A Day In The Life Of A Professional Tour Photographer

Hello, everyone! Welcome to the beginning of a new work week that promises to be filled with thrilling content and insightful conversation. We have been looking forward to this particular week for several months, mostly because it coincides with the launch of our latest tool in the continuing fight against digital piracy. You can expect to learn more about that as the week carries on, but for now we are going to take a look at what it’s really like to be a professional photographer in the music industry.  If you have any questions about the content of the blog, or if you would like more information regarding the distributional services offered by Haulix, please email james@haulix.com and share your thoughts. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook.

Every week I find myself engaged in conversation with young people who are both excited and a tad bit nervous about the future of the music industry. In each of these conversations I try to find the time to ask what the person speaking with me sees at their ultimate career goal, and nine times out of ten the response I receive involves spending excessive amounts of time on the road. Sometimes they want to be a tour manager and other times it’s front of house sound, but without a doubt the response I receive most often is that people want to find a way to make a living taking photos on the road. Call it a tour photographer, or a group archivist, or simply a freelance music photographer, whatever the title you slap on it the desired work environment is the same: See the country through the windows on a van/bus and capture every moment along the way. 

I wish so very badly that we could provide a step-by-step guide to achieving this goal, but the fact of the matter is that you have about as good a chance of becoming a professional tour photographer as you do winning the lottery while simultaneously being struck by lightning. There are literally thousands of aspiring music photographers across this country, including several hundred who contribute to so-called influential music blogs. The difference between one photographer getting landing a dream tour gig and another not has as much to do with hard work and talent as it does networking and blind luck. The best advice we can offer is to work hard, keep an updated portfolio, and constantly challenge yourself to try new things. Once you have a handle on all that, talk to everyone who will listen and learn to promote yourself without coming across as desperate. In time, people will notice your work and opportunities will begin to come your way. All you will have to do is be prepared for the challenges they will no doubt present.

It’s incredibly important that you understand up front there is no such thing as an ‘easy job’ when you are part of a touring group/festival. Everyone who is not performing on stage nightly has to handle multiple tasks, some not related in the slightest to their job title, in order for the entire production to successfully move from city to city. If you find yourself in a position to join a tour, you too will be expect to chip in daily to help with tasks and challenges as they arise. 

To help emphasize and further explain just how demanding life on the road can be for someone hired as a professional photographer, we have partnered with current touring photog Ashley Osborn to present a rundown of what a typical day looked like on her most recent outing with hard rock favorites Chiodos. This was the group’s first tour since 2012 and demand for tickets were extremely high. Ashley took photos, sold merch, and did a few dozen daily tasks in between. The tour lasted several weeks, with each day presenting a similar-yet-unique set of challenges. You can view her daily routine below:

11:00 AM: Bus arrives at venue.

11:30 AM: Wake up, check out the day sheet for the day and evaluate it for a good five minutes to plan out my day. For those of you who don’t know, a day sheet it basically all of the information you need for the day.

12:00 PM: Roll out of bunk and kind of try to make myself presentable to society.

12:01 PM: Grab phone, open google maps, search for nearest place to consume as much coffee as possible.

1:00 PM: Load-In (AKA be back at venue to bring in all of my merchandise). This is when I go in and figure out not only my own spot, but all of the support bands’ merch spots for the night as well, gather up tables and chairs for everybody, etc. I tried my hardest to make it as easy as possible for all of the other merch people.

1:30 PM: Begin setting up displays and merch area. Usually this involves sorting all sizes and making the day’s sheet. Then I figure out what I need to restock for the day.

2:30 PM: Restock merchandise. For people who don’t do merch (haha) this basically means I bring it what I need for the day. Things we sold a lot of / out of the night before. Then I bring it back in and count everything I just pulled from the trailer, add it to my sheets and sort it all into it’s right spot.

3:30 PM: Gather up supplies and make VIP laminates for band’s acoustic meet and greet.

4:00 PM: Find food because usually by this time I haven’t eaten today. Vegan treats were always the #1 most wanted.

4:10 PM: Usually I change and ACTUALLY make myself kind of presentable to society?

4:20 PM: RUN AROUND LIKE A CRAZY PERSON DOING LAST MINUTE THINGS BEFORE 5PM ACOUSTIC MEET AND GREET BEGINS. AHHHHH. Usually during this time a merch rep comes to find me and has to count me in or asks me to send them all of my merchandise sheets or something kind of annoying and last minute (it’s okay because they are just doing their job). I’m just always mega stressed during this stretch of time.

5:00 PM: Acoustic performance (photographing this).

5:15 PM: Meet and greet. Every day I took all of the meet and greet photos.

6:00 PM: DOORS. Now it’s sell time! Hang out and talk to fans, sell merchandise, make new friends with cool fans and edit, show off my semi-cool fanny pack, upload and update photos on the band’s social accounts. Priority other than selling merchandise during this period was trying to get all of the meet and greet photos finished.

9:15 PM: Typically time to go find all of the band and take behind the scenes shots before their set begins. This was my favorite part of the day every day!

9:30 PM: Set time! Shoot, shoot, shoot!

9:45 PM: Run to merch and begin uploading photos to computer, switch memory cards and run back to set to keep shooting.

10:00 PM: Run back to merch again, upload those photos that I just took and edit photos, upload at least 10-15 photos for the band to post after the show. I did all of this while selling merch during their set. This was the most insane part of my night… somehow I managed every single night to have photos done for the guys before the set was over. They never TOLD me I had to do this – so don’t get me wrong. I just thought it was important for us to do this. Fans loved seeing all of the images from their show and it makes the experience that much more personal. I love that! Makes me so happy.

11:00 PM: End of the night mad rush. At least 100 kids come to merch after the show to buy things so it’s just a really crazy (somehow fun) rush that happens in a matter of 10 minutes.

11:15 PM: Begin counting out all merch. This basically means I count every single item at my merch table, enter it into my sheets and boom. While I do this I also pack up bin by bin that way when I’m all done, I’m ready to roll my things out and put them in the trailer.

11:40 PM: Settle out with the merch representative at the venue. For those of you who don’t know, every night most venues take a percentage of merchandise sold from every band on the tour. It ranges from 10-20%. Sometimes they take state tax too. There’s some paperwork, etc I have to do with the venue during this time as well. Sometimes it takes five minutes, sometimes it takes twenty.

12:00 PM: Hang out with tour manager in front lounge while eating dinner (I loved making grilled cheese and tofurky sammies on the bus) and work on finalizing merch sheets for the night, count money, make sure everything matches up then send everything off to management/accountant, edit more photos, catch up on life, watch movies, etc. Winding down at the end of the night is always nice.

4:00AM: Go to bed sort of. This means laying in my bunk and texting friends, tweeting, reading, etc.

As you can see, there is a lot more to being a tour photographer than waking up and taking pictures. We will be partnering with several other photographers in the weeks ahead to present you with their daily routines, but I will tell you right now most are fairly similar to the one described above.

If you want to become a professional photographer, we highly suggest spending some time on our series dedicated to mastering the various aspects of live event coverage. Click the links to read parts one, two, and three. We expect additional installments to be released in the coming weeks.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.