Living the Dream: Tips for Live Music Concert Photography w/ Rick Horn

Living the Dream: Tips for Live Music Concert Photography w/ Rick Horn

September 12, 2022

Most of us love a good concert, from a small room with two people in attendance to huge arena shows. However, shooting photo and video inside a dark venue can be tricky -- not to mention dozens of other factors that can make capturing great content tricky.

I asked one of our Vanguard ambassadors, Rick Horn, some questions for people who are looking to get into live band/concert photography. When he's not catching good vibes in Montana, California, and other serene locations, Rick spends a lot of time on the road shooting photo and video for bands -- and also as the main tour photographer for Rival Sons. Here are some tips and insight from Rick to help budding concertgoers capture those moments.

*All photos provided by Rick Horn

What is it about a live band that makes such appealing photo content and subjects?

RICK HORN: "Whether it be a solo, duo, trio, quartet, a 12-piece band, or an opera, capturing a live band gives me the creative ability to shoot in different perspectives. I believe capturing the essence and energy of a live band inspires me to create content artistically. I like to push and pull from the mood or energy the artists evoke. And if I feel like an artist has no emotion or energy, then I strain deeper from my creative juices to capture and deliver worthy content."

Nightclubs and arenas are usually pretty dark -- how does this affect how you adjust your photo and/or video settings? What about outdoor festivals?

RH: "Nightclubs and arenas can be very dark and challenging in many aspects. This does affect how one delivers usable content. It is always good practice to become friendly with the LD (Lighting Director). He or she can give you an idea of what the set is going to look like prior to the show, whether it be a low-lit and moody gig, or a high-energy, bright hot and strobe-y one. When I film with the main band I work with, Rival Sons, I get cozy with the LDs so that I can anticipate what they will present. Although, it doesn’t always work that way. They can have different ideas than what the band wants for their show. This is why it is important to know your surroundings, be friendly with the LDs and stage managers, and most importantly, respect their professions. Anything can happen and will, so I like to prepare myself mentally and physically for the 'just in cases.' CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!"

Band members are constantly in motion -- if you want a still, crisp shot, what's your camera approach? What about if you want blurred motion and light?

RH: "Some band members more than others are in high motion during a show. I like to use a high shutter with a fast lens for fast-moving subjects. If I want a blurred motion result, depending on what I’m going for artistically, I’ll use a slower shutter speed with a higher aperture and frame my subject to a spot prior to them getting there. This is also dependent on the light source. If I know the band and what they are like live, it makes my job a little easier and I can achieve my result more creatively."

Crowded concerts aren't the friendliest venues for dragging along a bunch of equipment. What is your list of essentials for photographing or recording a live show?

RH: "Crowded concerts at times can be quite frustrating, challenging, and annoying to say the least. It is always good to familiarize oneself with walking the stage, the grounds, the arena, the exterior, and interior to see what your obstacles may be. It can be very complex, especially with big festivals. There are lots of logistics to go through -- like where you can and can’t go -- especially with big festivals.
I always walk the venues to see what my obstacles are as well as having an escape plan. I usually have my go-to faithful Vanguard Alta Sky 53 bag which holds pretty much all the lenses I need and want to use. If I’m filming both video and photo, then I’ll usually wear a harness that holds both cameras, one for photo, the other for video. If its a multi-camera shoot, then I’ll use a few static cameras on sticks or gimbals. This is all dependent on the show and how big or small it is and/or what the client wants."

As a former band member, I know that sleep is scarce when on tour. How do you handle your physical energy and rhythms when traveling alongside a band?

RH: "I love this question. Touring life is cumbersome and exhausting. You definitely have to adapt to that lifestyle. Its not for everyone. Sleep is definitely scarce to sometimes none, depending on the demographics. You're in a different country one day to the next for weeks at a time with little to no days off. You have to deal and work with many different personalities. That’s probably the most challenging. The fans and people out there usually only see the glamorous side of the band life with photo/video/social content. They don’t always see what goes on behind the scenes. Let me tell you firsthand, it’s work and it's tough. So for me, I try to respect everyone’s space and time. I be as friendly as I can be and try and send out the most positive energy I can to circulate that through my work as well. I’ll work out when and where I can, whether it be a run, a hike, or just going somewhere to film with the Vanguard gear on my back. That can be quite a physical workout on its own. When I’m home, I stay active with surfing, gym, and trying to eat well to keep that physical rhythm in check.

For me and my career, I get to do what I love and travel with my best mates and see the world and get paid for it. It's been a long road and I’ve paid my dues to get where I’m at now, but I feel completely blessed and am very thankful for what I have. I can honestly say, I’m living my dream."

For more info and to see more of Rick's work, check out his bio here:

Jay Hathaway is the Marketing Director for Vanguard USA. He lives in SE Michigan and loves all things Midwest, except the winters. You can reach him at