The Hives frontman Pelle Almqvist crowd surfing during the band's May 2023 show in New York City, Hay's favorite photo of the night.
Photo: Edwina Hay

Edwina Hay has been photographing music in New York City since the late '90s, capturing musicians in tiny DIY spaces, lofts in Bushwick and massive stages in Manhattan. Her work has appeared in publications like Rolling Stone, Brooklyn Vegan, Gothamist, The Village Voice and more. Two months ago she found herself capturing epic shots of The Hives at Racket in Manhattan – the band's first show back in New York City after 11 years. Here she shares her tips for capturing the energy of a live show.

When did you start shooting concerts?

I brought a disposable film camera with me to the Warped Tour in August 1998 and took some terrible photos with it. I started college a couple of weeks later, and enrolled in a photography class and started bringing my 35mm film SLR camera to venues without photo pits, like Knitting Factory and Bowery Ballroom.

Recent Videos

I later joined the school newspaper and covered a few shows for it, which got me credentials for my reviews. I also had a friend who published a music zine and would hook me up with an extra photo pass and it kind of just went from there.

What elements are important to capture during a live set?

The important elements to me are capturing emotion from the musicians as they perform and from the fans that are also in the audience. I love it when people dance and sing along at a show. Anything that helps convey why a show was fun to attend or what made it memorable.

The Hives perform at Racked in New York City.
Photo: Edwina Hay

Did this particular venue have a photo pit?

Racket didn’t have a photo pit available, which I knew ahead of time, so I made sure to get there early. When there isn't a photo pit I generally try to stand in the center and position myself slightly left or right of where the microphone stand is. If I don’t have that option, I just stand wherever there’s an open spot and try my best not to disturb people around me.

An early film shot of The Hives that Hay captured on an SLR in 2001.
Photo: Edwina Hay

When was the last time you'd photographed The Hives? How was this time different?

The last time I shot the Hives was back in November 2001. This time was completely different since back then I used a 35mm film SLR, and I was still fairly green at shooting concerts. These days, I have high capacity memory cards and two camera bodies so I can take many more images per show than I ever could over twenty years ago.

How many different areas of the venue were you shooting from during The Hives?

The Bowery Presents gallery ended up being from three different places in the venue. Before the show, I decided I would try to move around like another photographer in Los Angeles, Debi Del Grande, did. When I arrived and picked up my photo pass, I was told I could shoot anywhere for the entire show. I was so surprised by that statement that I asked a security person standing outside the VIP area who confirmed that this was the policy for the night.

I decided to start out by standing on the floor in the crowd with two friends, about three rows of people away from the stage as my first location. I spotted a copy of their setlist from their L.A. show in an Instagram gallery posted by their tour photographer Pooneh Ghana before the New York date, so I assumed they’d do about 12 songs that night too.

I decided to head upstairs after six songs into their set, since I figured that would be about halfway until the end. I started at the back of the upstairs area, but I didn’t get anything I liked from that spot, so I then moved closer to the front, stage left, and asked people if I could squeeze in between them to shoot about half a song, which was my second spot.

Once I got images of [Hives frontman] Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist climbing and crowd surfing on fans as he made his way back to the stage, I figured I was done upstairs and returned downstairs to the main floor. From there I headed to the VIP section which was on a raised area stage right and remained there until their set ended.

Catching a good jump shot like this one takes some anticipation and a little luck.
Photo: Edwina Hay

How do you anticipate moments of peak action during the show? Does shooting a band more than once help you anticipate when something interesting might happen?

At this show, I have to admit that I was extremely lucky to be upstairs when I caught Howlin’ Pelle crowd surfing and created what ended up being my favorite image of the night. My timing of moving upstairs was incredibly lucky and I don’t think I could have ever anticipated him jumping on that side of the room at that exact moment. I just happened to be standing above him while I was upstairs and used my camera with a 70-200mm lens.

Since I saw them live so long ago, I figured there would be a lot of movement by Pelle, but was not sure because we’re all older now. But then he jumped from the drum riser during the first song and I immediately knew that I’d be in for a classic style Hives show and that I should move around as I previously planned to do.

For the image of the concert goer jumping from the stage, it was her birthday and after we all sang “Happy Birthday,” she gestured that she was going to jump and wanted people to make room for her, so I just tried to time her jumping into the audience.

Do you generally shoot an entire set when possible?

Absolutely! If I’m not limited to the first three songs, I’ll shoot as much as I can to get a variety of moments and angles or experiment with filters, prisms, multiple exposures, slower shutter speeds, things like that. I’ll also try to move around by going upstairs, if I’m allowed to be up there, to get the crowd in addition to the band on stage. If the venue states that I can only shoot the first three songs from the pit and nothing beyond that, then I put away my gear after three and enjoy the show as a fan and try not to think about the moments that I’m missing out on capturing too much.

This audience member motioned that she was getting ready to jump into the crowd and Hay timed her shutter to capture the action.
Photo: Edwina Hay

Were you using a flash during this particular show? When you can't use a flash, what shutter speeds are you typically shooting at?

I didn’t use flash at this show, although a few other photographers present used theirs. I generally tend to use a low F stop and adjust my shutter speed and ISO from a wide aperture.

It’s basically what I did at DIY shows with not so great lighting for years and is my routine at this point: let in as much natural light as possible and adjust other settings from there. I think the slowest shutter speed I used that night was 1/80 and highest was 1/500. The Hives had a great lighting director, so I didn’t feel the need to use my flash at this show since the band was pretty well lit. In the past, I’ve tended to avoid using my flash unless I felt it was absolutely necessary.

What tips would you give to someone just getting started with concert photography?

Figure out the venues or places you’ll be allowed to shoot without a photo pass and document as much as you can under those circumstances. If there are DIY spaces in your town, those places tend to not care if you take photos and are generally excited to have people document their shows. Use those performances to learn how to capture live music and create an online portfolio that you manage. Not every image that you take will turn out great. Keep trying and critiquing your images, and your work will improve over time.

Photographer Todd Owyoung has a website with answers to most common concert photography questions at and I truly wish something like this existed when I started out since everything I needed to know was available in one place, for free.

Also, if someone takes time out of their day to answer questions that you may have about concert photography, always thank them for helping you.