4 Unexpected Concert Photography Challenges
April 6, 2015
So, you're shooting a concert. Maybe it's your first, maybe it's your first that requires a pass, or maybe you've got a few under your belt. Here are a few things that you may encounter, if you haven't already. More importantly, here's how to handle each situation.
There's No Pit
Maybe you're shooting in a small venue that never has a photo pit. Maybe you're shooting in a larger venue, but for this particular performer, there's no pit. Sometimes you're not going to be able to get the luxury of a pit to roam around freely for three songs. What's worse is that you may not know this information until you arrive. How do you work around it? Arrive early. This is a good rule of thumb in general, but if you aren't positive that a venue will have a designated shooting area, it's best that you arrive early. In fact, you should treat it like you're a die-hard fan. You should be on line with the early birds, if you can do so. Once the doors open, get a spot close to the stage and do your work. It also helps to be courteous. Let people around you know that you're working, that you may need to get in front of them for a moment. You'd be surprised at how accommodating people can be if you're just kind about it. Don't be a jerk; don't expect special treatment because you have a camera. If you've got the gear, you can also use a longer lens and find a place that is further back from the stage to shoot. Again, courtesy is key, and with sold out shows, securing a position may be harder than you think. Your movement is likely to be limited, so be aware of your surroundings and the space you and your equipment occupy if you do change positions. Think of ways to include the crowd in your framing, if you can. The two photos of Christina Perri below were taken without a pit.
You're Not on the List
You've secured your pass and you're all ready to go. You get to the box office and hand over your ID...you're not on the list. "What list are you on?" You give the information they ask for and...you're not on the list. What do you do? Well, first of all, don't panic, and don't be hostile. There are some preventative measures you can take to make this situation less stressful. First, make sure you have a contact you can reach. A phone number is preferable, but an email can come in handy too, if you know the person can be reached there. If you have any correspondence between you and this person, it can help to have that available on your phone or other device, just in case. I had a situation once where I got to the box office window and I wasn't on the list. I had a contact's name available, but not her number. I had our email correspondence, and that was good enough to get access, but in hindsight, it would have been much better if I had a way to call and get confirmation immediately. This shot of Jazmine Sullivan would not have been possible if I didn't have my contact person and email correspondence, because I wasn't on the list that night.
In a slightly different situation, I was shooting a show for Vagrant Records, and originally I had requested to photograph just one of the bands, CRUISR. After securing the pass for that, my contact asked me if I'd also like to shoot The 1975, who was headlining that night. I agreed, and everything was set—or so I thought. When I got to the box office, my pass said "CRUISR Only". I wasn't the only photographer with that issue, either. It turns out to have been an error in issuing the passes. A couple of phone calls and emails got it all sorted out, and I was able to shoot both bands as planned.
There's Restricted Access
You're in the venue, the set is about to start, and as you enter the pit, you're told you can't be there. Or, maybe you get there and someone at the door runs down a list of non-standard restrictions for where you can and can't be, and for how long. What can you do about this? Well...nothing. You have to work within the confines of the rules. If you get there expecting to shoot for three songs and you're told at the door that you can only shoot two, then that's all you get. I went to shoot Plain White T's at Gramercy Theatre, and there were no restrictions when it came to shooting their opening act, Good Graeff. The show was being streamed by Yahoo! and Live Nation, and even though I was shooting for Live Nation, I was not allowed into the pit for Plain White T's. I had to shoot from the side, and I was told that the pit area in front of the stage had to remain clear for the video camera crews to work. I wasn't told any of this until I tried to walk into the pit at the start of the headliner's set.
While I'm not sure whether or not the sound of the music drowned out my expletives, I stood in the area where I was allowed, and did what I could. There was an instance where I was supposed to photograph Banks, and at the door, security said that: 1) I could only shoot the first two songs; 2) there would be no pit access; 3) I could only shoot from an area in the mezzanine over stage left; and 4) I had to leave the venue after the first two songs. I wasn't even given a ticket. It was an awful experience, and it was compounded by the fact that Banks spent much of her first two songs near the back of the stage. I wasn't happy with the results, but I did what I could within the restrictions.
The Pit is Packed
You get to the pit, and there are way more photographers present than you first anticipated. Too many, in fact. What do you do? Be patient, be respectful, and improvise.
When I photographed Mindless Self Indulgence, seen below, there were about a dozen photographers in the pit. The space definitely wasn't made to comfortably hold twelve people and all of their assorted camera gear. I made the best of my position and shot when I could. With a packed pit area, movement was almost impossible. Typically, the time between songs is a good opportunity to excuse yourself and change positions with another person. Remember, it's loud and lots of people will probably have ear plugs. Shouting probably isn't the best way to get someone's attention. A tap on the arm or shoulder will work much better. Similarly, if you get tapped, acknowledge it and let the person get by.
You can also try to shoot from elsewhere in the venue. You may only have three songs to shoot from the pit, but that doesn't always restrict you from shooting elsewhere. You can shoot from a mezzanine, from the crowd, and other places that aren't directly in front of the stage. Be creative.
Are there things you've encountered that caught you off guard? How did you deal with them? Do you have any tips you'd like to share? Let me know.
Also, be sure to take a look at my concert photography portfolio.