Concert Photography Etiquette

Photos of Gregg Gillis, AKA Girl Talk, performing at the Pageant in St. Louis on January 18, 2011 (Todd Owyoung)

Between crowd surfers, security, and other photogs all jockeying for space, the photo pit may seem like a rough and rumble world. But beneath the chaos of the rock show, there are some loose rules that can keep everything running smoothly.

If you’re new to the concert photography scene, welcome to the jungle. Here are a few suggestions for etiquette while shooting shows.

1. Respect

Respect everyone around you, in the pit and in the crowd. For me, this is the number one rule, and the basis for all other behavior while shooting.

I go into a shoot with the mindset that everyone in the pit is equal, and that everyone is entitled to their own shots and their own space. The following suggestions are all extensions of this value.

2. The Courtesy Tap

You’ve all been there – the pit is narrow, there’s a photog lining up a shot, and you need to get by. If you need to pass and there’s no room, a polite tap will do. Practicing this one simple bit of etiquette alone makes everything in the pit run much smoother.

This courtesy also works for tapping into a shot (see #5).

3. Mind Your Gear

Due to the limited space and high likelihood of collisions in a full pit, it’s a good idea to always be as mindful as possible about your gear, from your cameras and lenses to your bag. This is especially true with large camera bags and second bodies hanging off the shoulder.

As an supplement to this suggestion, remember to keep your gear out of the flow of traffic. Stow your large bags under the stage or barricade if at all possible. The last thing anyone wants is to trip over a camera bag in the pit and send glass flying.

All this said, accidents happen, and if you gear gets knocked or you run into someone, a short, sincere apology goes a long way.

4. Mind Your Space

In addition to keeping an eye on your gear, it’s important to also be aware of your position in relation to others. Personally, I aim to have as small of a footprint in the pit as possible. This approach means I’m not only more mobile, but it decreases the changes of conflict with other photogs.

Also, if possible, I always try and leave a buffer between myself and other shooters. No one likes to be crowded.

5. Photo Pit Karma

For any given “rock star” pose or moment, there are very likely just a few angles in the linear pit that multiple photogs may want to occupy. While I will tenaciously go after the shots I want, I also try to give others a chance once I’ve made my image. Pay it forward and everyone wins.

6. Be Nice to Security

Not only are the guys and gals working security are generally great people, but they can also be your best friend when things go sour.

One of the first things I do when I arrive at a venue is to make the rounds and say hi to everyone I know who is working. I’ve always found this to be a good practice, especially for the venues that I frequent.

Shooting From The Crowd

Needless to say, a lot of great live music is made in venues without the convenience of barricades separating the crowd from the press. Here are some suggestions for courteous shooting from the crowd.

Get there early

If you have to shoot from the crowd, get there early. A photo pass entitles you to shoot, nothing more. It’s one thing to drop into a photo pit minutes before the show, but fans at the front of the stage got there early, and so should you if you want that prime real estate in the crowd.

Make Friends

My best and highest recommendation when shooting from the crowd is to make friends with those around you. Break the ice and chat up your neighbors, especially if they’re in a position you might like to occupy at some point during the set.

End Notes:

These are just a few of the guidelines for smooth shooting that I try to keep in mind when I’m on assignment. Do you have any suggestions or rules you try to follow?

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts on concert photography etiquette!

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There are 56 comments

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  1. michael alan goldberg

    Nice lil’ piece. For a long time I felt like the only “nice” photographer in the pit — always apologizing if I accidentally knocked into someone; trying to get out of others’ ways if they were trying to get a certain shot; just generally being friendly — while practically everyone else seemed aggressive, rude, disrespectful, etc., and I felt like a chump that was being intimidated & taken advantage of by the “pros.” Fortunately, I’ve run into a couple of other “nice” photographers of late, and it really makes the whole situation a lot more pleasant for people who are all trying to get good shots in a tight space with time constraints and the usual lighting/motion challenges, usually on assignment. I hope a lot of photographers read what you’ve had to say and take it to heart — it’s not difficult to be nice and respectful of one’s fellow photogs, and to me there is no room for attitude, ego, and overly aggressive behavior in the pit.

    I second the notion of making friends around you (both fans and security guys), especially when there’s no pit or barrier and you’re up against the stage with the masses. Most of them paid for their tickets, while the photographer very likely didn’t, and they have the right to enjoy the show without someone constantly getting in their way for shots, or pushing and shoving, or simply thinking they are “better” because they get to take photographs and are not simply a “fan.” I always make sure to tell people I’m only going to be in their way for a couple songs, and I stick to my promises, and I always thank the people around me — as well as the security guys — afterwards for their patience, and for that, I can only think of a couple of instances among the hundreds of shows I’ve shot where there’s been any kind of problem.

    Cheers!

  2. Todd

    Hey Michael,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this piece. I’ve certainly been in less-than-friendly pits, but I’m glad to say that those instances are generally in the minority.

    I’m right there with you about shooting from the crowd. I think it can be easy to get caught up in an assignment, getting a good spot, and going after shots, but when outside of the photo pit, I don’t think photographers are above the fans in any respect.

    Thanks again for the comment.

  3. Diana

    Whenever I’m in a photo pit and I have to step onto that ledge, I tell the fans hugging the barricade that I’ll be in their faces for a few seconds. I’m especially courteous because I first went to gigs as an avid concert-goer, not a shutterbug!

    When I shoot from the crowd, I always get to the venue early. However, I notice that sometimes fans around me get annoyed as I shoot throughout the show. (Mind you, I try to be as inconspicuous as I can.) They have that “ugh-just-enjoy-the-concert-you-non-fan!” look. I usually like the bands I choose to shoot, so I find this attitude particularly scathing.

  4. Todd

    Hey Diana,

    Good points, I think open communication with fans is great. I find that most of the time, fans are accommodating for quick requests like you mention. Friendliness goes a long way.

    Some fans will always come with attitude – and at a rock show, I’d expect nothing less.

    The only time I’ve really felt a bit guilty was during a performance by Josê González. If it wasn’t bad enough that it was an acoustic show, it was also in a pin-drop-quiet chapel.

  5. Todd

    Hey Ramsey and Kate, this tip about befriending security is a really important and excellent suggestion, and I completely agree: it always pays off to know the folks working the venue.

    One of the first things I do when I get to a venue is to make the rounds and say hi to the people I know who are working.

    This goes for security, but also for people working the door and the general floor staff.

    I’ll add another point in the post about this, thanks for the comments!

  6. Olivier César

    Other target to befriend and not disturb is the audience! They are part of the show!

    About the security, yes, it pays when you befriend them and overall respect the guys. To make a story short, In july I did take part of a 4 days festival, I am short on legs, and for a well known artist, all other photographers where glued against the stage and no room for me. A guy from the security came to me and said: Come with me here. He let me climb on a front speakers for like 30sec and I was able to take this picture http://www.flickr.com/photos/olliec/2668340513/

    So yes, be nice to other photographers and people help! You will be seen as a good person and will allow you more ‘liberty’ when you need it.

    Asking also pays. Like: hey, may a borrow you place for some shoot.. thanks a lot..

    But, what I don’t like is photopgraphers standing on the security step in the photographers pit !! I can’t stand that kind of attitude. Especially when after the 3 first song you go to the guy and gently say: Not really cleaver to stand there, you are blocking the audience view. His answer was: I don’t care, I am here to work !

    Discussion is then over and out !

    Anyway, the workd is: Be nice and you will be rewarded for you behaviour !

    Todd, thanks for being the voice of reason !

  7. Todd

    Hey Olivier,

    Thanks for sharing that story, that’s some great access to get. I completely agree about helping people out – it almost always comes back, whether it’s from other fans, photogs, or security.

    I appreciate the comment.

  8. Klaas

    Hey Todd,

    Great post and also very true. Decent behaviour will get you a long way, both in the pit as in the crowd.

    I don’t have that many pit-opportunities, I shoot from the crows mainly and always try to make it there in time. It also helps to get acquainted with the people around you and that’s often a big help during the gig (or at least the three song-shooting time). Usually I take a few steps back after the photoshoot is done.

  9. Todd

    Hi Klaas,

    You mention taking a few steps back after shooting the first three, and I think this is a great way to work in the crowd. This kind of considerate behavior goes a long way toward building good will in a crowd.

    • caroline

      I’ve actually had really good luck with befriending whoever is in the spot I want to shoot from.

      I’ll get to the show early, and hang near the front of the stage. Approach whoever is in “my spot,” and ask them if it would be okay if I swapped them spots, just for the first two or three songs of each set. Usually, they’re more than happy to move out of my way, as long as I stick to my promise to pop back out after the third song. I get to shoot from where I want, then get out of the way until the next band is up.

      I started doing this at shows where there’s no barricade (which is most of the shows I shoot), and I felt sort of guilty camping prime territory for all of the opening bands.

  10. Bryan

    DON’T put your camera right in front of the performers face and take a picture with or without the flash. It’s both rude and obnoxious for other photographers and the fans as well. If you need to lift your camera up for a certain shot, make sure no one is in back of you first.

  11. Todd

    Bryan,

    Point well taken. I often see people using fisheye or wideangle lenses doing this type of “hail mary” shot. While I can see the use for special instances, this type of shooting as a standard modus operandi seems bad for everyone else involved – fans, other photogs, and the musicians.

  12. Natalie

    Nice post, Todd! I think you covered it all, congrats!

    It would be great if people with videocameras learned this kind of etiquette. They are a pain in the ass with their lights and they get on the way of everybody! I just shoot a festival this weekend and they got on my nerves.

  13. Todd

    Hey Natalie, thanks for your comment. I think we’ve all been there with the video cameras, but even small rigs can be trying.

    I once shot a show where a photog shot the first three songs on a P&S from directly in front of the lead singer. :)

  14. Roxanne

    I usually work with bands that i know so i don’t really go through that “pit” scenario… though i do have this great opportunity to shoot onstage. Some of my most important rules are:

    1.) Don’t use the flash if you can help it. If you must, limit your shots. People, esp the artist can get distracted, annoyed, or worse, dizzy if they see a lot of flashes. Especially if you’re shooting at a very intimate area.

    2.) If you’re blocking someone’s view, refrain yourself from staying on that spot for too long. They went there to see the concert… and not your back.

    That’s it! =D This article is fun!

  15. Laura

    More people need to follow these rules!

    I often shoot from the crowd and making friends is definitely the way to go. Lots of people see me shooting and ask where they can see the shots and then are more than willing to let me switch places with them for a minute or two. It’s a good idea to keep a card or something on you for these situations.

  16. Todd

    Hey Laura, thanks for the comment. There were over 300 views on this post yesterday, and Natalie is going to translate the article into Portuguese, so that’s a start.

    Making friends is a good practice all around, but I find it’s particularly important in the crowd for exactly the reasons you mention.

  17. Paige K. Parsons

    Laura’s right – bring lots of business cards and be sure and make a few images accessible to fans after the show.

    When I shoot from the crowd, no only do I make friends and let them know I’ll be out of their way quickly, but I give them a little moo card so they can easily find images after the show on flickr or my website. The uberfans who are usually up front are much happier to share their space with you knowing that they’ll also benefit.

    Also, if you’re not too familiar with the band, these fans up front are often a wealth of info. If you take the time you can meet some great folks, learn about the act, and develop fans of your photography all at once.

  18. Todd

    Hey Paige, I agree, great points all around. I do the exact same thing with my cards. You can break the ice, make friends, and end up with an automatic audience for the images.

    One thing I do is to include my portfolio on my iPhone, so it’s easily accessible. If I’m ever talking to fans about the show or where they can see the images, I can also show them the kind of work I do and what to expect.

  19. Chris

    Definitely agree with all of that. Among all things, I think I make the people in the crowd come first — especially if I’m the only one there. I’ll usually talk with people and then when the show starts, take the photos, and they are usually cool with me. If it’s more local, etc., I try to stay out of the way as much as possible by either staying on the side, or grabbing some shots and then moving.

    I think it’s just courteous and pretty obvious to follow the steps you listed — but I guess there are those people out there who may not realize or want to follow them. In which case, you bash their face in :P

    Nice lead intro photo.

  20. Todd

    You’d think these suggestions were common sense, and I wish that were the case, but I think there’s also an “every person for his/her self” mentality when the lights go down.

  21. George K.

    It might not be etiquette, but being aware of the crowd surfers is a very important thing at all shows. At the 1997 Warped tour at Randall’s Island I saw a photographer who was about head level with the stage take a boot to the back of the head, crack her forehead against the stage, turned towards the rest of us and her skin just flapped over, blood poured everywhere, and she passed out.

    I’ve been knocked out catching an elbow to the skull shooting an Agnostic Front show, I’ve seen photogs clock each other in the head with 70-200mm L lenses trying to move out of the way of wrestlers going over the top rope.

    I’ve even gone through a wooden table after being pushed aside during a Legendary Shackshakers set and I’ve lost all my front teeth photographing a Bad Brains set.

    It gets really violent really quick at some of these events we shoot, and the worst thing you can do if you accidentally hit a fellow camera person, or if they get hurt, is ignore it and keep shooting.

    And if you get hit by accident with a stray lens, don’t immediately assume that the photog that hit you is a jerk, they might have just been shoved out of the way by a security guard, or pushed by a mosher.

    Again, this is common sense, but I’ve been crushed, beaten, battered, and bruise too many times to not mention it to everyone.

    Todd should segue this into a conversation about camera insurance, but that’s a tale for another day.

  22. Alonso Murillo

    Be careful of crowd surfers. The way I protect the back of my head is by always keeping track of the movement from security guys… it’s a good indicator of where the next crowd surfer is going to land. Also watch out for lead singers… they tend to spit a lot.

    That’s my 2 cents!

    :)

    I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for taking the time to write up your blogs. I enjoy all of them.

  23. Andres

    Be Humble

    This really should go without saying, but the following story conveys that it really has to be said.

    I was shooting a festival over the summer and managed to score a good position in the pit with an interesting angle. I noticed a smaller female photographer behind me. I offered to let her in front of me, the idea being being that I would be able to shoot over her head but not vice versa. She proceeds to get in front of me and stand on a ledge of the stage a half foot off of the ground, obviously and completely blocking my view. She stood there for the three songs so I had to find another angle.

    This goes back to humility. Why on earth would she think I was letting her take over my spot and obstruct my view? She obviously thought she was hot stuff and I was bowing to her infinite superiority.

  24. Todd

    Hey Andres,

    Thanks for the input and for sharing your story. It really sounds like that photog you mention had some attitude. It’s hard to imagine that she didn’t know that she was completely obstructing your view.

  25. Frank Bautista

    This is a very good to working around.

    Anytime we go into the pit, you look at some photographers already looking you like if you were their worst enemy and physically telling you were their had marked the territory.

    I just smile, say hi, give then a good look and automatically they dropped that attitude. Initiate a conversation and the wolf is gone.

  26. Meaghan

    Hey, just found your tips while searching around for band photographs.

    Your tips are exactly the kind of etiquette all photographers should practice at a concert. I myself practice those frequently. Being lucky enough to be a photographer for a few small bands, I’m either stuck in the crowd or lucky enough to be the only one with the security on the other side of the barrier. Definitely make sure to talk to the security. You’re in the same boat, and they still have to make sure you’re safe as well as the crowd surfers coming your way. Be polite to them and make sure they can do their job and they will make sure you can do yours. That means, remember where you are and be aware of all your surroundings.

    Also, and this is stressed especially at a high energy show at a smaller venue, there are hyped up fans behind you. Should you be lucky enough to have a pass to be in front of the barrier, make sure you’re aware of all the arms that are flailing behind you because you just might get punched in the back of the head or back. Trust me, it happens haha. Learned that one the hard way.

    If you’re not lucky enough to be in front of the barrier, you better make sure you make some friends in the front row. They can save your head and your camera. Most people don’t mind protecting you at all. I can safely say, whether or not I have a camera in my hand, majority of people at concerts stick together. Everyone is there for a good time, so don’t be afraid to make some friends.

  27. Raul

    Awesome site first of all! I found you by following (and learning)from your brother’s site for the last year.

    I’ve been shooting everywhere possible here in Hawaii just to gain the experience but I just wanted to point out something that happened as a “concert-goer” involving a photographer recently.

    It was at a small venue with a small dance area in front of the stage, and this dude, he might have been the bands “official” photographer, was using his speedlite. I was taking notes in what not to do. This guy, sat down right in the middle of the dance area, a foot from the band, even laid down at times, aiming his speedlite up at the ceiling. Now this would be great if he wasn’t ducking down on the floor. He was just pointing, shooting, pointing shooting, blinding the hell out of the band and the audience, he wasn’t even composing his shots. At one point this couple behind him asked politely if he would please stop with the flash. He gave them the stink eye, ignored them and kept shooting. Then he aimed his speedlite to the right, right where I was standing. And I was in lala land for a few minutes with all the white buzzing in front of me. So I gave him “that look” he gave me “it” back oddly enough. So from that point on, every time he aimed his camera to shoot I would “accidently” bump into him a bit, till he got the point. Yeah drove me and the audience nuts. There were some respectable fans w/ high end cameras in the audience too, with the diffusers over their speedlites off to the sides.

    It was a nice example of how you can technically be a “professional” but still be completely ignorant to your surroundings compared to a random audience member with a camera.

  28. Sarah

    I am just starting out and would like to know how to “make friends” with the security, the last couple of times I have been in the pit I have spoken to security who just grunted back at me! The only place this was different was at the Download Festival when I was in te crowd with my little compact and the security guy in front kept ducking or moving to the side when I raised my cam. He then kept bringing water and sun cream over! throughout the day!

  29. Boris

    As an long time photographer for concerts, one thing you didn’t mention I think is isportant, when you’re dealing with shows where there’s 20-30 photogs, few camermans (fixed or moving) and maybe sometimes a camera crane, you should ALWAYS duck when changing positions. There’s fair amount of photographers that just don’t care, and often you have someone’s head in potentialy great shot! :)

  30. ROCKAFASHION

    I totally agreed with Boris.
    Often we get caught out in that situation. As for me, I been working with a lot of photographer, luckily
    we already know each other. One thing that we started doing a long time ago is, when someone is about to pass in front of other photographer, change positions, angles or move.
    We duck, but we said a loud: “COMING THRU” that helps the others photographer to know and anticipated them that there is someone coming across our shoot.

    But! there’s some new photographers or cameraman that still getting in your way or simply rude attitude
    that don’t care.

  31. jhs

    Todd, it has been a while! Around this time last year I had the same cold I think I have now and thankfully it was downtime. I spent that downtime camped out on your website for a couple of days and read through… I honestly believe, almost every post.

    I want to tell you how valuable your Concert Photography Etiquette is and I point any new photographer interested in concert photography your way.

    For new pit photographers this will prove to be an invaluable guide and it touches on a recent situation I had never experienced in over a decade of shooting.

    With the incorporation of more and more purely internet based media having access to the pit I am running into more inexperienced photographers who are literally working for free or 20.00 a show.

    For them, the trade off is the rush of getting into to shoot the big names yet for the more seasoned photographers we are dealing with new photographers who have little to no camera training and even less etiquette or professionalism.

    What I really want to touch on tonight is language and professionalism.

    During one of my arena shoot with one of the biggest female pop acts still out on tour, their pit contained VIP ticket holders. So not only did we have to deal with security, but fans ranging in the ages from nine to fourty-nine.

    A male photographer who has only been doing this for a year began “hamming” it up with Event Security. It quickly spiraled into “locker room talk.” With various comments made about how hot the talent was and the MANY way’s he would enjoy ….. needless to say sexual comments were made.

    Keep in mind I’m a woman, and yes working in this industry we do get a certain level of guys talk, and one of highest compliments ( at least for me ) is being regarded as “one of the guys.” It makes for a relaxing environment. We joke, we enjoy the shows… life is good!

    However, when you have another photographer in the pit with you making seriously crude WHILE SHOOTING THE ACT ON STAGE, comments with children, mom’s, and teens all well within earshot it makes for a dangerous liability issues.

    If a parent would have overheard his comments then not only is he placing himself in a bad position he is placing all the photographers, and a multi-million dollar venue in a bad position.

    Could you imagine if the talent’s management would have overheard his comments?

    All photographers in THE PIT need to remember and take HEED. We are guests of the not only the entertainers, but the venues themselves. One bad apple can spoil the bunch and if a million dollar venue feels their interests are being compromised then they are well within their rights to keep us out.

    When you are out on the floor, in the pit, or anywhere within the venue’s media room, KEEP YOUR COMMENTS to standard work place etiquette.

    Crude jokes, especially when women and children are present, are still a NO NO. You never know if you are going to get a girl who will simply laugh it off, or if you are going place yourself in the position of landing yourself and whatever media you shoot for in a liable situation.

    Your work is fantastic as always, Todd and keep up the wonderful work on educating the newbies :)

  32. Sheldon

    Hey Todd,
    I have just recently won a comp to shoot an upcoming festival. Having not done any previous concert photog your website is a huge help to me. I look forward to gettin into the pit with other photog’s and seeing how i go. I will definitely take into account everyones experience here and hopefully not get in anyones way.

  33. Mike

    Just found this, quite timely as I’ve only been getting into the pit for a few months. All good advice. I think the worst thing I have seen is a London photog, working the same gig as me, after the 3 songs exits but clambers over the barrier and inserts himself into the front row. Sadly people were too polite to take him on about it. I think it was also indicative that he had on a silly yellow hat as an obvious ‘look at me’ ploy.
    I’ve realised a few times that I’ve been hogging one spot, although according to my mates in the audience I do appear to go in for the shots I want, take them and then move to give someone else a chance

  34. Alan

    As an addition to #3 in your article, photographers should NOT wear their backpacks in the photo pit, even if the pit is wide enough to accommodate everyone!

    That is the one of the most annoying things — if the pit is normal size (i.e, thin), your backpack is another layer of you that I need to try to get past. Even if the pit is spacious, the backpack adds that much more to you when everyone crowds in tight to get any special shots.

    Here’s another PET PEEVE…

    No matter what kind of camera, do NOT hold it in the air above your head and IN MY WAY! Annoying! P&S cameras normally have plenty of zoom so keep it within your own space. Photographers who use D-SLRs and hold it above their heads should be drawn and quartered. If you use a $1,000+ camera, holding it above your head and shooting blankly not only puts that big camera IN MY SHOT when I am standing next to you, it also shows that you have absolutely no artistic value and creativity to those photos.


    Alan

  35. TJ McDowell

    I think it makes a lot of sense to make friends early on. Not only is that a great principle for photography, but also a great principle for business and for life. There have definitely been times when I was nice before I knew who someone was, then I was really glad I was nice after I found out who they were.

  36. Jerry A

    First off, great site (just found it), excellent advise and great comments from the readers/shooters.

    Twenty five years ago I used to do security for rock shows at large and small venues for over 2 1/2 years. Everyone is right, be nice to security, the venue staff and the fans, it does pay off. I’ve helped (nice) photographers who befriended me get better angles and shots. In terms of the fans, they can be your best friend or worst nightmare. I’ve seen both and as security moved a few photog’s in my day who weren’t playing nice with the kids. Times have changed and recently I’m now behind the camera shooting shows for a local venue and luckily for me I have no restrictions on when to leave or where I shoot from. Remembering the old days, and what I saw and did helped me immensely when dealing with everyone at the show. I smile, joke, laugh, share and do everything not to be a pest. In the end, aren’t we’re all there to have a good time?

  37. Robert Altman

    So…I am about to graduate to the big league-my first show at Madison Square Garden (MSG).
    Any hints/tips about shooting there-how is the ‘pit’/is it a 3 song limit/do I get to shoot from elsewhere after the pit?
    All of my previous shooting has been in clubs/less structured venues (check out my website for examples) http://nypics.smugmug.com
    I have a Nikor (bought reasonably used) 80-200 F2.8 (couldn’t afford the new 70-200 yet..) as well as my 17-50 F2.8 and 28-75F2.8 (which I think I will leave home when I get the 80-200). I figured I will need the extra telephoto reach at MSG.


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