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You have two choices in life: You can dissolve into the mainstream, or you can be distinct. To be distinct is to be different. To be different, you must strive to be what no one else but you can be. - Alan Ashley-Pitt

Acquiring Press Credentials
& Shooting Concerts/Events

Probably one of the most coveted items in a photographers camera bag, besides that big, expensive Pro Camera Body, is the Press Pass.  The one item that gets you into the concerts, events and parties where most of those news worthy photos you see in the magazines come from.

Kenny Chesney in front of a Sold Out Crowd in Wyoming

This is much harder than one might think it is to obtain.  Unless you're only planning on shooting at the local neighborhood bars where the average band is playing each weekend, gaining access to the Press Pit for the top name act touring the country takes years of hard work followed with top notch images to back it up.

After looking around on the web, and compiling a few of our own tips on how we've gained access to some of the top acts, we decided to put this list together for the up and coming photographers to learn from. 

Jason Aldean at the Texas Club in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

By no means is this list Gospel, but it will give those beginners who are looking to get started in the business of performance photography, a few pointers on what you need to do to get into some of the bigger shows, or at least get you started on your way to working for Rolling Stone. 

I should say that I got the idea to put this list together after reading some of it on a photographers web forum that I frequent POTN.  I then added most of what you see here from my own experiences for gaining access into shows.

Eric Church and Randy Houser - Two of Country Music's Most Talented Writers/Singers

We'll start with the first and foremost hardest item to get, the actual press pass itself.  I'll tell you right now that this is almost impossible without having something to back your name and reputation up with. 

So don't think if you run down to the local camera store and outfit yourself with all the latest and greatest equipment, you're going to be walking into the next show.  You need to have a few years under your belt before you can even think of applying for press passes.

1. Getting Press Credentials/Photo Passes or Permission

- Ask from the band. This usually only works on smaller artists who you can get in touch with and haven't made the big time yet.  Once a band has a manager, press agent or a record contract, it's almost impossible to get in touch with the actual performers. 

Dierks Bentley at Bonnaroo Music Festival 2007

If you can do this, or know a member of a certain band that you want to photograph, then you have a foot in the door already, and should use it to your advantage.

Where I live, nobody pays for web-size pictures in gallery form (but perhaps web advertising would be another case). It just does not happen. So I usually just give away the web gallery sized pictures to the artist (it is of course one way of advertising my services) in exchange of a photo pass.

- This can also start you a great relationship with the band who might hire you in the future if you can produce some shots theyíll use or might want to purchase for advertising

- Ask for passes from the festival/concert/event organizer

Travis McCoy of Gym Class Heroes - Vans Warped Tour, Detroit 2008

- Think of yourself as a professional, even if you are not. What words would a professional use when trying to get the credentials? If you come out as a fan-hobbyist, the person at the other end might think that you're perhaps more interested in other things than photography

- As soon as possible create a (good) web portfolio. Pay attention to presentation, post processing and sharpening.  Once you get this portfolio set up with a working website, you can forward a link to it when you send out emails asking for press passes.  Before you have this, you should practice with small, local bands.

- Get nice, professional looking business cards made up with all your contact information and offer them to whom ever you talk with when asking for permission to photograph an event.  Business cards are probably your most inexpensive form of advertising when you're first starting out and a great way to get your name out there. 

It also shows that you're not just some clown looking for free passes into the event or concert. 

Toby Keith @ DTE Energy Theatre in Michigan 2008

- Mention that you're not going to use flash, that you'll pay special attention not to annoy the artist or audience (if these are true) and youíll be as professional as possible, you are strictly here to get top notch images of the performance

- Quick Story - We sent one girl, not our normal photographer (which is normally Me) for a magazine I used to shoot for, to a concert as I was busy that night with another show.

We later heard from the venue that she was dancing down in the photographers pit the entire time and wasnít even trying to get any pictures.  Basically she was just there to enjoy the concert and have fun. 

This is almost impossible to recover from, so remember Ė You are there as a professional, act like one!

- DO NOT give away full size professional pictures for "any usage" for free. You'd be eating somebody else's bread. You should get fair compensation.

- Donít plan on showing up the night of the performance and talking your way into the show.  Most venues require press passes to be applied for months in advance.  Most of the people that make these decisions arenít even at the show the night of the performance

Sting of the Police - Tennessee 2007

- If you set your passes up through email and plan on picking them up at Will Call the night of the show, make sure to either print out the corresponding emails that granted you access, or write down the names and phone numbers of the people who gave you permission.  Youíd be surprised how many times this is needed the night you show up for the show.

Most people working the booth don't even know the names of the event organizers or band managers, so sitting there arguing with them isn't going to get you into the show. Keep your cool and remember these people working the doors and ticket counters are just doing their job, it's not up to you to get all pissy with them.

- If you donít shoot for a magazine or work with any publications, see if you can bring your portfolio to the local newspaper or an entertainment magazine who might be interested in the show you wanted to get access to. 

Mr. Las Vegas - Wayne Newton 2005

Make sure you do this a few months before the performance to give the editor a chance to work on gaining you access.  Getting our Press Passes for Bonnaroo took six months of work for an established magazine! 

Try and work out a deal. Maybe if they get you into the show with press credentials, the organizers have first rights to buy/use your pictures.  This will be your best bet at selling them.

The Water Crossing was the Best Action - Taddy Blazusiak shows the best way to cross it - Las Vegas EnduroCross Finals 2009 - Photo by Pat Bonish

- If you got your passes on the agreement that you were publishing the pictures or doing an article to follow up with the artist, make sure to follow up with whom ever gave you the access. 

Send them a tear sheet from the publication or a copy of the article, so they know youíre legit.  This is the best bet to get you invited back next time you ask for passes.  Burn only one or two bridges, and plan on having your name black-listed from every venue in town.

2. (Mental) Preparation

- Think what the band is about. What's their thing that made them famous? What are they good at? Then think how to capture that.

Bouncing Souls @ The Vans Warped Tour, 2008

For instance, if its heavy metal, you definitely want to get some intensive ("angry") expressions, shots filled with energy and a good sweaty singer or guitarist.

If it's a girl band with beautiful women making up the band, you might want to watch for smiles, sweet or tender moments and make sure you only print or publish the shots where the girls look hot and sexy.  Don't be that photographer who publishes the awful shots of a beautiful woman looking all sweaty and gross.  Male singers usually like these shots, females dont!

- If you can, take a look at the band's live performances on video or search out some of their videos on YouTube.  Do this well before the gig so you show up knowing what to expect. See if you can find any interesting moments, mannerisms or something that you'll want to photograph. You might encounter a Dťjŗ Vu moment in the concert!

- Know once the band starts performing, itís up to you to get the shots, donít get caught up in the music or performance and miss that cover shot, because you were jumping up and down with the crowd!  Remember you're here to work, not be one of the fans partying along with the music.

- Pick up a copy of the current magazines like Rolling Stone, Blender, Country Weekly or any other magazines that specialize in concert performances and pay attention to the shots they are publishing.  It doesnít matter if you have a unique eye and enjoy abstract shots, most publications arenít going to purchase these types of images for print, and thatís what youíre there for, to get publishable images.

- Never go to a performance without hearing the music the band plays first.  You need to know what to expect once the lights go down and the performance begins.

- If the performer has been touring for some time already this year, see if you can go online and find out what the set list is for the show.  This will let you know what to expect and how to prepare for the songs they're going to perform.

From First to Last - Vans Warped Tour Detroit, 2008

- Make sure to bring ear plugs!  One time I shot the Vans Warped Tour while I was covering it for a magazine, I forgot my ear plugs.  After 8 full hours of non-stop music being played on multiple stages with no break in between, I was cursing myself for not having my ear plugs.

My ears rang for two days afterwards and that night I had trouble going to bed because of my pounding headache. I now keep a few sets of disposable ear plugs in every camera bag!

3. Minding the Performer and the Audience

- Don't be in the artistís face.  This is when it pays to have a longer lens so you can keep your distance and get shots where the artist doesn't even know they're getting their picture taken.  You'll get better candid or more natural looking shots this way

- If youíre shooting a national act, donít try and make friends with the performer, remember that there are photographers at every performance they play at (Usually hundreds each year). 

The best way in, is to work the manager who is usually left to the side playing clean-up.  Theyíre the ones who usually make most of the decisions anyway

- Wear black. It's the least distracting color.  If it's an indoor gig, you'll blend into the darkness.  Donít make the performance a fashion statement, and always try and look as professional as possible.

- If itís an outdoor performance, dress appropriately for the weather conditions and make sure to have a good hat to protect your head from the sun if itís during the daytime

- Don't Use Flash, unless you've gotten permission from the band for it first.  Unless it absolutely necessary and 99.9% of the cases it isn't, itís probably one of the fastest ways of getting you booted out of the concert. 

I once was shooting the band STYX (I'm not that old, it was a reunion tour), and while they were setting up on stage, I had my flash out to take a picture of something going on behind the stage, as soon as it went off, I was approached by the manager with a few security guards behind him and asked to leave. 

Luckily I talked my way out of it by showing them my images to prove that it was a mistake and I was actually firing it towards the crowd.  I was able to stay for the show, but I wouldnít recommend using a flash at concerts. 

- Be friendly to the security personnel. Help them in simple matters and listen to their orders.

- Remember that the concert is not for you. It's for the paid audience who are there to enjoy the gig. They're the people paying for this band to be playing here. Of course, if you have a job to do, you have to make sure you get the shots, but always keep the fans in mind and act professional.

- Most performers only allow the photographers to be in the press pit for the first 3 songs.  Once security comes in to escort you out, donít put up a fuss or try to argue.  Security is there for one reason, to do what ever the band managers tell them to do, which is not let you get shots of the artist sweating like a pig after numerous songs with hot stage lights on them.

- Once you leave the pit area, this is when it is good to get some crowd shots, and make sure to include the emotion of the audience during the performerís music

4. General Guidelines for choosing Angles & Compositions

- Don't take close-ups of the performers' faces from a steep angle below them. All you'll see is nostrils, which no one wants to buy or publish

- Do try and get the singers when they are hitting high notes, when they have to strain their faces to hit that certain note.  This makes for great images and shows how hard they are working.

Taylor Swift in Wyoming 2009

- Same goes for the guitarists, along with the rest of the performers on stage.  Try and get shots while theyíre in the middle of a long guitar solo, drum solo or anything that shows how hard they are working to please their fans. 

These are the images that will sell!  Just think of the famous picture of Louis Armstrong with his cheeks filled up and his eyes bugging out while heís blowing on his trumpet for dear life.  These are the images that are timeless and will make you famous!

- Don't take wide angle shots of women performers. It often doesn't look very flattering

Joe Nichols @ The MGM Grand

- Mind the background! Unwanted clutter in the background will result to mediocre pictures at best.

Ice Cube Givin' it his all - Detroit 2008

- Watch for smoke. When it starts to approach the performer from behind, It'll provide a very clean backdrop and a great photograph.

- If you can get in good with the venue thatís hosting the show, see if there is anyway you can get backstage or shoot from the stage looking towards the crowd, this really sets the shot up for great images. 

On Stage with Eric Church before a sold out crowd in Crystal River Florida  

Maybe suggest a deal where theyíll be able to use these images as press photos to promote the venue.  But donít ever try and climb up on stage for a shot, this is another way to get you booted out of the show faster than you can press the shutter release.

The Beautiful Crystal with Trailer Choir 2008

- Make sure you donít have stage lights right beside or above the performers head.  This is much harder than it sounds and it takes forever to Photoshop them out.

- Put the lights behind the performer to create a silhouette or a great halo

- Remember to turn around every now and then to get some shots of the crowd.  Especially when a certain song has the crowd worked up in a frenzy 

5. Camera Settings for concert shooting

- Make sure your ISO is as high as you can set it without getting too much grain in the images.  This will vary with each photographer and what camera model they are using.  Basically know your camera and what you'll be able to use from ISO 1600 or something really high like ISO 3200.  Many of the newer models will shoot up to 12,500, but doing anything with these images other than posting them thumbnail size on the web is out of the question.

Lead Vocalist, Scott Anderson of Finger Eleven 2008

- Set your shutter for High-Speed Shooting, things are going to be happening fast, and you never know what youíre going to get. 

- Make sure you have extra Compact Flash cards.  If you only have 3 songs to get the shot, you want to be able to be shooting non-stop during those 3 songs without worrying about them filling up on you.

- Make sure your back-up Compact Flash or Memory Cards are easily accessible so when the ones in your camera fills up, you can change them out fast without missing any of the action.  Murphy's Law dictates that while you're changing the memory cards is when something monumental will happen, so try and keep that down time to a minimum.

Freestyle BMX Legend, Rick Thorne on stage with Pennywise

- Use the fastest lens you have Ė f/2.8 is the minimum aperture lens you should have on the camera.  This is where good, expensive glass pays off!

- Indoor concert shooting isnít for photographers with slow lenses which have trouble focusing in low light situations

- Two bodies are the ideal set-up, one with a wide angle, fast lens, the other with a medium telephoto Ė A 24-70 f/2.8 for your wide and a 70-200 f/2.8 for your telephoto is an awesome setup for most venues

Kellie Pickler in Cheyenne Wyoming 2009

- Make sure you know your venue youíre going to be shooting at, and where youíre going to be able to shoot from.  You donít want to only have your big telephoto lens and find out youíre going to be right up front against the stage or worse yet, have only a fixed 50mm wide angle, and be 20 rows back.

- Make sure both cameras bodies are set before the lights drop, you donít want to be fumbling with controls in the dark.  Again, know your camera incase you do have to make adjustments in the dark.

- This is the one time where shooting RAW is so important Ė It allows for much better post processing of your images and youíll need that with the ever changing stage lighting you'll encounter

- Keep anything that you are going to need; batteries, extra Compact Flash CardsÖetc. on your person.  A pair of cargo pants with big thigh pockets, a ThinkTank Belt System or a vest is the ideal way to keep everything right within arms reach.

- Know where all these accessories are!  Itís going to be dark, loud and action packed, you donít want to be fumbling around looking for equipment

- Best bet is to keep extra batteries in one pocket, extra Compact Flash Cards in another and extra lenses on a belt system or something easily accessible and reached without having to even look for it.


Kenny Chesney doing what he does best, make the crowd happy



Was that enough info to get you started in Event/Concert Photography?  If it didn't scare you off, and you think you have what it takes to be shooting for Rolling Stone Magazine, get the ball rolling and see if you can be the next big name in the industry.....Good Luck!

Pat & Cindy Bonish - Bonish Photo

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