A Short Guide to Self-Awareness in Gig Photography

Categories: Music Etiquette

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Gavin Cleaver
An amateur attempt, sure, but I didn't get in anyone's way.

Kid Congo Powers was fantastic last night. He truly was. A full-blooded romp through a set that drew from his past as an '80s pioneer of post-punk, as well as just some straight up punk, his was a stage presence far from the snarling beast you might have expected. Instead, it was like your lovely, friendly old neighbor had decided to play you some songs in a tiny room. He grooved, he smiled, he had a speaking voice like honey, and he told stories about hitch hiking across America when he was 15.

See also: Where Do You Go From Being A Bad Seed?

I would like to take this opportunity, though, to revisit the problems of gig-going etiquette, this time for photographers. Last night, there was a photographer who spent the entire concert jumping on the stage to photograph the band from three feet away, using the flash on his camera. Let's unpack the problems there, bearing in mind I am certainly no photographer.

Most venues restrict photographers to the first three songs, and for good reason. The concert is there for a paying audience, and is not entirely a spectacle to be documented for an audience that did not pay to attend, that is, the people who may view the photographs. A lot of bands don't even allow photographers, being of the opinion that, if you missed the show, you missed out completely. Most photographers will tell you that if you didn't get the band shots you needed in the first three songs anyway, you're never going to get them. So, if you are going to distract the audience by buzzing around the band with a camera, keep it as restricted as possible, out of respect. This goes double (wide, hahaha) for a very small room with no "pit" for photographers at the front.

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Gavin Cleaver
Yeah, maybe don't use a flash there.

Jumping on the stage is also an issue. I can see this being acceptable at the behest of the band, as there are many who encourage stage-diving (although notably few who encourage a full-on stage invasion, probably in the knowledge that if you get ten people up there, you're liable to get another hundred joining in). Standing on the stage uninvited to hold a camera in a band member's face, though, is a no-no for the sheer distraction to both the audience and band members.

Even worse than that is the use of flash in concert photography, a particular annoyance of mine. There is nowhere in a concert venue that is even remotely well-lit that you should have to use the flash. While using it three feet away from a band member isn't as idiotic as all those people in stadiums photographing massive events with their flash on, in the hope that a small LED built into their phone will illuminate a 90,000 seater, it's still annoying as hell for the band. In cases like this, too, you're not even getting a realistic shot. One of the best things about small-to-medium size gigs is often the moody stage lighting. Why ruin that? If your camera is any good at all you should be able to capture the scene just fine.

Admittedly, I spoke to the guy afterwards, and not only was he relatively nice, he was apologetic and just "didn't realize" that you weren't meant to stand uninvited on a stage and shine a really bright light in the guitarist's eyes. Hopefully he's learned a few lessons. The gigantic man he nearly got in a fight with certainly thought that he should have had more self-awareness.

It's times like this when I implore you to take a step back and consider how what you're doing affects everyone else at the concert. It doesn't take long. Just try and be self-aware. Don't make the story about you, make it about the band everyone's there to see.


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8 comments
janikphoto
janikphoto

Flash, when used correctly, can be unobtrusive at shows... especially shows that already have strobing, dancing lights.  The issue is when people don't know how to use them correctly, making them pump out tons of light during each shot.  Other than your misguided comments regarding flash use at concerts, the rest is spot-on.  Photogs shouldn't distract from the show, they shouldn't invade the stage (unless the band has given them previous permission), and they should be as respectful of the audience as possible.  

christopher_mangus
christopher_mangus

I was working one time and a reporter for the Observer showed up. Without even mentioning she was a reporter or who she was with, she just started snooping and asking around, which is so incredibly unethical (not sure about illegal but I don't much care about that part). I guess the  approach of "muckrakers" is to be really underhanded. 

christopher_mangus
christopher_mangus

You can't put quotes around someones words unless they are verbatim their words. No wonder people are hesitant to talk to the Observer. Again, the man wasn't even writing anything I said down.

christopher_mangus
christopher_mangus

God DAMN I was misquoted...not surprising considering the man wasn't taking notes when he talked to me, nor did he let me know it was an interview that I would be quoted from. If youre not taking word for word notes, how can you quote someone properly? My words "Im sorry for getting on the stage cause I get so wrapped up in what Im doing" was turned into "I didn't know I was supposed to get on the stage", which made me look like a moron. There is a difference between ignorance and doing whatever it takes to get a good photo. Shame on me for getting in peoples way and shame on you for your underhanded journalism, Gavin. Of course I know not to get on stage, but again, I do what it takes as an aspiring photographer. I use a flash cause it has that gritty, hard, almost on axis intense highlight and deep dark shadow. So I am well versed in photography and keenly aware of the "snap-shot aesthetic" I employed. The flash was a very conscious decision, and not one of a complete amateur. Not to mention all my favorite band photos use a flash cause they are in (literally) underground venues. 



Leshabs77
Leshabs77

I take photos at a lot of shows. Unless you are using a professional level camera, you have to use a flash. Otherwise your pictures will be out of focus. If it's a high energy rock show, no one notices the flash. A quiet acoustic show is a different story. That being said, it's never OK to get on stage for pictures. 

Barry Kooda
Barry Kooda

I take photos at shows and you are completely correct about photographer etiquette. The normal rules of concert goers does not apply to photographers and they wish to continue to have the unfettered access they are allowed, it's in their best interest to remain as unobtrusive as humanly possible and refrain from using a flash entirely. You're a ninja. Get in and get out with the goods without being seen is your ultimate goal.


L8nitedave
L8nitedave

Try shooting at the Kessler. Better yet ask Mike if he knows anyone who can cover what he can't.

claretbadger
claretbadger

most small venues are dark as caves and require flash

I use pro gear - and have had to resign to the fact I need to use "strobe"

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