Concert Photography 101: Arriving & Picking Up Your Pass

We've all been there! Maybe you've just gotten your first photo pass (that's the hard part). Then what? How does it work, where do you get this magical sticker? After you get the pass, then what?

There are a lot of logistical questions that are completely normal to ask when you're getting into concert photography. This post will address common scenarios to get you prepared for how to pick up a photo pass, what to bring, what to expect and more.

Arriving at the Venue

Generally, it's safe to arrive at the venue about 30 minutes before the act want to photograph is scheduled to go on. However, getting there in advance is always a good idea, particularly for the ability to sort out any possible issues.

Arriving with less than 30 minutes prior to a set time can be problematic, particularly for very large venues such as arenas and potentially amphitheaters, as those venues may require escorts by a media coordinator. If you miss the media coordinator, you may miss the opportunity to photograph the show or act.

For small to medium sized venues where there's no escort, it's up to you to make your way to the photo pit or designated photography area by yourself. If the venue has a large general admission area, you'll want to leave yourself time to make your way through the crowd.

Where to Pick Up Your Photo Pass

How and where you pick up your photo pass depends largely on the type and size of concert venue for the event. When in doubt, you can always call the venue ahead of time to find out the process if the publicist didn't indicate any special instructions. But outside of that, most venues follow a typical process for handling guest lists and credentials as outlined below.

Small Clubs:

For a smaller venue like a club or other types of venue without a dedicated box office, photo credentials will be generally handled at the door where tickets are checked.

Medium Sized Venues:

For most medium-sized venues (such as larger clubs and theater-style venues), photo pass will be held at the box office or will call.

Large Venues:

Some larger venues such as arenas may have a special media entrance where photo credentials are held. Generally, after your photo pass is approved, you may get instructions from the publicist or the media coordinator for the venue, indicating that there is a separate entrance or other instructions for press.

What to Bring to Pick Up Your Credentials

Photo ID:

You'll generally need a driver's license or other photo ID to pick up your credential, so they can match confirm you match the name on the guest list. This is a hard requirement most of the time.

Email Confirmation Approving Photography

A “nice to have” is a copy of the email from the publicist or the person who approved your photo pass. Generally, just having the email on your phone is enough, but a printed copy can be helpful in certain circumstances, too. The reason to have the written confirmation for your photo pass is in case your name is not on the guest list, in which case the email can help get things sorted.

Phone Number or Name of Contact/Tour Manager

Similarly to the confirmation email, it's ideal to get an on-site contact from a production or tour as a backup in case there's a miscommunication. A name may be enough, as often a box office can radio or call production. A phone number for a tour manager or contact who can come to meet you and sort things out in a worst case scenario is even better. You can generally ask the publicist or approving contact for this information once a photo pass is confirmed.

How to Pick Up Your Credentials/What to Say

This is the easy part! If the venue has a box office, tell them, “I'm here to pick up my photo pass, my name is _______.” Then give them your ID to assist in finding your name.

If the venue doesn't have a box office, the person taking tickets will/should have a list. You can just say something like, “And I should be on the list for a photo pass” after having your ticket scanned.

Is a Ticket Required or Not?

A photo pass is generally not considered entry into a concert, particularly if there's assigned seating only. Many concerts will require a ticket in addition to a photo pass in order to let you into a venue.

For larger arenas or amphitheaters, there may be a press holding area that photographers who are credentialed — but who do not have a ticket — are required to stay within in between sets.

Entering the Photo Pit

For most venues of 1,000 capacity and larger, there is generally an area called “the photo pit” that is between the front of the stage and the crowd, separated by a metal barricade. This is where press are allowed to photograph and also where security is present.

Regardless of how early you get to the venue, how early you can enter the photo pit depends on the venue, security and possibly the tour. Some larger venues may not let photographers into the photo area until just before an artist takes the stage.

If security is keeping photographers outside the photo pit, you'll need to wait with any other press there.

When you do enter the photo pit, security will check your credentials. This is the photo pass you picked up previously in all cases, if a photo pass is required.

There's a small overlap between venues that still may require a photo pass (due to tour rules or their own), but which don't have a photo pit. However, most venues are either small enough that they allow cameras without credentials (but don't have a photo pit) or are large enough that they do require a photo pass and they also have a photo pit.

For very small venues, there may not be a photo pit at all, and only a general admission area that goes right up to the stage.

Photography Rules

The standard rule for photography in most venues is that credentialed photographers are allowed to photograph for the first three songs, with no flash allowed.

This is typically shorted to “first three, no flash.” For venues that have a photo pit, you'll be allowed to photograph from that area for three songs only. After the first three songs, the photo pit will be closed to photographers.

Some venues will allow you to photograph from outside the pit, but others will be more strict and ban photography after the first three songs from anywhere in the venue.

What to do with your Camera Gear In Between Acts

Larger venues such as arenas and amphitheaters may have a press holding area as mentioned above. In between acts, you may be escorted back to this area along with your photography gear.

If you're a ticket holder to the concert and also want to watch the show in between acts for these larger venues, you may be required to put your camera gear in your car or otherwise take it outside the venue. This is to limit liability of the venue for any stolen or lost equipment and also preserve the photography rules. If the venue has this policy, it is up to you to be able to safely store your own gear in this case.

For less strict venues, you may just be able to exit the photo pit with your gear with freedom to walk around the venue.

Further Reading

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon Z 7:
I use two Nikon Z 7 for my live music photography. A true do-it-all mirrorless camera with amazing AF, great speed and fantastic resolution.

nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-square

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8S:
The 24-70mm is my go-to lens. The range is ideal for stage front photography and the image quality is superb.

Nikon-70-200-square

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.

nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-square

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.

See My Full Kit for Concert Photography

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