Exceptions to the Rule
February 8, 2015
Last year, I wrote a post about a particular pit practice that I'm not fond of—shooting blindly over one's head. It's not the most effective way to get a shot, and in many cases, your photo comes at the expense of everyone else around you. I wanted to follow up on that post because I think there is a message that I didn't make clear enough the first time. You want to get your shots without getting in anyone's way. If you can do it without being an obstruction or a distraction, then go for it. Sometimes you'll have no other choice than to do an overhead shot, but this really should only be done if you're not going to get in the way. Let's take this shot below as an example.
This shot of Jay Electronica was taken in December of 2014, at Irving Plaza. He opened his set by walking out, starting a song, and maybe halfway through, he decided that the stage isn't where he wanted to be. He proceeded to take a step down from the stage and on top of the barricade. Shortly thereafter, he hopped down from the barricade and into the crowd. It was a great way to start, and the crowd that had been waiting at the barricade loved every second. The photographers in the pit were then faced with a challenge. How do you get shots of the performer in the crowd, if you're not in the crowd? How do you get the shots you need without getting in anyone's way? Well, in this case, much like the case with De La Soul in my earlier post, the performer is no longer on stage, and where we stand with our cameras doesn't contribute to whether or not the audience can see.
Because Jay is in the crowd at this point, and not on the barricade, the only option available is to get a better vantage point. However, unlike the subject of my other post, everyone was very mindful of one another. I held my camera out over my head and composed a shot in live view (which was made pretty easy with the D750's articulating screen) and you know what I did when I got something I was satisfied with? I moved. I let other people get in. You can see in the second shot I have that I changed positions. There's a camera in the first shot, just like there's one in the photo of Posdnuos. In this case, I believe it adds to the atmosphere of the image a lot more, and it was my choice to include the camera in the shot. I didn't have to stand on the barricade for either shot, but I'm also 5'11" with a pretty good reach. Sometimes, rules have to be bent a bit, but again, only if you're not going to be a disruption to the experience of someone else.
Sometimes you need assistance getting that extra reach. I took the two photos above at Made In America last year. Two of the four stages at the festival were very tall. Quite a few of the photographers in the pit areas had small footstools. The circumstances were very different, of course. The pits here were very wide, so there was no question that everyone would be able to move around freely. Also, because of the stage height, fans would be looking upward, and even with us standing on a stool, there was no way we'd be an obstruction to anyone else. I wouldn't take a stool to a place like Irving Plaza, because the pit space is entirely too small for it, and the stage is close enough to the ground to shoot without one.
If you enjoy my live music photography, feel free to give it a look over on my concert photography portfolio. I hope that posts like this help someone out, much in the same way that posts from Dana Distortion and Todd Owyoung helped me (and continue to help me) learn certain ins and outs.