So You Want To Be A Rock N Roll Photographer?



Well, Is It For The Money?

Or Is It For The Fame?



First, I’d like to address the money. Do you think it comes from the bands, the venues, or the publications? Well, for publications you are basically a volunteer. Online publications are everywhere, but very few if any are making any money to pay for their stringers, so that won’t work. Venues are a source of income if they employ you as a house photographer, those jobs exist but they are not easy to get. Bands, if you can land on a tour, they will pay you, again a very hard gig to get without personal relationships. These three sources of income are available to less than one percent of concert photographers. There is also an opportunity to photograph for record labels and to do album covers and promo shots. These photographers are uber-talented and have large skills in graphic design and creativity, I’ve met a few and I am always in awe of their skills.

This is an expensive hobby. Photography equipment to be able to do the job at a level where payment may be in order will run in the tens of thousands of dollars. You need equipment that is fast enough to shoot in low light with fast motion, or fast glass. Also, your travel and/or hotel rooms usually won’t be covered.

Let’s touch on fame. You usually get to photograph only 3 songs in the photo pit in front of the stage, or way back at the sound mixing board, usually 50 yards from the stage. Two sets of lenses are needed as both positions or focal lengths are night and day. The photographer has to be ready for either, as the positioning location of the shoot changes sometimes at the time when you arrive at the venue. Most times photographers are looked at and treated as if they are some sort of thief, ready to take pictures when and where they are not supposed to. I am not sure how we get that rap, as with every profession there are always a small few that think rules don’t apply to them. Another crazy thing, about 30% of the artists out there have the photographers sign a photo release that states the current laws that are already in place about legal usage. The copyright of the image belongs to the photographer but cannot be used to exploit the artists image commercially. No books, coffee cups, t-shirts, or any other way an image can be used in commercial use to generate money for the photographer. This is already the law! So, why do we have to sign these silly scary papers that are unnecessary and insulting? I guess it’s to confirm we are educated in our profession and know the copyright usage laws. What is really bad, and is becoming more predominant is the photo release that states the photographer’s copyright is transferred to the band. As a photographer, this should never be signed, even when given compensation. A total lack of respect for what we do and what we create. The three-song rule is also a lack of respect, and to broom the photographer out of the way as quickly as possible. The artist isn’t even warmed up by the fifth song when the best images can be obtained. Are they afraid we might get an image of the artist sweating? Just my humble opinion. 

So here is a true-life scenario I was a part of just recently. I put in for a show. This means I sent the concert promoter a written request for a photo pass, a review ticket for me, and a review ticket for my writer. Why two review tickets you may ask? Well on big shows, the photographers are sequestered in a room before the show. Then they are led out to the shooting location which may be in front of the stage in the photo pit, or back at the sound mixing table. When the allotted songs are through, be it 2 or 3 songs, the escort of the venue leads the photography team back to the sequestered area to wait until the next band is ready to take the stage. This means that you don’t get to watch or hear the rest of the band’s set that you just shot. This goes on like this until the headliner when after your allotted songs are photographed, you may take your photography equipment out to your car, and only then can you return to the venue with your concert ticket to begin viewing the show at about the seventh song of the headliners set. This is the reason two tickets are needed, so someone is watching the complete show to write a comprehensive concert review, not rocket science.

I was notified the day before that our publication was only getting one review ticket and I should be thankful I got that. So the plan was for the reviewer to take the ticket issued to our publication and review the show and when I was done shooting, I would take my gear to the car where I would remain until the show was completed. Just like every other concert, I have covered in the past 6 years. However, when I arrived, I was informed my reviewer was not on the list and couldn’t use the ticket granted to my publication. They acted like the reviewer needed a background check or something to watch and write about the concert. So, since we arrived in the same automobile, the review had to sit outside the stadium for three hours while I photographed the show. A total lack of respect for the concert reviewer after driving three hours to the show.

When we arrived at the venue, we were told 2 songs from the soundboard for the opening band, and three songs from stage right in the photo pit. This was a stadium show and it’s permissible to bring a folding stool to shoot from the soundboard to get an unrestricted view of the stage. What is the first thing the audience does when the band comes on stage? They stand up, hold their cell phones in the air, and wave their hands. The stools give the photographers the elevation to be above those obstructions to photograph the band. But, we were instructed we weren’t allowed to use stools when we arrived as we would be blocking the fan’s sight. There were no chairs behind us for fans that we might be blocking, and we could have stationed ourselves on either side of the soundboard not blocking the sound engineer’s sightlines to the stage. Which is standard procedure in a large arena or stadium concert. Because of this, all my photographs ended up with someone’s cell phone or someone’s head in the picture. I was trying to shoot between people’s heads as they stood and rocked out and swayed back and forth. I had to get up for the challenge. A total lack of respect for the photographers.

Next, we were sequestered again, but it took negotiating to get us approved to use stools for the headliner. We were positioned together stage right, all seven of us touching and tightly together as we were in an area of about 8′ X 6′ and unable to move. That was how it was, they could have let us spread out just a little bit more, so we weren’t literally on top of one another. But the photographers didn’t matter, and it was, what it was. More lack of respect for what we do and what we contribute. Not a good night for the concert photographer at this show.

If the trade-off for a free ticket, and the adrenaline spikes when the lights come up and you’re between the stage and 50,000 people screaming madly, isn’t enough for you, you’re looking at the wrong photography discipline. There can be money made, and fame for a select few, but there are only a few that actually make a living doing it anymore with the internet flooded with cell phone pictures from every show. But if your passion overpowers reason, you can definitely have a good time more times than not.