The one event that sticks out the me the most that I will always remember since it was my first big concert show was the Wale headline show at Baltimore’s Artscape in 2010. I had never shot concert photography before that. I thought to myself though, “man, this would be an awesome experience. I need to get up on that stage!” I was with a few of my friends and I told my friend Jordan, “I’ll see you after the show.” He had no doubt I’d get up there, and I was very determined.
I walked around to the security and asked who I could talk to about getting a photo pass for shooting. Some security did not take me seriously and just pointed me into the direction of someone else, who did the same thing. The show started at 6:00, and it was about 5:30. I was running out of time, and fast.
After being given the runaround a guy came up to me and said , “do you need to talk to someone about a photo pass?” I was so happy he actually gave me a chance. I said yes and he lead the way. He said, “be cool, don’t go wandering around stage, come with me.” I sat inside the backstage area and waited for a while. The gentleman told me I’d have to talk to the director of Artscape, who was running around like crazy because the Wale show was a big deal, and they didn’t want any breaches since people were running around the area trying to find a way to sneak in and meet him. She kept walking past, and he was beckoning for her attention. She said multiple times, she’d be right back. It was roughly 6, and luckily Wale was not ready yet. Time was on my side, I hoped. Time kept going on and on, and eventually I had to stand back and watch Wale walk by me to head to the stage. He looked over, I gave a head nod, he gave one in return, and he and his entourage made their way outside. I heard the stage band begin to play and my heart began to sink. I thought I wasn’t going to get up there. After about ten minutes the director started to rush by me and then she stopped. I had been standing around for about a half hour by now. She looked at me and said, “ I am so sorry. You’ve sat here and waited for me, it’s been so nuts around here. How can I help you?” I explained to her I was a photographer from the area in love with hip-hop and I really wanted to shoot some photos of Wale to have in my portfolio. She asked if I had any credentials (press information, marketing information, etc) I told her I didn’t, handed her my business card, and said I am a freelancer that just wants some great photos of the show. I explained I have no intent to sell the photos, I just want to have a new memory. She said, “You didn’t try to sneak around to get on stage, and you sat here and patiently waited. I respect that a lot.” She handed me a press pass. IT WAS ON!
Getting on that stage and shooting was one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had. Thousands, and thousands of people in the crowd enjoying the show. In a sense, as a photographer you are performing yourself. Sure, not to the same degree as these musicians (all the time), but you are out there doing the same duty they are. Relaying your art and doing your best job possible. Positioning to get the shots that make you smile once you get to review them. It was the highest adrenaline rush. It was like skydiving while on your feet. When his hit single from his Attention: Deficit album “Chillin” came on, the show really just hit a new level. The whole stage shook from the energy and everyone in the crowd went ecstatic. It has by far been one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had on stage (and by now I’ve shot more concerts than I can even remember at times) I have not broken my word to that director and never sold a photo of that show. It was priceless and really makes me thankful for the career I have.
The moral of that story, and shooting at venues in general is to respect the people working there. Whether it’s a bouncer, security, the stage crew, or the director of the whole venue, they are all working as hard (or harder) than you to make sure everything is going completely worry free. I know that art can sometimes be about breaking the law, pushing the boundaries, or being mischievous. But when it comes to working at venues, you want to respect the people there. You wouldn’t walk into a hospital and grab the clipboard from the Doctor or Nurse and tell them how to do their duties, right? Plus, it’s a lot more gratifying to be greeted by those people with a smile and a handshake, rather than being given over to the Police.
Never be afraid to ask questions. Without having questions, you’ll never know the answer. But respect the “no’s” you get, in that instance. You come off as a true professional, and not a person just living in the moment instead of gaining a business relationship.
By now, I’ve shot in multiple venues, indoor and out, including one-off festivals and long-running concert tours as a staff Photographer for a music site a part of the Complex Magazine network. A new wall you can run into issues with are tour managers as well. Apply the same logic. Respect their wishes, and do what you can in the allotted (sometimes very strict) guidelines they give you. As a Photographer, it’s your responsibility to work in the limits you’re sometime given. You can be very surprised with the results you get, even under hard circumstances.
Getting passes can be easy, and sometimes very hard. Getting a hold of the marketing director of the venue is a good start, or being extremely friendly to the people in charge around the stage. Their biggest concern is for the safety and security of the performers and if they feel you wouldn’t be a threat, they are more than welcome to help you out. When contacting the venue, do as soon as possible. Usually with information and clearances they want a lot of time to work out any kinks that can come into play. To be realistic, getting a pass the day of at that moment does not happen very often and I was granted a stroke of luck. Building that rapport will definitely help you out later in time though. The most guaranteed way of getting media passes is to unite with a media outlet and talk to them about the services you can offer. Of course, you cannot expect compensation up front if you’ve never shot a concert, this is a show and prove kind of industry. Make sure to present to them your most relevant work to this kind of situation, and hopefully that will give them the hope you can handle shooting concerts to their specifications.