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How to get started in live music photography, by top pro Christie Goodwin

One of the world’s foremost live music photographers, Christie Goodwin has captured a galaxy of global megastars including Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry, Celine Dion and many more.

She is also a judge for the largest photo competition in the world, the Cewe Photo Awards, whose fifth edition (2023) recently opened applications.

With summer music festival season in full swing across the US, UK and around the world, we caught up with Christie to find out more about getting started in music photography and the challenges facing filmmakers. female photographers in a traditionally male-dominated industry. .

Christie will also share her expert knowledge on how to photograph live music in low light, the best camera gear for this type of photography and some essential tips for editing live music captures, so be on the lookout. updates on this story…

Kylie Minogue at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2016 (Image credit: © Christie Goodwin)

What are your tips for getting started in live music photography?

I know it sounds very exciting for a foreigner to become a music photographer and there are many people who want to do this because of their interest in artists and musicians, but music photography is something not to underestimate. It’s very difficult and only a very thin layer [of photographers] make money out of it – most of them just do it for fun.

If you want to get into music photography, it’s very important to start at the bottom. People always say they want to shoot the big acts, but you have to shoot in smaller, darker places where you can actually learn and make mistakes – if you go straight to shoot the big acts and you make a mistake, then the word will pass around.

So, train a lot to do the hardest job, because it’s the hardest job that you will gain experience. In small clubs sometimes there is only one light and you have to film live music with that – it’s very hard, but there are good experiences and very good practices to be had in these situations .

Next, find a stock agency you can work with and provide the photos — you’ll need to do this to get photo passes so you can film the shows in the first place. So that’s always the best way to move forward – get as much experience as possible. Its very important.

Celine Dion in Hyde Park in London, 2019 (Image credit: © Christie Goodwin)

Is it easier to photograph live music with digital cameras than to film?

We no longer need to carry a pocket full of film, but filming in digital is still difficult and should not be underestimated. A lot of people think they can just go in the pit [where music photographers shoot from]put their camera on auto mode and start filming, but then they leave the pit with no pictures to show.

I’m not saying using Auto is bad – it’s fine if you don’t know how to use the camera – but to capture a live show where the things you’re shooting change so much, you have to manually manipulate your camera otherwise you won’t be able to capture what’s going on. So first learn how to use your camera before you come to the booth – that’s very important too.

Usher at the O2 Arena in London, 2011 (Image credit: © Christie Goodwin)

Is it more difficult for women photographers to break into this type of photography?

When I started I was young and a woman and I was pushed away all the time. Publishers gave me the worst jobs and the friends they went drinking with got the best jobs. And I let it happen because I didn’t know any better.

When I was doing press photography, all the big guys would stand in front and push me back and I would stand behind and get nothing. You have to learn to fend for yourself and not take no for an answer, to surpass yourself and not be afraid of a man.

My old teacher always said talent has no gender and I still remember that. Male photographers aren’t better than female photographers, and female photographers aren’t better than male photographers – they’re just different.

Women think and shoot with emotion; men think and shoot technically. Each approach has its own advantages and the place of the woman is as valuable as that of the man. Gradually I became more defensive and these days no one will push me back, but it took me a long time to get there and it wasn’t easy.

Have things improved for female live music photographers?

No, I do not think so. I think it’s really sad that when we’re in the pit at a live concert, there are 10 men and one or two women. It’s because for some reason women think they can’t do it or they don’t belong there, they shouldn’t be there.

I’m not saying it should be 50/50 but it should always be a mix. I know a few female photographers who are really great at what they do, but there are only a few – there are a lot more male photographers out there who do live music photography.

Christie Goodwin, leading international live music photographer (Image credit: Future/Niall Hampton)

How do you think that might change for the better?

I think the whole way of thinking that it’s a man’s world has to change, that a photographer has to be a man and think that photography is about technique.

You stand in the pit and male photographers always compare cameras and lenses, but that’s what happens. They come to me and ask me what settings I use, and what lens… but I don’t care. This way of thinking does not change anything.

Would greater awareness of female live music photographers make this type of photography more appealing to women and improve gender balance?

Yes, I think so. I organize masterclasses with female photographers, and they say that I am their inspiration.

Maybe websites like Digital Camera World can help with that as well, by not presenting a camera as a scary product and not just focusing on the technical side. I don’t know anything about the technical stuff but I still photograph live music successfully.

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