**All photos are my own.
Going to concerts is always a ton of fun. Ever since I moved to Austin, TX for college in 2009, concerts have been my way of going out—not the… go out to Sixth Street and get shit-faced drunk and/or get hit on or groped by disgusting creeps. At least once a week I would go out to venues in downtown Austin (and eventually venturing out to Dallas and San Antonio) and see bands and artists I loved—shoutout to my first legit concert at La Zona Rosa to see All Time Low!
Fast forward to 2011 when one of my best friends invited me to help film an interview and acoustic session for an online publication in New York, Rock Edition. Soon after that, the editor asked me to join their staff photographer and videographer team, and from that day forward, I have been photographing concerts and festivals for publications. Now… I don’t claim to be the most talented ace photographer—I still consider myself an amateur—but I will say that I have seen and dealt with a lot. This blog post is going to discuss the main anxious thoughts and feelings I get when I go to photograph live shows.
Where are photographers shooting from?
My first and foremost anxiety about shows is not knowing where they’re putting photographers. The fact of the matter is that not every venue has the same setup. There are venues that have:
• photographers shoot from photo pits—a walkable space separating the stage from the first row of concertgoers
• photographers shoot from farther back at the sound booth
• photographers shoot from the aisle or from the side aisle
• photographers shoot from the crowd—the worst situation, in my opinion
The ideal situation for me is shooting from a photo pit / photo barrier, which means I can easily slip in and out after three songs and don’t have to rent a long lens.
Unless you have an adjustable scope that lets you shoot from farther away, renting a long lens within days of a show is quite challenging—not to mention it costs a pretty penny.
If you’re ever shooting from the crowd, may the odds be ever in your favor, because you will have to dodge heads and find a way to take photos in a moving crowd / mosh pits.
What I’ve learned to do when I get approved to shoot photos is ask bands / tour managers where photographers are shooting from. If that doesn’t work, ask the venue itself, and they should be able to tell you.
Dealing with the audience.
This is the main thing that I get anxious about, even after seven or eight years of photographing concerts. I cannot begin to explain my experiences of interacting with rude audience members. Shooting from the crowd may not be the most ideal situation, but that can tactfully be adapted to. What I do not enjoy dealing with are concertgoers that say unnecessary things to photographers.
These days I do not have the time and energy to camp outside a venue six or more hours beforehand to get there early enough for a spot close to the stage—not to mention I shouldn’t need to as media on the job. Being at the front is not a priority anymore when going to concerts. I just want to photograph the bands / artists for the first three songs and then get out and enjoy the show from the back.
There have been various occasions when there was a photo pit, but it wasn’t easily accessible. In a nutshell, there wasn’t a pathway for photographers to get to and from the barrier, and I had to squeeze my way through audience members to get there and out.
I’ve tried to be polite and say, “Excuse me, I need to get through to the photo barrier. Can I squeeze by please?” and people have turned around and ignored me or have straight up said, “No,” or “Too bad.” Even when I explain that I’m a photographer on a job and will be back out after three songs, they still don’t let me through. The times when I managed to make my way through, all the voices around me sneered at me saying things like, “Oh, maybe I should get a fancy camera and pretend like I’m a photographer,” or “Oh, I should just join a magazine then I would get to skip lines and be in front of everyone that waited for six hours.” When I make it into the pit, all eyes are on me and I can feel the daggers coming from their sockets.
Simply pushing my way through is easier said than done, especially since I’m a small girl and I don’t have a mean, stern voice. I don’t like causing unnecessary drama or confronting people in public, so I always make do with what I can manage. In the midst of my anxiety, I think about how there are notable photographers that audiences idolize and treat like royalty, much like the bands and artists, and how they’d have no issue getting where they need to be. Granted, they also probably don’t worry about the same anxieties as me, but if audiences can be respectful to those notables, why is it any different for an amateur like me? We’re not there to intentionally bypass anyone or cut in front of them; we all have jobs we have to fulfill by taking photos at concerts.
This long rant of a blog post is not to say that there haven’t been good experiences, because there definitely have been some good ones: the people who graciously let me through without rude comments, the people in the front row who are genuinely nice and ask questions about photography and publications and the countless security guys who got me in and out safely.
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Photography has been a long hobby of mine, and I hope I can continue to do it. It’s been a journey, one with many experiences to learn from and apply to make better ones. Again, I am not the most talented photographer, I am not an expert, I am not the aggressive type in these situations—I am simply sharing my experiences. Hopefully my words can help other photographers with their work and help concertgoers potentially better understand photographers’ point of views. Concerts should continue to be a fun and safe environment for everyone in attendance, so let’s work together to maintain good vibes!