Thursday, March 01, 2007

Secrets of the Photo Pass

Starting last fall, I've been getting photo passes to the shows I review. Photo passes are interesting things: they give you the liberty to not only carry a camera into a venue (which seems to be a pretty common privilege these days, when everyone has a camera on their cell phone), but to go up in front of the security barricades and take pictures of the band while you dodge crowd surfers and the security personnel in charge of catching them. There are also a few universal rules:
  • If you're photographing a well-known band (i.e., most headliners and a few major players at the end of the opening list), you'll also
  • Time up front seems to be universally limited to three songs, a rule that seems fairly arbitrary, but does at least give you a lot of practice in taking effective shots quickly. My guess is that the three song rule is a compromise between event organizers, security staff and bands to get the maximum amount of publicity with the minimum amount of distraction. Also, unless you're photographing a band with a long stage show like GWAR, you've probably taken every useful shot you can get in three songs. When I took pictures at Destruction's show in February, there was basically no security to speak of until people started stage diving during Municipal Waste's set, but I kept to the three song rule for each band because I ran out of subjects.
  • Flashes are almost always verboten. It doesn't stop people in the crowd from using them and given the number of stage lights some bands use the rule doesn't always make a lot of sense, but the rule still stands and event organizers won't hesitate to call you on it.
  • There will be at least one fanboy who sings along with the songs. Many times this person is me, although I always spot at least one other photographer screaming out (for example) the lyrics to "Valhall Awaits Me" while he takes pictures of Amon Amarth. Singing photographers (and headbanging photographers, who are a subset of singing photographers) stand in direct contrast to everyone else taking pictures in the security well because they actually seem to care about the music. The first show I shot with a pass was Gigantour 2006, where there were a whole gaggle of photographers in the security well. After the three song limit ended, two-thirds of them retired to the quiet confines of the venue's green room instead of, say, enjoying the show from the floor. In other words, there seems to be a definite line between photographers who are fans...and photographers who are not. I have a theory that there's a correlation between these two types of photographers and the amount of jadedness in the industry, but I'm still working on evidence.
  • Some people will have point-and-shoot cameras, some will have high-powered SLRs. I'm of the former variety, because a.) I can't afford a larger camera and b.) carrying around a big camera is a pain in the ass when you're standing in a room full of people trying to beat the crap out of each other. Come to think of it, this last point might relate back to the jadedness point above.
In the four shows I've shot so far, I've noticed three things: first, my love for venues with lighting rigs that actually illuminate the stage instead of masking it is undying and eternal, because I get so many better pictures that way. I may, in fact, love the Nokia Theatre for just this reason. Second, to take pictures of death metal bands requires extreme patience, as you struggle to capture a shot where the musician isn't moving too much but still looks cool. Third, bands with lead singers who do nothing but sing are the bane of my existence, because the singer, having no instrument to him or her down, charges around the stage and makes so many erratic movements as to make taking good pictures impossible.

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