Concert Photography Etiquette

By Nicholas Stalford

Have you ever tried taking picture of your pet? Well whether or not you have, let’s say you have a cat. A really cute cat. You haven’t posted to Instagram all day and you walk into your bedroom to see your cat curled up in a ball on the windowsill directly under a beam of light. Seizing the opportunity, you pull out your camera and slowly walk over to the cat to get a good picture, carefully stepping between your roommate’s booby-traps of dirty socks and half-empty beer cans. All those hours watching Raiders of the Lost Ark have finally paid off, as you’re able to navigate to the other side of the room without waking the cat. You can taste the hundreds of likes as your finger hovers over the shutter button, but suddenly, it all goes wrong. Your roommate comes home, slamming the door behind him, and the cat jumps up and runs under the bed.

Taking a picture of a sleeping cat is a lot like concert photography, only the cat is replaced by members of the band, the beam of light keeps changing colors, the socks are the tightly packed members of the crowd, and the slamming door is a mixture of rowdy fans, venue employees, and other photographers. (Okay, so it’s not exactly the same, but the beer cans are still there.) With so many variables, such as lighting, movement, and people, it’s almost impossible to get a good shot without filling up a few memory cards. Many of these factors are just a part of the job, but luckily, there are some guidelines that most concert photographers can follow in order to prevent the door from being slammed.

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Chromeo at Boston Calling

The Crowd:

At almost any concert, you’re likely to have a fan who interferes with your photography. This fan might be purposely discourteous, but it’s more likely that the fan is just oblivious to the fact that he or she is in your way. There are several different ways of dealing with this type of fan, but the best way to start is by trying to move. If you can shift your position to either in front of or far enough away from that fan, the problem should be solved. If you can’t get away, or you don’t want to give up your well-deserved spot, try talking to the fan. If the fan is simply unaware, he or she will usually apologize and try to move out of your way. On the other hand, if the fan ignores your pleas and continues to thwart your attempts to photograph the band, there’s not much else you can do.

In most instances, these types of situations can be avoided by getting to the venue early enough to be close to the stage, or another spot that will provide a clear vantage point even after the venue fills up. It’s always a good idea to be prepared for the worst, bringing different lenses and other equipment so that you are able to shoot from anywhere.

Overall, it’s important to remember that the members of the crowd have all paid to be at the show. It’s in their right to jump, raise their hands in the air, dance, mosh, stage dive, or do whatever else they want in order to enjoy the show. Sometimes, the most wild and obnoxious fans can even provide you with a great shot; so make sure to be shooting the crowd as well as the band.

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Nice Guys at The Sinclair

The Venue:

One of the most important rules for concert photographers to follow is to be respectful of the venue employees. In most instances, a venue has its own set of rules, and the penalty for breaking them is being kicked out, or having your camera taken away.

The most commonly upheld venue rule is “first three, no flash.” This simply means that photographers are allowed to photograph each band during the first three songs, without using flash. Yet in most cases, the first part of this rule is not strongly enforced. As long as you are being respectful to both the band and the crowd, very few venues will ask you to stop taking pictures after the first three songs. If the venue does enforce this rule, then you will be told to stop taking pictures once the third song has finished, so don’t worry about keeping track of the number. And of course, the best way to get a feel for a venue’s rules is to look around at what other photographers are doing.

Unlike the first three songs only part of the rule, no flash is almost always enforced. But of course, there are venues and certain situations in which this rule does not apply. Often, smaller venues are more lenient with this rule, as are shows with punk rock bands. This is most likely because fans are paying less to get into these venues, and because punk rock musicians are less likely to be bothered by flash than musicians in other genres. Yet, even in some larger venues and during non-punk shows, there are instances in which flash is allowed. If you do choose to use flash, try to be considerate of both the fans and the band by limiting the number of times you take a picture with flash. If you are told to cease using flash by a venue employee, make sure to apologize and stop using it. And just like with the first three part of the rule, it’s always a good idea to see whether or not other photographers are using flash.

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Gregory Alan Isakov at Boston Calling

Press Pit & Other Photographers:

In addition to keeping fans and employees in mind, it’s also important to be respectful of other photographers. Although you may be competing with other publications for the best coverage, you should never purposefully do anything to interfere with another photographer’s ability to cover a show. Let your gear, skill, and expertise help your photography stand out. You should see other photographers as your peers: talk to them, swap stories and advice, and share contact information. In general, most concert photographers will happily work with you rather than against you, switching spots to gain different vantage points, or helping subdue a rowdy crowd member.

When shooting from inside a press pit, these rules become even more important. In such a small space, it’s important to vary your vantage point and share the different positions, so that everyone has a near equal opportunity to photograph each band member. The venue rules here become more important as well, because often if one photographer breaks a venue rule, such as using flash, then it’s possible all the photographers will be kicked out of the press pit.

End Notes:

Overall, the most important thing to consider when taking concert photography is to respect your surroundings. You are sharing the space with so many different people, including fans, employees, band members, and other photographers, and each group must be respected according to their role. As a member of the press, you are given the opportunity to cover the show, usually free of charge, and sometimes with perks such as being allowed into the press pit or even backstage. This slightly lofted position of power should never be taken advantage of, and should never interfere with anyone else’s role of performing, working, photographing, or enjoying the show.

It’s also important to note that as a member of the press, you are representing not only yourself as a photographer, but also the publication that you work for. If you are an independent photographer, you don’t want to damage your reputation among a band, press contact, venue workers, or any other members of authority. This is further emphasized when you are a representative of a publication, so always stick to respectful concert photography practices.

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