This post comes on the heels of a semi-controversial tweet from a couple weeks ago by Atilla’s frontman, Fronz. I’m not writing this to bash him (or anyone for that matter), more so to inform and share a few things about concert photography that band members may not know and why it’s so hard for us to get good photos from the crowd.
Photographers: PLEASSEEEEE take sick crowd photos from the back of the crowd or the side. No one looks good in photos taken from 6 feet below them in the photo pit…. At least capture the band AND the crowd so the photo can showcase the full energy of the concert 👌🏼
— SLiME DADDY (@FRONZ1LLA) March 9, 2018
You have no idea how many times we get 100’s of photos that we will never use or post. Bands want dope crowd shots, not photos of their lower neck 😂 Especially when it’s a massive soldout show, SNAP CROWD PHOTOS PLEASE 🙌🏼
— SLiME DADDY (@FRONZ1LLA) March 9, 2018
It’s hard for me to personally argue with his sentiments. I sure as hell don’t like the vast majority of super close up photos of myself. There are a few problems with the request though.
- Most photographers covering shows are working for a publication. To make sure all bases are covered, publications generally want at least 2 photos of each band member.
- Your individual sponsors and endorsements (guitars, picks, kits, equipment, etc.) want photos of you, not the crowd. And…
- Taking epic crowd photos is not always easy or even possible with the strict rules most venues have on photography these days.
Let’s elaborate on each of these.
The first one is pretty self explanatory. In order to be approved for a photo pass, ~90% of the time a photographer has to be working for a publication. The publications set the demands for what types of photos they want to go along with a review or article. Some are more lenient than others, but as a general rule, a “gallery” is going to consist of 2 photos of each band member.
Publications are probably around a 25/75 hit and miss for whether they pay photographers or not. I’m not going to say “you get what you paid for” here because I know plenty of volunteers that do amazing work. But I also know plenty of volunteers that have managed to squeeze their way into working for a radio station or a self-started blog and haven’t even figured out manual mode on their cameras yet. There are definitely photographers out there that can make even your lower neck look good. If you find one of these gems that captures the look you want to convey, hire them. Maybe even take them on tour! Tons of photographers would love the opportunity. They might even be willing to take a lowball offer just for the experience. Also, crowd shots look WAY cooler from on stage.
Moving on! The next best opportunities often come from your endorsements. Gibson, PRS, Vater, ddrum, Monster, etc. etc. etc. They want photos of you playing their equipment or repping their stuff. These shots would be impossible to take from behind a crowd. Oftentimes, when your companies request photos of you, you (or they) reach out to photographers who have shot your band before. Many photographers are willing to allow use of their photos for free or for cheap. So while you could take away the first three songs from the photo pit rule to save face from unflattery, you’d cut off your supply and access to a huge vault of potentially free photos to use for this purpose (among others – album covers and artwork, merch, posters, your own website, social media… you get the point).
Now onto the juicy stuff from the photographer’s perspective. I’m working on the assumption that most people reading this are either band members or photographers, so you’re probably aware of the 3 Songs, No Flash (3SNF) rule. According to rumor, this rule came into play back in the 1980’s in the days of the paparazzi. Anyone with a camera was allowed into a photo pit, and they could fire flash at will. Needless to say, with 60+ photographers crammed into a pit and flashes firing every few seconds, it would be a terrible distraction to any artist.
Thankfully with modern day digital cameras, most music photographers don’t even like to use flash when they’re allowed to. It kills the atmosphere and our Nikons and Canons are basically able to see in the dark now anyway. (Although I could still write an entire post dedicated to properly lighting a show. Don’t expect much if there is none!)
The problem remaining with the 3SNF rule is that it’s automatically assumed by venues, labels, press contacts and tour managers. Unless security has otherwise been informed, photographers are allowed into the photo pit when the first song starts (often not a second sooner) and booted out at the end of the third song. Most venues are strict (Live Nation run venues especially so). Photography is restricted to the photo pit (or soundboard/designated location) during the first three songs. Some smaller venues (capacity <~1000) will allow photographers to continue shooting from the crowd, but most of them ask you to put your camera away or even escort you out of the venue and make you drop your equipment back at your car before you can re-enter at all. If we’re trying to meet the expectations of our publications, guess what that means? Crowd shots literally can’t happen.
The funniest and simultaneously worst part is I’ve even discussed with band members that had no idea that 3SNF was a rule. As with everything, some appreciate it, some don’t. Of course there are pros – like hair and makeup will look best before you get all sweaty, you won’t have to play up to a gaggle of people shoving their cameras in your face the whole set. But there are also some cons – fist-bumping a fan who crowdsurfs to the front, a tour mate joining you on stage, the last hugs and bows of a tour, the one-of-a-kind memories that get completely missed.
Even if you don’t want to allow photography from the photo pit (either in the first 3 or afterwards), make sure to tell the venue that it’s allowed from anywhere else in house if you want to see those truly beautiful crowd photos.
Trust me, most of us photographers are excited and happy to get the opportunities we do to shoot musicians – we’re willing to work with your expectations if you can help us out with ours.