share pictures for free and there is no market anymore like it was twenty years ago. So if you just love music and photography - don't even try. It won't make you happy. Yes, there may be perhaps a dozen very talented and successfull concert or music photographers - but they do way more than this and they are in the business for decades. Trying to start off scratch today might be very painful and most probably not successful. That's my advice, feel free to skip it, but: you have been warned :)
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