Misconceptions About Photographing Concerts
I get asked questions about concert photography fairly often, and people are often surprised by some of the answers they get. With this post I want to share some of the realities of concert photography that many people are unaware of. The things discussed here are based on my experiences shooting at venues around the Tampa Bay area, so your results may vary depending on the venues in your area. Regardless, I hope this is both eye-opening and helpful for you!
You get to hang out with rock stars!
Unless you are the band’s photographer, there’s very little chance that you’re going to be chilling with Steven Tyler or Bono before the show. Even on the occasions that I’ve had all-access passes to go anywhere I want, that didn’t include dressing rooms. And that’s usually where the artists are at until they go on stage. So, unless you’re with the band or just happen to get really lucky, chances are you’re not going to be discussing the meaning of life and/or throwing back shots with rock stars.
You get to shoot the entire show!
Not always. At small to medium size venues this might be true, but definitely not at larger venues. Generally speaking, there’s a three-song limit for photographers to shoot. And you don’t get to pick which three songs; it’s the first three and you’re done. Some artists have even shorter limits like one or two songs. I’ll go into a bit more detail in the next answer.
Okay, well you at least get to stay for the whole show, right?
Probably not. Again, this might be true for smaller or medium size venues, but not so much for bigger ones. In my experience, bands at smaller venues might let you shoot the entire show, while bands at medium size venues might let you shoot from the photo pit (the barricaded area between the stage and the crowd) for three songs, then let you shoot from elsewhere in the venue for the rest of the show. But at the bigger venues, bands will have someone who escorts the photographers into the photo pit for their first three songs, then escorts them out after the third song. In these cases, you’re only staying if you have a ticket (but you have to take your gear to your vehicle or might be allowed to leave it with security), or you’re heading home.
There’s also the dreaded Soundboard Shoot… This is when the band doesn’t allow photographers to shoot from in front of the stage, so they have to shoot from the soundboard position. If this is the case, you might even have to bring a step ladder so you can elevate yourself enough to shoot over the crowd. The best part of shooting from here is having all of those bright cell phone screens interfering with your trying to get a decent shot 😉
It’s so dark in concert venues that you probably have to use flash to get sharp pictures.
Nine times out of ten, when you get the email saying you’ve been approved for a photo pass, it will also say, “First three songs, no flash.” That means that if you’re shooting in a darkly lit venue, you’re bumping your ISO up. No, higher. Still higher. Almost there. Okay, ISO 20,000 will hopefully work.
Imagine being on stage trying to perform and all of a sudden you’re hit with a huge pop of light that blinds you momentarily. All it takes is one misstep and you’re falling off the stage or tripping over a cable. At least when the stage lighting is doing crazy effects, the musicians are aware of what it’s going to do and when it’s going to do it. When it’s coming from a photographer, they’re not expecting it. That’s at least one reason they don’t allow flash.
You took the picture, so you own it and can do anything you want with it!
Not if you signed a release before the show. There are varying degrees of releases that can limit what you’re allowed to do with your photos. At the extreme end, there’s the Rights Grab release which says you can’t do anything with the images aside from maybe displaying them on your website, but the artist can do anything they like with them and don’t have to give you anything in return. If I encounter one of these, I say no thanks and don’t shoot the show.
Then there’s the less extreme release that limits what you can do with the images, but also doesn’t allow the artist to do whatever they want with them. For instance, it may say that the images can only be used in your portfolio/website and for the publication/outlet for whom you’re covering the show. This prevents their likeness from being used in an unapproved commercial manner, but also keeps you from selling the images to other editorial outlets. In this case, I would say use your own discretion.
There aren’t just two types of releases, but these are the most common ones I’ve seen. Of course, there are any number of variations on these that can limit you in more or less ways. And even when there’s no release at all, that doesn’t mean you can do anything you want with them. As with any photos of people, you have to have a model release in order to use them for commercial purposes. Even selling prints can be a gray area. I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding is that the laws varies from state to state on whether selling prints without the artist’s consent is considered a commercial use.
Sheesh, with all of these limitations, do you even enjoy shooting concerts?
I absolutely do! Limitations just push me to be that much more creative in order to get great shots. Even if I’m only allowed to be at the show for the first three songs, most of the time I have the best seat in the house for those three songs! And if I don’t, then I’m still getting shots of that legendary band or artist on my bucket list. Are there times that I leave a venue cranky for one reason or another? Definitely. But the vast majority of the time, I’m leaving on an adrenaline high and can’t wait to get home and edit the shots I just got!
As I said before, I hope this clears up some mis-assumptions about concert photography. If you have questions or feedback, leave them in the comments and I’ll respond as I’m able to do so.
Editor’s Note: If you’re interested in another take on concert photography, make sure you check out Scott Diussa’s class on concert photography at Kelby One. If you need to hear more from Brad, read more from this post he made on Scott Kelby’s blog or you can always follow him on Instagram!