3 Tips for Live Music Photography (By Todd Owyoung)

My name is Todd Owyoung and I love the rock show. I’m a music photographer, Nikon Ambassador and the staff photographer for the Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. I live for capturing the rockstar moments of live music that make artists look larger than life, at the height of emotion and energy on stage.
TIP #1: Emotion and the Moment over Technical Details

I like to think of live music photography as low light action portraiture. It’s all about fast action, low light and high ISO. As a result, photographing concerts and festivals can be technically challenging — and I love technical perfection in images. But for me, I always place the biggest emphasis on the moment and emotion of a scene or subject. If the worst thing something can say about your image is that it’s noisy due to using a high ISO, it means you’ve done everything else right. Perfect composition, the decisive moment and the ideal subject and opportunity. Look at any of the most classic and iconic rock photos, and you’ll see film grain, motion blur and soft focus at times. None of that matters or takes away from the impact of the images.

TIP #2: The Quiet Moments are Just as Important as the Loud Ones

I love the quiet moments in music photography the most. The loud, rockstar moments are the easy ones to capture and to know when to push the button. The quiet moments are the ones that feel much more rare and often the most special. These are the in-between moments that are easy to miss. They feel like a little secret, and the power of photography is capturing these fleeting moments, gestures and glances and making them timeless and eternal.

TIP #3: Don’t Forget the Drummer

One of the first pieces of advice I ever received was simple: “Don’t forget the drummer.” I was backstage with a local band in my hometown of St. Louis, where I got my start in music photography. The guitarist was tuning this guitar and without even looking up said, “Todd, don’t forget the drummer. Photographers always forget the drummer.” I took this to heart. Drummers are at the back of the stage, they’re dimly lit, often in constant motion and obscured by their drum kits. There are much easier subjects than drummers. But because of this, they make some of the most rewarding subjects. Moreover, if you can nail a great image of a drummer, other subjects on stage feel easy by comparison. I always try to make one image of the drummer that I’m proud of for any performance. I fail at this pursuit often, but it makes the images that turn out among the ones I cherish the most.


My name is Todd Owyoung and I love the rock show. Specializing in music photography since 2006, I’m obsessed with those rockstar moments — those moments that present artists larger than life at the peak of their performances. In addition to live music photography across concerts, festivals and tours, I offers deep experience in music lifestyle photography and celebrity portraits. I’m based in New York City and available for commissions around the world.

Whether the venue is a 200-capacity club or Madison Square Garden, shooting for a major brand or on tour, my approach to live music photography is simple: I want my images to put you in the front row. Regardless of the client, I always wants to make images that music fans love. I know that if I can make an image that a fan wants hanging on their wall, I’ve done my job.

My clients range from bands and festivals to magazines, lifestyle brands and ad agencies. In 2012, Complex Magazine named me #3 in their list of the ” Greatest Music Photographers Right Now.”

I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis magna cum laude with a BFA in Visual Communications. I drink tea everyday.

Since 2007, I’ve shared my experiences in music photography through ishootshows.com. The site features over a thousand posts, ranging from articles on technique for concert photography to gear recommendations to advice on breaking into music photography.

To view Todd’s current work, you can visit his website (www.toddowyoung.com) and Instagram (@toddowyoung)