10 Reasons Why the Age of the Professional Concert Photographer is Coming to an End

June 26, 2013  •  3 Comments

Whether we like it or not, it's becoming more and more apparent as time goes on. And here's why.

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A few weeks ago I was really disappointed when I found out that I got denied for Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee. But I had already bought my ticket to go with friends, so out of curiosity I looked at Bonnaroo's "don't" list; the list of items that are prohibited from the festival grounds.

It was no surprise to see "cameras with detachable lenses" on that list. But wait... here's
Reason #1: "detachable lenses shorter than two inches are ok." 

Well alright then. So I easily walked in with my Nikon D7000 on my shoulder. No member of the security staff even pointed it out or asked me questions. 

Reason #2: I suppose security has more serious things to worry about and deal with, like illegal drugs and weapons. I probably could have had a four-inch lens and they wouldn't have looked twice.

Also, after sneaking in with two water bottles full of booze, wrapped in black leggings and stuffed in the bottom of our black backpack, I realized that I could have just as easily snuck in my 70-300mm lens using the same method. 

The same goes for venues; yes, sometimes your bag gets searched, but not very well.

Reason #3: I rarely saw security guards while inside the festival, but when I did they always seemed preoccupied, so I'm quite certain that they wouldn't have stopped me if I had a gigantic lens on my camera.

I saw several people sporting only GA wristbands that had lenses much larger than two inches. They seemed like they were there to try and start being a concert photographer or expand their portfolio; instead of dancing and having fun they were standing super still, aiming their camera toward the stage, trying to get a good shot. 

The same goes for venues; once inside security guards don't ever seem to care that someone has a professional camera when they're not supposed to.

Reason #4: So you get a photo pass. You get up close, you get rad shots of the performers, and you work your butt off. But (usually) you only get to shoot the first three songs. Fans up front can shoot the whole show with their nice camera and potentially capture epic moments that you weren't able to up close. 

Reason #5: iPhone cameras aren't half bad. I've seen fans' iPhone photos get more recognition than professional photos. Point-and-shoots are becoming a lot more advanced as well. 

(I once had a publicist ask me "Did you get any photos of [the singer] crowd surfing?" I said "No, that didn't happen within the first three songs." A few hours later the band posted a grainy iPhone photo of the singer crowd surfing on their facebook page.) 

Plus, bands that either don't want or can't afford to hire a professional photographer just whip out their iPhone to take a photo of the crowd. It works pretty well, especially if you have an iPhone 5 with the panoramic function.

Reason #6: To obtain credentials you have to find contact information, get a letter of assignment from your publication (for festivals and larger shows), fill out a very thorough press request form (usually just for festivals), and if approved you might have to sign a release. The fans with professional cameras didn't have to do any of that. 

When I photographed Coachella last year I wasn't allowed to shoot a couple headliners, one being Radiohead, because only a certain few outlets got access. If you're a fan with a camera you're good to go!

Reason #7: No matter what, there will always be someone willing to do the same work you're charging for, for free. A venue or band asks you "hey, will you shoot this show?" You say yes and give them a quote. They say "Oh sorry, we got someone to do it for free."

Cue the anger!!

Everyone has to do work for free to build their portfolio at first, but it's infuriating when the potential client doesn't realize the value of what they'd be getting by hiring you instead. In this economy it's all about the free work and unpaid internships.

This story doesn't relate to concerts, but I recently had someone contact me from a decently well-known band (not so much now as compared to 20 years ago) asking to use my photo as the album cover for their new live album. I was stoked about it, so I asked what their budget was. His reply was "Well we're doing this all ourselves so we don't have much of a budget. Please let me know what your fee would be, and keep in mind that we have several other photos we can use for free."

An album cover for free?! What photographer would offer to do such a thing?! 

Reason #8: The need for high-quality photos has significantly gone down. As photographers we can clearly see when a photo has been shot professionally; for others it's not that easy and some are just completely oblivious to what makes a quality photo. As far as bands go, all they really want nowadays are photos to put up on their facebook or website; they don't need to be high-res, they don't need to be good quality... you just need to be able to see that the show happened. 

That's the way the world of photography in general is heading with this being the age of the internet. Take the Chicago Sun-Times as an example; they fired all their staff photographers and are training their writers in iPhone photography. As long as there's a picture of it, that's all they need. The picture doesn't need to be professional, as long as people can see what's going on. 

Reason #9: There are too many concert photographers! I blame a couple things: 1) The fact that DSLRs are becoming increasingly available to the average consumer. Yes, the nicer ones can cost upwards of $3,000; but if you have the money and it's something you want to invest in you can just go buy one and learn how to use it by scouring google.

It wouldn't be much of a problem if publicists stopped approving so many photographers for a single show. But I have a feeling that won't ever slow down because of culprit #2) the rise in number of music blogs and online zines. 

And finally, Reason #10: Photo contests. For example, on the Music Photographers' facebook page someone recently reposted a facebook status from Lita Ford:

"The deadline for the 'live photo' contest is in one week, June 28th. Submit your photos via email, and state how you would like your name credited on the album if we use your photo. We are looking for LIVE photos of both Lita & the band, taken by fans at the shows, to be included in the packaging of the new LIVE album, coming out in September! These don't have to be "pro" photos, we just want live photos of the band from your perspective at the shows! Good luck, and we can't wait to see all of your pics! Please do not send photos via Facebook; Email them to LitaSocialMedia@gmail.com."

(If you don't see what's wrong with this feel free to email me.)

Several bands have conducted contests like this; "submit your photos for use in our live photo album that we're going to sell to our fans!" or "submit your photos and we'll feature our favorites in a gallery on our website!" or "tag your photo with #thishashtag on instagram and we may feature it on our own instagram!"

Or they go through Talenthouse, a middle man for contests like this. For example: "Submit your best photo for your chance to win a chance to photograph Soundgarden live!" And then in the agreement (that no one usually reads) it states that all photos you take will be the property of Soundgarden and you won't have the authority to use them. But fans and beginning photographers who desperately want to photograph Soundgarden don't seem to care much about the terms. They just want to be able to say they were there, photographing one of their favorite bands.

I think that in just a few years the only people who will be making money from photographing concerts will be those working for wire services. 

I'd like to hear what other people think so I welcome comments below!


Comments

David Simchock(non-registered)
I do not believe that the age of professional concert photography is totally coming to an end. Where there is a will, there is a way. I simply believe that "we" need to get beyond the business model of the film days, and be more innovative in what we offer as "professional concert photographers".

Do I have the silver bullet idea for this? No. Not at the moment. But, you better believe that I'm thinking about a few things busienss-wise.

Here's one of my own blog pieces that addresses this: http://gotfstop.com/2012/08/03/concert-photography-the-future-of-a-radical-price/

By the way, if you ask me, too many folks that call themselves "concert photographers" spend too much energy complaining about the state of the industry, and not enough energy improving their skills. Producing top-quality work should be anyone's first priority if they want to be recognized for their efforts and, in the case of concert photography, make money doing it.
Jan(non-registered)
This is very insightful Amber - thank you for explaining the status of Professional Concert photography; the age of mediocrity is gaining in many areas of life - just look at the way people in general behave and the general disrespect; we seem to be accepting much less in many areas of life, but expect the highest in other areas - there seems to be a discord. It seems that the Artist - the singer, the band - wants to portray the highest level of talent, yet in other areas of their supposed "professional" careers, they accept mediocrity at best, ignoring the Artistic talent and ability of another Artist - the Photographer that makes them look good - even great at times. And those images are what helps sell the people to attend concerts and buy albums. The same is in the medical world - we want the BEST doctor, but don't want to pay for that specific specialty talent. I could go on, but will not bore the reader further. THANK YOU AMBER FOR NOTICING - AND NOT BEING AFRAID TO SPEAK OUT!
Charlie O'Brien(non-registered)
For sure, I agree wholeheartedly Amber. I had one band want an album cover photo for almost nothing. Recently, shot an aging classic rocker and his label wanted shots for free to use on his site - for credit. I said I'd call my bank "and tell them I was depositing credits" - and added to him just choose any six of the 150 I showed him. He hrumphed and said it was a "changing landscape" - but never even took me up after the shoot on my "free 6." We'll be shooting artists as art only - if we get the pass anymore.
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