Concert Photography Etiquette

Photos of Gregg Gillis, AKA Girl Talk, performing at the Pageant in St. Louis on January 18, 2011 (Todd Owyoung)

Between crowd surfers, security, and other photogs all jockeying for space, the photo pit may seem like a rough and rumble world. But beneath the chaos of the rock show, there are some loose rules that can keep everything running smoothly.

If you're new to the concert photography scene, welcome to the jungle. Here are a few suggestions for etiquette while shooting shows.

6 Tips for Photo Pit Etiquette as a Music Photographer

1. Respect

Respect everyone around you, in the pit and in the crowd. For me, this is the number one rule, and the basis for all other behavior while shooting.

I go into a shoot with the mindset that everyone in the pit is equal, and that everyone is entitled to their own shots and their own space. The following suggestions are all extensions of this value.

2. The Courtesy Tap

You've all been there – the pit is narrow, there's a photog lining up a shot, and you need to get by. If you need to pass and there's no room, a polite tap will do. Practicing this one simple bit of etiquette alone makes everything in the pit run much smoother.

This courtesy also works for tapping into a shot (see #5).

3. Mind Your Gear

Due to the limited space and high likelihood of collisions in a full pit, it's a good idea to always be as mindful as possible about your gear, from your cameras and lenses to your bag. This is especially true with large camera bags and second bodies hanging off the shoulder.

As an supplement to this suggestion, remember to keep your gear out of the flow of traffic. Stow your large bags under the stage or barricade if at all possible. The last thing anyone wants is to trip over a camera bag in the pit and send glass flying.

All this said, accidents happen, and if you gear gets knocked or you run into someone, a short, sincere apology goes a long way.

4. Mind Your Space

In addition to keeping an eye on your gear, it's important to also be aware of your position in relation to others. Personally, I aim to have as small of a footprint in the pit as possible. This approach means I'm not only more mobile, but it decreases the changes of conflict with other photogs.

Also, if possible, I always try and leave a buffer between myself and other shooters. No one likes to be crowded.

5. Photo Pit Karma

For any given “rock star” pose or moment, there are very likely just a few angles in the linear pit that multiple photogs may want to occupy. While I will tenaciously go after the shots I want, I also try to give others a chance once I've made my image. Pay it forward and everyone wins.

6. Be Nice to Security

Not only are the guys and gals working security are generally great people, but they can also be your best friend when things go sour.

One of the first things I do when I arrive at a venue is to make the rounds and say hi to everyone I know who is working. I've always found this to be a good practice, especially for the venues that I frequent.

Shooting From The Crowd

Needless to say, a lot of great live music is made in venues without the convenience of barricades separating the crowd from the press. Here are some suggestions for courteous shooting from the crowd.

Get there early

If you have to shoot from the crowd, get there early. A photo pass entitles you to shoot, nothing more. It's one thing to drop into a photo pit minutes before the show, but fans at the front of the stage got there early, and so should you if you want that prime real estate in the crowd.

Make Friends

My best and highest recommendation when shooting from the crowd is to make friends with those around you. Break the ice and chat up your neighbors, especially if they're in a position you might like to occupy at some point during the set.

End Notes

These are just a few of the guidelines for smooth shooting that I try to keep in mind when I'm on assignment. Do you have any suggestions or rules you try to follow?

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts on concert photography etiquette!