I've written about photo pit etiquette in the past. This advice centered on general courtesies such as how in close proximity to other photographers, how to carry your gear, how to move to be minimally disruptive and so forth.
Beyond this very pragmatic advice, there are more fundamental aspects of conducting yourself in the photo pit that all music photographers should recognize — the assumptions, biases, and roots of disrespect that occur because of one's gender, race, appearance, or even camera gear. These are not issues exclusive to music photography, but here the photo pit is simply a microcosm of society as a whole.
To this end, we as music photographers should strive to do better and to act better. While at the publication of this article we're in an unprecedented pandemic with large scale live music on pause for the foreseeable future, this is all the better time to reflect on the nature of our attitudes and how, when we do return to the photo pits, we can create a better, more inclusive and respectful place.
1. Everyone is equal in the pit
Judgements and prejudices should be left outside the pit. The only thing you should assume when you enter the photo pit is that everyone is equal in their right to be there and to work the show. Everyone in the pit wearing a photo pass has been given the same rules and the same access.
The gear someone is shooting with, their age, the way they dress, nor anything else should have zero bearing on anything. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the images.
2. Think before giving unsolicited advice
Men: please stop giving unsolicited photography to women. Or anyone else, really. *
If you want to judge a photographer's skill, look at their images. Not their gender, their race, who they love, their age, their religion nor appearance. Not their publication or whether they are getting paid or not. Not even the photo gear they use.
* This piece of advice exists for the sole reason that male photographers seem to love giving advice to female photographers because these men assume that women don't know how to use their cameras. There's a word for this: sexism.
3. Don't be a creep
This shouldn't even have to be said, but: Don't be a creep in the photo pit. Photographers are there to work — make their images — and that's it. No one is trying to get a date in the photo pit, I assure you.
4. You are not more important or entitled to special treatment
It doesn't matter who you are shooting for — whether it's Rolling Stone or a wire service or your grandma. Your images are not more important than anyone else's.
This fact might be hard for some to accept, but if you're wearing the same pass as another photographer, you have exactly the same rights — no more, no less. The publicist and the gatekeepers have seen to that and have approved everyone, from the daily newspaper to the national magazine to a new blog.
If you were truly more special, you'd get special access. If you're wearing the same pass as everyone else, you deserve no more or no less than every other photographer.
5. Camera gear is irrelevant
The camera gear you're using should have no basis for how you're treated in the photo pit. Respectful behavior to others in the pit should have absolutely nothing to do with the cameras or lenses someone is using. Please leave those kinds of judgements — or any kind of prejudice, homophobia, sexism, or racism — at will call when you pick up your photo pass.
On the flipside, showing up with the holy trinity of f/2.8 glass is nice for you, but you shouldn't assume anyone else cares. We all know that high end camera gear makes the job easier — but it doesn't make you a better photographer. The only thing in photography that proves your talent is the quality of your work, not the length of your lens.
6. Say “Hi”
It's a simple thing, but saying “hi” in the photo pit to a photographer you don't know can be huge gesture. Why? Because while photographers are so often one wolves, this is how you can start creating community and fostering a sense of camaraderie — one conversation at a time.
Not only that, but connecting with other photographers can change your own perception. A simple act of conversing with other photographers can help remove the idea that they're your competition. It may sound like a trivial change, but with the pervasive feeling of competition in photography, this can be a huge improvement in mental health.
If you see someone new, ask them: Have their shot in that venue before? Have they seen this band? If you are a regular photographer at the venue or you know everyone else, find the person you don't know and start talking to them. If you are the new person in a venue, strike up a conversation with someone who seems to know everyone else.
You don't have to be friends with everyone in the photo pit — but why would you want to be enemies?
7. Stand up for other photographers
If you see any of the objectionable behavior above, speak out. Whether it's from another photographer (they should know better) or a security guard (they should also know better), speak up. Don't tolerate disrespect or abuse if you see it. Speak up for those who may not be heard. This action is especially important if you know the offender.
8. Respect above all else
This bears repeating: The number one rule in the photo pit is respect. All your actions in the pit should come from a place of respect. Respect for your fellow photographers, respect for the artists on stage, respect for the fans, and respect for everyone working the event. There are no exceptions.
If you're a music photographer, you should know that so many of these elements of etiquette are fundamentally just about respect. And they are not just things that music photographers should practice, but they are behaviors that extend far beyond just the photo pit.
Music photography is a community that I love dearly. It is truly what we all make it. Ignorance and prejudice have no place in the photo pit.
I urge all music photographers to not just create the community that they want to see, but to actively speak out against anything you know to be wrong. It might be as small as someone being talked down to for the gear they're using or questioned about their credentials, but music photography will only be stronger by creating a space where we all can thrive.
If you haven't read it, please see my article on Photo Pit Etiquette 101 for more tips on practical photo pit behavior and working in a crowd of photographers: