How not to photograph at a gig

A while ago I came across this YouTube video (also shown below) of a concert photographer taking photos during a band’s set. From the video, I could tell that it was a small gig at a small venue with few people. People initially criticised the photographer for his obnoxious behaviour, then people criticised the person who shot the video because of his irrelevant vertical video recording, then other people deemed the photographer’s behaviour as right because his photos turned out good.

Let’s take a look at this. Before I had read any of the articles siding with the photographer, I constantly showed people this video because I felt that it made a point.

After reading those articles, I feel that it still does make a point.

I’m a concert photographer.

At large venues, generally for larger bands, you can only take photos during the first three songs. This is often a rule set by the venue, out of respect for its visitors/the audience. It can also be put forward by the publicity or media team for any of the bands, who may not want photographers to be present (or at least photographing) for the entire show. There is a limited amount of passes that can be given out. You can’t just give a media pass to everyone and have fifty photographers in the pit.

Yes, it’s a total struggle to take photos in the dark. I know exactly how that feels. I also know the unwritten photographer’s rule to “Just what you want unless/until you’re told not to”, because it’s “better to be told to stop than to ask and be rejected”. Still, it should be obvious what is okay and not okay to do.

It is not okay to use flash when:

  • You have been told by anyone (such as the person in charge of media, or the person at the door to the venue) not to use flash.
  • There are already stage lights. Sometimes you have to make do with what you have, and only use flash when absolutely necessary.
  • You are taking multiple photos from the same spot.
  • You are continually walking around non-stop, taking photos.

Some people supported the photographer in the video by using the argument “but his photos were good”. It is hardly a valid argument for doing something that is regularly disapproved of in most concert situations. Regardless of his style of photography and how he takes photos, he was being disrespectful to those around him. If he had any sense of respect, he would have toned it down a little, and kept the flash use to a few minutes.

He didn’t seem to be doing much composing/preparation before taking a shot. If he’s good at what he does, he wouldn’t have had to walk around so erratically and use so much flash. He could have chosen a better opportunity to do this kind of shooting, in a situation that wouldn’t annoy everyone else. Obviously the person who filmed the video was irritated by the photographer’s behaviour, and that person paid money to watch the show.

I also attend concerts.

Before I started photographing concerts, I attended them. I still attend concerts when I am not assigned to cover them, simply for enjoyment. I know what it’s like to be behind the barrier and not behind a lens.

I respect photographers. They are doing their job. I know how it feels to have to weave between people to get good shots. I used to get annoyed at them, but after knowing the hard work behind it, the best I can do is let them through if they want to get past, and let them be in my face for a few seconds to get some good shots. I don’t have to see an artist’s face 100% of the time. Security guards are always standing in front of the stage, and people usually have their hands in the air, either empty or holding phones and cameras, so why should I complain about someone with a camera only being around for a short period of time?

I pay to attend a lot of shows, and sometimes it annoys me when people in the audience use flash on their phones to take photos. Usually I let it slide, because they don’t continually take photos for more than a minute using flash – not like the photographer in the video. Those people around me paid to watch the show, so they should be allowed to take a few photos.

I’m also a musician.

Yes, this is a valid point. Before you might criticise anything I have already written, know that I have performed on stages and in front of an audience. I have performed mostly as a dancer, but I have had experience playing an instrument, or singing, in front of an audience. The stage lights, as well as the lights that shine on your face for the audience to see you, can be really bright. They can be so bright that you cannot see any faces in the audience. Imagine the flash from a camera hitting your eyes as well. It’s not just about blinding people; it’s about being a distraction.

Not every artist will have a problem with flash, and most people expect flash from a camera when you take photos in the dark. You may expect people to take photos during a performance, but if you’re in the middle of performing, constant flashes of light from one source in the audience can be irritating.

Just be a good sport.

If you’re a photographer, regardless of whether you’re being paid or not, know that there are people in the audience who paid to watch, and that there are performers who are working hard to impress, and have put in a lot of preparation.

If you’re in the audience, don’t hate on all the photographers, because they are just doing their job. Most of them have absolutely no intention of getting in your way or pissing you off. They just want their photos, and aren’t going to need photos of every minute of the show. This photographer obviously took it a little far.

Also, just a PSA: next time you’re at a show, enjoy it. You don’t need your four-gigabyte phone photos or ten-second videos of a circle pit. Just get in there and have fun. I have zero photos or videos of the Violent Soho gig I went to last week, and it doesn’t bother me. Look at all the silly people who posted their over saturated crap on Instagram, while I have these awesome visual memories in my mind of the audience running around like mad freaks because I kept my phone in my pocket while I sat on Dylan’s shoulders during Neighbour Neighbour. Heheh.

I hope you learned something, especially if you aren’t familiar with concert photography.

Comments on this post

I’m not at all familiar with concert photography. Though, I will admit to taking quite several pictures of Meat loaf, and Leann Rimes. However, there wasn’t any strict rules as to how many pictures you can take (as far as I know). If there are rules, the security will do a search, and will ask you to leave your phone outside or in your car. When they do that — the artist probably doesn’t want to be photographed.

I’ve heard some horror stories before like this. A photographer goes to do his or her job, gets people pissed off at them because to much usage of the flash. People don’t want to be blinded by the flash. There is already enough lights up on stage. It’s okay to use the flash once in a great while for awesome shots. But not an over-abundance. That will just annoy concert goers. Though, out of all the concerts I’ve been too, only a few has asked that flash photography is not allowed. I’ve gotten crappy shots before because the flash wasn’t allowed. So naturally it all depends on the band and musician if again flash is allowed or isn’t. And yes, the lights are bright and hot!

Firstly, the annoyed individual recorded like a total knob & that annoyed me more than the actual photographer in the video. His/her excuse was that they’re not a photographer. WHO CARES, I’m not one either, but I don’t record videos like that on my iPhone, sheesh. I’m completely surprised that the photographer didn’t even have a diffuser on his two cameras. You’re never supposed to flash the TALENT with your damn flash, what are you even doing. It’s obvious that he has either a lot of money or borrowed his second camera from one of his friends, but he MOSTLY came prepared for the gig. Looks like he really enjoyed the spraying & praying method. I can imagine getting a few lucky shots out of those, but dang, he really took 0 time to compose his shots.

The stage was really small, but he took individual shots of each band member, which explains his erratic movements. I think that’s perfectly fine. You need these shots & he was working with what he had. I just actually looked at his photos (you should include the link to the photos he took because it’s nice to see results) & the ones from that event were honestly a hot mess. His other work is so much better that these look like someone who was doing this for the first time was taking those photos. Obviously you have to adapt your photography to the style of the band & what not, but those photos were a complete mess. Anyone can leave their shutter speed at 1/8 & spin their camera around to get blurry lights & some people playing instruments. These photos were just………bad. They were just bad.

Secondly, your memories fade so having photos to look back on, even if they’re shitty hdr photos, is much better than relying on your synapses & neurons that will eventually deteriorate with time. Shouldn’t judge people for having fun at a show just because they don’t behave like you do unless they’re obviously harming you or other people. That’s a light hearted rule to go by when you’re at a festival: have fun, make friends, take pictures. I’ve snapped tens of thousands of photos & I definitely forgot most of the ones I’ve taken or where I was or what I did. It’s only within those photos, no matter how potato they are, do I actually remember some of the events that happened.

Can’t say I’ve ever been annoyed with photographers. They’re doing their job & if they’re polite & say, “excuse me,” no one generally hates them unless they’re an entitled prick. When I shot at Sutra, people were really nice to me & let me through to take pictures. They were also ogling at my flip screen because it’s friggin amazing & a life changer. They liked seeing through the live view with my screen flipped out & it was a fun experience. Interacting with the crowd as the “photographer” is a unique experience. A lot of people talk to you, ask you if you do it often, give you tips if you look lost, etc. It’s rare to see female photographers at concerts/nightclubs too, so you have an edge up over others to make an impression on them.

I didn’t think of that; I’ll remember to pop the link in later. I also thought his other work was a lot better.

I wasn’t judging people, and they can do whatever they want. I was just suggesting that it’s nice to stop taking photos or keep recording every once in a while, I am not annoyed at their behaviour but I think they could have just as good a time without their phone as well. I have seen people do nothing but record entire concerts, watching it through their phone screen. I was once standing next to a girl who recorded a whole Marianas Trench concert on her phone, or at least tried to, before her phone ran out of space and I noticed her frantically deleting old photos and recording voice memos of the rest of the show. Yeah… nope. Not like that, is all I’m saying.

I’ve had many a good chat with people who are curious about my photography! Heck, even made a few really good friends out of it. :D

I honestly don’t understand why people would want to video graph the entire concert. But maybe that’s because I’m different, and actually like watching the show itself. Rather through a camera lens.

I agree with Georgie, that it would be nice to stop picture taking and video graphing every once and awhile. At least to give your wrists a break. Nothing wrong with taking a break here and there. I mean usually a concert/gig lasts around 2 hours. Maybe more. Depending on the artist in question. I don’t think it’s that bad. Really.

I’ve taken at least 600 pictures at a Meat Loaf concert. Yes, I went a little crazy. But it was worth it (until later on when I had to re-do my computer). I, did exactly what the girl did to her phone, on mine. I had to delete pictures, and when I saw that it was interfering with the concert, I just shut off the phone and danced/sung along to the songs. The concert is more important, and yes, you do get a lot of memories out of the event.

I’m not sure if this was the second or third time I went to see Meat Loaf — I had stood at the sage for the entire concert. No one told me to go back to my seat or anything. Since standing there the entire concert, I received a Randy Flowers guitar pick (no longer have it), and a high five from the back-up singer Patti Russo. Sometimes, the artist or band are so generous that they feel they owe it to the public to be nice. I’ve been to one small venue, and it was at the mall. Of all places. But anyway, I think that was the only small venue I went too. I have yet to go to any concerts of the other artists that I like.

Anyways, I think it’s awesome that you guys get to photograph at a gig/concert. It maybe annoying to old photographers, as new photographers don’t really know what to do. But, you can’t be mad. :).

It is completely possible to shot without using flash, or using it that much for that matter, and getting awesome photos.

I’m not familiar with concert photography, but I do love photography and I shot since when I was about 10, often with film (for example, Rolleiflex to get the idea), when you really couldn’t afford to have like 20 of the same photo. Now, think about that at a wedding, maybe when the couple is exchanging rings. You can’t miss the instant, but you also have to be discrete and not to disturb the couple’s most important day of their lives.

That taught me a lot, including that a good photographer doesn’t need to disturb the artist or the audience when taking photos. A good photographer usually seems almost invisible during a performance or an event, and his/her photos always end up just great. I really can’t call the person in the video a photographer, and as an enthusiast and lover of photography, I feel kind of ashamed by his behaviour. That’s not being a photographer, that’s being a random annoying individual playing with dad’s money.