Marielle Groot Obbink: shooting in the fast-paced world of music photography

Dutch photographer Marielle Groot Obbink took her love of music, festivals, and photography from a simple passion to a career. She reveals how she made the leap from hobbyist to freelancer and gives some sound advice for anyone aspiring to do the same.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m Marielle, 38 years old and living in the beautiful city of Leiden, Netherlands. I am addicted to chocolate, cuddles and music. I have a normal 9 to 5 desk job, but alongside that, I am a freelance photographer for concerts, festivals, and portraits. I love travelling from festival to festival just to photograph happy people and amazing bands.

When did you start taking photos, and at what point did you know that you wanted to make a career of it?

I started photography in early 2016. I went to festivals as a cosplayer, but I preferred to be the one taking the pictures. During my first festival with a semi-pro camera, I shot only concert pictures, and according to my friends and musicians, I had a talent for that. I was picked up pretty quickly by a band manager and by the publication platform CeltCast.

After about one and a half years, my best friend convinced me to make the step from hobbyist to freelancer. However, it was only at the start of the Covid lockdown that I really started thinking about making it a full-time career.

How did you get into the field of music photography?

I was just drawn to it. I have always loved the music industry. I loved going to concerts and being amazed at the show, the performance and everything that comes with organising something like that. So, when I bought my first Nikon D5200, I went to a local festival where you don’t need accreditation for taking pictures and never looked back. It’s just a love that I cannot describe. I simply forget everything and just see the show.

“I went to a local festival where you don’t need accreditation for taking pictures and never looked back. It’s just a love that I cannot describe. I simply forget everything and just see the show.”

How do you go about getting permission to shoot at a concert? What’s the usual process?

There are a lot of local festivals and venues that allow people in without accreditation. Use these to build a portfolio and skill set. But if you need to have accreditation, there are multiple ways:

One is becoming a photographer for a publication platform. In general, these platforms arrange accreditation for the concerts. I either ask if I can photograph them, or they come to me with a request to shoot a specific band.

Another way is to be hired by a band, a venue or a festival to work as their photographer. It is important to do your networking and your self-promotion so these bands, venues or festivals know of your existence.

What gear do you typically take with you? Does it differ much from the equipment you use for portrait and nature photography?

It differs per shoot. I shoot with a Nikon D750 at the moment. For concerts in general, I bring a 24-70mm 2.8f and a 70-200mm 2.8f. Lately, I have been using my 105mm 2.8f a lot for almost everything, concerts, portraits and nature. I have the Sigma version, and I love it.

Depending on the band and stage I am shooting, I also bring my 15-30mm 2.8f by Tamron. That lens takes amazing wide-angle shots. For portraits in a smaller space, I like to use the 24-70mm a lot.

What are the main challenges when photographing at music events?

The fast light changes and fast-moving objects. With stage lights, you are constantly having to adapt to this. Also, the musicians move around a lot. You just have to accept that you can’t catch it all and that you might need to change your settings regularly. Often you have very low lights or issues with having no contrasting lights.

Another thing is, with the bigger concerts, you only have maybe three songs to catch the shots, so you need to be able to work fast and accurately.

“… with the bigger concerts, you only have maybe three songs to catch the shots, so you need to be able to work fast and accurately.”

What are your usual post-processing steps on such images?

I upload the pictures into Apple Photo. The program will show an automatic edited version of the RAW, but it helps me make a selection of what is good and what is not. I make my selection from there, export them as RAW to my drives and then edit them one by one.

I start with the RAW editing, where I fix lighting issues and white balance. In the photo editing process, I fix the spots and contrast where necessary.

You’ve been working with Affinity Photo for the last four years. What first impressed you about the app, and why do you continue to use it?

The fact that you can do absolutely everything in one program. I don’t need additional programs. Yes, some would make my workflow for portraits faster, but I can do it all in Affinity. It’s intuitive, easy to understand and most importantly not expensive.

How have you managed to stay creatively inspired during the pandemic?

I have developed new skills. I started in April 2020, diving into taking portraits and how to edit portraits. I spend hours on YouTube watching tutorials. I started to re-edit old concert pictures with these new ideas and techniques to see if they apply to all types of pictures. And lately, I am trying my hand at Nature photography.

Is there a concert/project you’ve been wanting to shoot but not had the chance to yet?

Many! My dream would be shooting at Graspop Metal Meeting. Another is going on tour with a band like Heilung, Heidevolk or Eluveitie and shoot a full tour as a crew member.

Do you have an all-time favourite photograph that you’ve taken? What makes you so fond of it?

I have a few favourites. Three really stand out.

The one picture I took of Dubliner-legend Eamonn Campbell. I took that picture while he was on stage showing so much energy while sitting in a chair due to old age. Sadly, a year later he died, but at that moment, I thought, I want to be like that when I am old.

Eamonn Campbell

Another favourite is my picture of Fabienne Eerni during the Eluveitie show, just because shooting them was a dream come true.

Fabienne Eerni

The last one is my picture of Kayleigh Marchant with The Dolmen. She is my muse, I cannot take a bad picture of her, and this picture showed me that I can do concert photography

Kayleigh Marchant
Finally, do you have any tips for aspiring photographers? Is there any advice you wish you’d been given when you were first starting out?
  • Accept that you will not be shooting the big boys for a while, but if you start small, you can build up a solid portfolio and make sure you use the opportunities to create a network.
  • Study how light (especially stage lights) and your settings affect the picture. I was always afraid to go into the higher ISO numbers, but honestly, as long as your picture is properly exposed, you will not encounter a lot of grain.
  • Get to know your camera first. Learn the buttons by touch, then challenge the camera to see what it can and cannot do with the lenses you have. Really go from one extreme to another and then do the same with your editing program.
  • Don’t invest in expensive gear in the beginning. Start with a semi-pro body and invest a bit more in your lenses. However, the best starter lens is the 50mm 1,8f which is no more than 200 euros.
  • For concert photography, having a network is the key. Be friendly to everybody (don’t be a doormat though), accept and work with the unwritten rules in the photo-pit and when having the chance talk to musicians, organisers and your colleagues.
  • Remember! Important! Whatever you see happening backstage or with musicians in ‘the wild’, the rule is “what happens at the show, stays at the show!” Keep your professionalism and integrity!

“Whatever you see happening backstage or with musicians in ‘the wild’, the rule is “what happens at the show, stays at the show!” Keep your professionalism and integrity!”


To see more of Marielle’s work, check out her website and Instagram accounts: @marielles_music_photography (for concerts) and @by_marielle_photography (for portraits).