A Short Guide to Self-Awareness in Gig Photography
An amateur attempt, sure, but I didn't get in anyone's way.
Kid Congo Powers was fantastic last night. He truly was. A full-blooded romp through a set that drew from his past as an '80s pioneer of post-punk, as well as just some straight up punk, his was a stage presence far from the snarling beast you might have expected. Instead, it was like your lovely, friendly old neighbor had decided to play you some songs in a tiny room. He grooved, he smiled, he had a speaking voice like honey, and he told stories about hitch hiking across America when he was 15.
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I would like to take this opportunity, though, to revisit the problems of gig-going etiquette, this time for photographers. Last night, there was a photographer who spent the entire concert jumping on the stage to photograph the band from three feet away, using the flash on his camera. Let's unpack the problems there, bearing in mind I am certainly no photographer.
Most venues restrict photographers to the first three songs, and for good reason. The concert is there for a paying audience, and is not entirely a spectacle to be documented for an audience that did not pay to attend, that is, the people who may view the photographs. A lot of bands don't even allow photographers, being of the opinion that, if you missed the show, you missed out completely. Most photographers will tell you that if you didn't get the band shots you needed in the first three songs anyway, you're never going to get them. So, if you are going to distract the audience by buzzing around the band with a camera, keep it as restricted as possible, out of respect. This goes double (wide, hahaha) for a very small room with no "pit" for photographers at the front.
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Jumping on the stage is also an issue. I can see this being acceptable at the behest of the band, as there are many who encourage stage-diving (although notably few who encourage a full-on stage invasion, probably in the knowledge that if you get ten people up there, you're liable to get another hundred joining in). Standing on the stage uninvited to hold a camera in a band member's face, though, is a no-no for the sheer distraction to both the audience and band members.
Even worse than that is the use of flash in concert photography, a particular annoyance of mine. There is nowhere in a concert venue that is even remotely well-lit that you should have to use the flash. While using it three feet away from a band member isn't as idiotic as all those people in stadiums photographing massive events with their flash on, in the hope that a small LED built into their phone will illuminate a 90,000 seater, it's still annoying as hell for the band. In cases like this, too, you're not even getting a realistic shot. One of the best things about small-to-medium size gigs is often the moody stage lighting. Why ruin that? If your camera is any good at all you should be able to capture the scene just fine.
Admittedly, I spoke to the guy afterwards, and not only was he relatively nice, he was apologetic and just "didn't realize" that you weren't meant to stand uninvited on a stage and shine a really bright light in the guitarist's eyes. Hopefully he's learned a few lessons. The gigantic man he nearly got in a fight with certainly thought that he should have had more self-awareness.
It's times like this when I implore you to take a step back and consider how what you're doing affects everyone else at the concert. It doesn't take long. Just try and be self-aware. Don't make the story about you, make it about the band everyone's there to see.
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