I wasn't sure how to begin my blog so I opted for the sage advice of going with what you know. Before I embarked upon a career as a wedding photographer I spent many years in confined spaces - wedged between bands and their adoring public. One of the most common questions I heard in the photo pit was 'how do you get to do that?'. It's not a straightforward answer and certainly not easy to explain whilst surrounded by screaming fans and pounding bass cabs!
In my view the best route to take is to start small and test out your skills and equipment in a local club where there's no restrictions and no requirement for a photo-pass. You'll need to brave the front of the stage and probably come out with some bruises but that's a price you have to pay. Another price you will have to pay is a financial one - you will need a camera that shoots well in low light conditions and that allows you to have a degree of manual control. Ideally you will have a digital SLR and the good news is that each year that passes produces new cameras that have better and better capability to produce stunning, noise free images as high ISO. (Not sure what ISO is? - I'll come back to that...).
You will also need a 'fast' lens. That is a lens which has a wide maximum aperture such as F1.8. (Not sure what F-stops are? I'll come back to that...). Most manufacturers produce a fairly low cost F1.8 50MM prime lens and that is the ideal starting point for any aspiring music photographer. These lenses allow maximum available light (as you won't be working with flash) to enter the camera in the shortest possible time and can result in images such as the one of Primal Scream above.
Once you have started shooting I recommend that you send your work to online music websites such as The Digital Fix who may be willing to give you a shot. Once you have an outlet for your images you can start to build relationships with promoters, PR companies and record companies and secure some photo passes for increasingly higher profile shows.
Once you have built a reasonable list of contacts and a portfolio you can then think about trying to hook up with an agency that will provide you with assignments and market your images to the wider media and press. Remember that, if you want to succeed, you cannot afford to be choosy about what you shoot and that the most important attribute is not photographic skill but reliability and trustworthiness. You don't get second chances with the likes of Warner Music. I wasn't always thrilled to photograph the likes of Boyzone but there is a demand for the images and if you turn down an opportunity you may not have another.
So, to finish off, I promised to touch on the importance of ISO and aperture. These are actually 2/3rds of an important relationship that also includes shutter time. To shoot gigs you are working in constantly changing and often low lighting conditions. You therefore need to get as much light into your lens as quickly as you can to freeze the action. A wide aperture/F-Stop is a big help here as the wider the lens opens the more light comes in. There is a price to pay though as the wider the aperture the harder it is to get critical elements (usually the eyes) in focus. You can also gain more light by upping your ISO level. The ISO is equivalent to the old film speeds. A low ISO (100) is suitable for a sunny day photograph. For most shows you will want an ISO of 1600 or more. There is a price to pay for a high ISO and that is noise creeping into the photograph. Noise is similar to the grain you might see in old film photographs but, unfortunately, it is far less aesthetically pleasing. Happily most modern camera bodies can deal happily with an ISO of 1600. So, my advice to you is get a DSLR, a cheap 50mm F1.8 lens - set your aperture to F1.8, set your shutter speed to 1/60th of a second and adjust your ISO to where it needs to be to get a good exposure. Now, start shooting and, like me, you could go from local club to national stadium.