Concert Photography 101: Etiquette

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I am often contacted by eager people, new to the world of concert photography. They want advice on shooting, getting photo passes, and other details of shat it is like to be a live concert photographer. I decided to take the time to distill what I consider to be the most important part of shooting – concert photography etiquette. I really believe that before you pull out your camera, it’s important to reflect on how we can all treat each other with more compassion and kindness both in the pit and in the crowd. With that in mind, here is my take on Concert Photography Etiquette 101.

Shooting From The Crowd Requires Respect

Most of my best shots have been at smaller venues where there’s no barricade or photo pit. It’s a much more challenging situation when I’m shooting amongst the crowd. Not only do you have to jockey for a good spot, you’re often completing for a spot with both fans and other photographers. It’s at times like these when respect, patience and kindness are most important.

Arrive Early

Your photo pass entitles you to bring a professional camera into the venue to shoot. It does not entitle you to a spot up front. It’s one thing to make your way to the photo pit just before a band takes the stage, but you will create some pretty hard feelings amongst the superfans in front if you force your way in when they’ve been waiting for hours to be in that same prime spot. If you must make your way forward after the crowd has formed, a polite shoulder tap before attempting to squeeze by is helpful, and when you do finally make it to your desired spot, make it a point to thank the fans around you for sharing their space. Explain that you will only be intruding on their space (and it is their space!) for three songs.

Be Friendly

Even if you arrive early and don’t need to make your way through the crowd, don’t be an introvert. Start up a conversation with those around you. Chances are, they’re superfans and know a lot more about the band than you. I love to ask if the folks around me when the last time was that they saw the band live. I get to find out about stage positions, lighting, opening songs, all kinds of interesting tidbits that are useful for shooting. I let people know who I’m shooting for, and when and where they can find my pictures. If you’ve taken the time to get to know the people around you, they’re often very kind about trading spots for a song or two, and you might even make a friend or two.

Respect The Spirit of the “Three Songs Rule”

It really changes the energy of a performance when there are photographers in the front row of the crowd. It’s noticeable and distracting to the band, and it’s annoying to the fans. After the first three songs, either put your camera away and enjoy the show, or if you must get a few more shots, move to a less conspicuous spot in the crowd.

Be Kind to Staff

The men and women working security have a difficult job to do. They keep everything running safely and smoothly. They’re often working a second job because they love being around live music. They’ve got a wealth of experience, and usually tasked with enforcing venue policies that might not be popular. Be respectful, be friendly, and compassionate. They will be the ones to have your back when things go wrong.

Shooting From The Barricade Requires Gratitude

At larger venues, you will likely be shooting from in front of a barricade, aka from the photo pit. Remember, this barricade is primarily in place for security and safety purposes. You’ll be sharing it with security, videographers, crowd surfers and occasionally band staff. You are a guest in this chaotic and exclusive little bit of space. It’s designed for security to easily move back and forth to keep the band and concert-goers safe.

Know Your Place, and Respect Everyone Around You

Respect each other. It should go without saying, but it’s so important, it bears repeating. Respect EVERYONE around you, in the pit, on the stage and in the crowd. As is the case when shooting from on stage, keep in mind that photographers are the low-people on the totem pole. Security and band staff always have the right of way, and then videographers. Our needs as still photographers only come into play after the needs of security and video. Play nice with the other photographers. All photographers, regardless of who they may be shooting for have the same need to get a good shot. The following rules are the basics of playing nice and having good pit etiquette with other photographers.

Time Your Courtesy Tap

We’ve all been there. We need to get to another spot in the narrow pit but there are several photographers in the way. Before moving, take a look around; is the photographer next to you lining up a shot, or are they chimping? If you need to pass and there’s no room, a polite shoulder tap, preferable after letting your fellow photographer get their shot will do. Taking the extra two or three seconds to better time the tap makes everything in the pit run that much more smoothly.

Minimize Your Footprint and Mind Your Gear

The photo pit is often narrow and cramped. Wearing a large backpack full of camera gear exacerbates the situation. Take your backpack off. DOn’t carry a large bag on your shoulder if it gets in the way of others. Stow your large bags under the stage or barricade if at all possible. Keep your gear out of the flow of traffic. Even under the best of circumstances, accidents occasionally happen. If you knock over someone’s bag or you run into someone, a quick but sincere apology is always appropriate.

Mind Your Space and Lens

It’s important to also be aware of your body and gear in relation to others. Take the flash off your camera, so its not as tall. Don’t do a “Hail Mary” (holding your camera above your head) from the front of the pit if there are other photographers in back of you. If you must hold your camera over your head or place it on a monopod, do this from as far back in the pit as possible. Ditto if you are using a stool or ladder. Use these height-gaining devices from the back or the pit, or far of to the side of the pit, or in front of a speaker so you are not blocking the shots of other photographers.

Don’t Hog a Sightline, or a Stool

There are often only one or two key spots where all the angles line up in the pit, and you can bet those spots are the ones that multiple photographers may want to occupy. Share these sweet spots. and occasionally share your stool if you were smart enough to bring one. You will shoot with the same photographers time after time. When you are kind to others, they will be kind to you. Everyone wins in the long -run.

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