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How To Not Become A Music Fauxtog

With an explosive increase in the number of DSlr users, the music photography scene has noticed a steady rise in people who turn up with a camera to shoot the band. A growth in any industry is generally treated positively but in this case however, the rise has brought along a fair share of problems that are faced by other photographers, artists, audiences and the industry itself. If you are a newbie planning on shooting a band sometime soon, here’s what you should not be doing –

DO NOT USE FLASH!

Flash photography is not at all encouraged while shooting music. There might be a handful of venues that don’t mind but that doesn’t mean you should be using one.
Using a flash to shoot live music is taboo and here’s why – Most gigs happen at places that aren’t lit up as well as a bon jovi concert at the O2 arena. The moment you fire that flash, the artist you were aiming at is going to be blinded for a good five seconds. Doing that might result in him kicking you in the face or smacking you with his guitar.
When you are shooting the crowd, using a flash might sometimes be necessary but it is advisable to do without one.  The flash will tend to blind the audience as well and that last thing you need is to be beaten up by a mob.

Respect the Band

You need to understand and respect your subject. A close up of the drummer might make a great shot but that would mean interfering with his space.  Moving in too close to an artist tends to put them on the spot since they have to make sure to not bump into you. There have been times when a photographer gets too close and the discomfort on the artist’s face is visible. Your shoot entirely depends on the band and making sure they are comfortable will only result in better photographs.

There’s an Audience Watching

I’ve noticed at several gigs, how photographers stand where they please to shoot, oblivious to what is happening behind them. There are several people right behind you, who have paid a good amount of money to watch the band play. You need to identify pockets that will not obstruct their view while at the same time, get you the shots you need. At times when you really need that front shot, it’s a good idea to duck low to make sure you aren’t in someone’s face. I have also observed how quickly moving out after a shot works well and keeps everyone happy.

Shooting in The Pit

Now that you were given pit access, I have to assume you have been shooting for a while.

Shooting in a pit is a completely different ball game. The stage is generally higher up, the audience is well segregated behind the barricades and the artists are a good ten feet away. You have a larger space to move around though at times, you will be sharing this space with at least twenty different photographers. While shooting, make sure you don’t step on someone’s toes, metaphorically and literally. The pit can get crammed at times and you need to move around very carefully, making sure you don’t photo bomb someone’s shot or ram into equipment.

Since most agencies allow you to shoot only two-three songs, there is always a mad rush in the photo pit where every photographer tries to get the best shot of the band. You need to make sure you keep moving around in the pit. This is considered good etiquette since every photographer gets the opportunity to shoot from all possible angles and locations in the pit.

Whenever I have shot acclaimed artists, there is a frenzied rush in the pit once the artists get on stage. Every photographer starts shooting in an attempt to get that unique shot and you literally, tend to rub a lot of shoulders.  While all this happens, make sure you don’t push someone around just to get your shot. I’m sure you wouldn’t be too happy if someone pushed you just when you were about to hit the shutter.

Shooting live music is an exhilarating experience. It’s always nice to talk to the artist before the show and let them know that you would be shooting them. Such interactions result in them posing for your shots making the photographs unique and memorable. If you got yourself a camera and intend to shoot music, I’d say go for it! There’s nothing quite as rewarding and satisfying. Just make sure you aren’t being a fauxtog.

33 Comments
  1. Zach says:

    The photo pit isn’t a promise everyone will know what they’re doing. Sad fact.

    And one minor point… I think flash is ok, but you have to severely limit how many shots you’re taking while using it. As in, 4 flashes per song max, and for no more than 1 or 2 songs. If the band or venue has hired me to get it, I have to find a balance between getting what I need and staying the hell out of the crowds enjoyment.

       4 likes

    • David in Oregon says:

      No. Nearly 1000% of the time, FLASH SUCKS HARD, and if “you” are the exception you are probably a fauxtographer.

      Modern cameras sport ISO’s that were impossible in the days of film. The lighting technicians work hard with the band and venue to achieve the intensity and hue of the stage lighting. What makes you think its desirable to overwhelm their work, blind the band and ruin the enjoyment of the crowd by splitting the dark with a bolt of lightning?

      I dumped my FF gear and now use an Olympus OM-D E-M5 and f/2.8 zoom and hardly ever need to go above 3200 ISO. If I need more light, I have f/1.8 and f/1.4 primes, or I just bump the ISO to 6400.

      On occasion I will use a very low power level flash to generate second curtain effects or maybe fill in a shadow, or provide some glint off the instruments. But never to overwhelm the stage lighting. When I do this, my strobe is hardly noticeable.

         4 likes

      • Jude says:

        6400 is nothing for the right film. You could push Ilford delta 3200 to 6400 without a problem. Even HP5 would do 3200 without being too grainy. You clearly don’t know much about film.

           6 likes

      • Jameson says:

        It’s pretty rude to call someone a fauxtographer because they sometimes use flash — especially when you go on to say that YOU sometimes use flash. Doesn’t that seem a bit hypocritical?

        There are plenty of reasons not to use flash, but sometimes there are reasons to use flash. You listed a few of them yourself – rear-curtain sync being a big one. So maybe we should try to be a little more open minded. There are no black-and-white rules in photography

           9 likes

      • David says:

        So the flash is terrible “1000%” of the time, but you use is sometimes. Yeah, nice job there, hypocrite.

           0 likes

    • Andy says:

      Flash is a no no. Not because it blinds people (I don’t think so somehow, not unless you are right up in their face…), but because it produces shit results. Not least because you really lose the atmosphere with flash. High ISO and fast primes are the way to go. Just make sure you’ve got a camera with decent high ISO capability (and by that I don’t mean one that has a high ISO either). I mean one that produces good results at high ISO.

         4 likes

      • Jackd says:

        If your flash is producing poor results the problem is you, not the flash.

           6 likes

      • Andy says:

        I’ll say it again because you obviously didn’t read it properly….IT KILLS THE AMBIENCE.

           3 likes

      • Jude says:

        It doesn’t kill the ambiance unless you are running it on TTL and metering on the entire room. If you are spot metering, and you already have close to perfect exposure, it’s good for fill.

        And you’re not ruining the concert for other people. There is already somebody there with their smart phone doing the same thing, except their flash is on full power and is completely obnoxious.

           4 likes

      • Jackd says:

        I’ll say it again, you’re an incompetent photographer.
        Learn to use your equipment and learn to understand what people are actually saying to you.

           3 likes

    • singingsnapper says:

      As someone who is both a photographer and a musician, I can tell you that using flash is NEVER acceptable. On occasions where I see pit photographers using flash I get my tour manager to have a word and if it persists they are removed. It is unbelievably off putting. Just get a camera that is capable of shooting good quality High ISO. Canon 5D mk III is perfect for this as its silent shutter is also great.

      It’s unprofessional to use flash. Good photographers don’t do it because they don’t need to do it.

         2 likes

      • singingsnapper says:

        Another thing that is distracting is stage lights reflecting off a UV filter. It’s this that gets the photographer noticed moving around the pit. If you want the photos to be authentic rather than having a singer glring at you, then you will get better results if you are unnoticeable.

           0 likes

  2. Dehrk says:

    I reccomend reading J. Dennis Thomas’ Concert and Live Music Photography. Lots of great tips both on the photography and etiquette sides of the issue.

       3 likes

  3. Digger says:

    I shoot local metal bands in my town. I always follow the rules, no flash, mind the paying customers, be polite, etc etc. I used to be the only one there with a camera, but lately I’ve run across a number of fauxtographers trying their hand.
    The worst example I saw was an idiot who planted himself firmly in the center of the pit, used flash all the time, wouldn’t budge and then had the balls to get up on stage (flash and all) to get closer to the drummer. I was so frustrated because he was in all the shots.
    Don’t be that guy…

       6 likes

  4. Jenny Lens says:

    I’ve shot recent shows w/LED lighting which makes everyone magenta red pink. Or sometimes so little light the image is blurry. That’s better than flash? Oh, my photos published internationally in major museums, galleries, books, CDs and docs and guess what? FLASH. Sure it was film, but NO way would I shoot at 3200 ISO. I have a Canon 5D Mark II and 70-200 f/2.8. And no way would I should above 1600 ISO if possible. I don’t like grain or noise. Yeah, you’re the expert.

       6 likes

    • Digger says:

      >>Or sometimes so little light the image is blurry.<>…w/LED lighting which makes everyone magenta red pink<> And no way would I should above 1600 ISO if possible.<> I don’t like grain or noise<<
      Then you shouldn't be shooting concerts. Noise is a fact of life in ever-changing conditions.

         5 likes

    • darkiegirls says:

      Change camera’s then? My OM-D works fab with high ISO’s no/little grain in low light conditions= I was in a situation that required me to photograph a exhibition in a museum- to anyone whom frequents such an abode regularly they would know museum’s tend to be dim lighting wise and they don’t allow flash, I still think my images came out wonderfully hardly grainy and no blur (tho not quite sure how one would get blur with a canon thought they had image stabilisation or some crapola in the lens itself?) Though I’m fairly certain it has nothing really to do with your camera, more of you the photographer whom hasn’t yet fathomed how to avoid using flash in inappropriate situations…
      Sometimes though noise/grain adds character to the image and one wants it (cough- why else are there effect filters and what not to mimic film?)

         2 likes

  5. A photographer says:

    The fun thing about flash is that you’ll see blinding LED’s in everyone’s cell phones taking photos to post on Facebook, but you with the good camera shouldn’t take better photos by adding a small amount of light for 1/5000th of a second.

       2 likes

  6. Tyler says:

    I shoot live events very often. In some situations, you can throw a flash off the ceiling (and produce beautiful results), given you have a low enough ceiling. Beyond that, you gotta make do. To the guy with the 70-200 f/2.8 – this is hands down the best lens for shooting live music. It’s fast enough, and you can get good reach, while standing from a respectable distance, often enough to get relatively close to the drummer. Loving having a 5d mkiii though, you can bump the hell out of the ISO.

       2 likes

  7. fatbuckel says:

    I shoot for the labels so I get full access at shows and I never use flash. Anywhere. NOTHING kills the look of concert pix better than flash. Buy some prime teles. Spend some damn money or go home.

       7 likes

  8. Heather says:

    One of the things they forgot was the Hail Mary shots. I shoot for a local venue and a lot of newbie photographers come into the venue and do that. I have had several awesome shots ruined by a camera being held above the togs head (and usually there is a flash going off with it). I will go talk to the photographers that are using flash in the venue (we have awesome lights so there is no reason at all for a flash unless you are shooting the moshpit) and ask them to at least not use it for 1/2 of the set so I can get the pictures I need for the venue. Sometimes they are cool with it other times they flash even more just to be jerks. I also shoot some venues with really dark lighting or lots of red and blue. Don’t be afraid to go talk to the soundtech.. most of the time they are really nice and if they can they will make the lights brighter for you.

       0 likes

  9. Zach says:

    I think one of the problems with this article and this discussion is it’s “music photography”, cut and dry. That’s it. But it pays no attention to the fact not all music gigs are even close to the same. I’ve shot huge festival shows huge lights dancing across the stage, and I’ve shot punk bars with guys jumping around with a couple 40 watt light bulbs sort of pointed near the stage.
    Its not all the same thing. It can’t be handled the same way. One of my favorite bars to see bands in is a dive bar for punk shows and lights are NOT a priority for the bar. ISO 6400 and f/1.8 lens doesn’t cut it when you have people who are jumping around the whole time.

       1 likes

    • Jude Iscariot says:

      This. All of this. I shoot a ton of small clubs with punk bands in them, and yeah, you need flash sometimes. This article is written in a way that it is trying to give you advice for everything in one inclusive post – that’s no good.

      Just as there are different wedding venues and different styles of wedding and you adjust based on those, you do the same in music. One post does not cover all of it.

         3 likes

      • ProShooter says:

        If you can’t tell this whole site is a joke even the “Advice” from members is all a joke. Don’t listen to any advice from this site they are just making fun of ALL photographers pros and beginners. The forum is just a circle jerk of trolls who claim to be photographers.

           8 likes

  10. Mahe says:

    Reading this I think they forgot some very important rules about shooting in the pits! These are based on true stories that i experienced in the pits.
    1- Do NOT bring your camera bag with you! They take as much place as three people by themselves and they get in the way of everybody when you move around. It’s really a big no no. You will hit people around with them and yah it hurts because there is a lot of camera equipment in them, than you won’t use anyways because you don’t have the time in three songs so start opening them up to get your stuff out. So just leave them in your car or at home or at your hotel, anything as long as they are not in the pit.

    2-Do NOT wear your favorite neon colored shirt. No matter if it’s in style or not. It’s distracting to everybody: to the photographers beside you because they keep seeing some dude in neon green in the corner of their eye and it get’s hard to concentrate because the color is to flashy, to the artists on stage because they can clearly see you and you don’t want them to notice you because you are not the one they are doing the show for. Many of them will find photographers annoying or are shy (depends on the artist on stage). You are also distracting to all of the people watching the show in the first rows! They don’t want to see you they want to see the artist. You should be invisible and wear dark colored clothes.

       1 likes

    • Andrew St. Clair says:

      Don’t bring your camera bag into the pit? You’re an idiot. Let’s say you’re at a festival and all of your gear is in your backpack. Where are you supposed to leave your bag?

      What you SHOULD be saying is not to WEAR a backpack or a large bag while you’re shooting in the pit. When I head into the pit, I stash my bag to the side or against the barricade so that it;s not in anyone’s way. I strategically place it so that if I need to grab something out of it, I can get to it. But more often than not, I’ll wear a belt system with pouches so I can change my lenses without having to turn around, bend down, and swap them out.

         0 likes

  11. Sara says:

    There is no excuse to use flash in music photography. I’ve been doing it for 6ish years and have been published widely. Anybody seen using flash at a single one of the gigs I’ve shot (hundreds) would be kicked out. If you can’t take a good photo without the flash, you have no business being there. I’ve shot in some SHIT conditions, no front lighting, all red lights (a nightmare) but you know what? I suck it up because it’s comes with the territory. Nothing irritates me more than seeing some fauxtographer rock up and use flash. Not only will their photos look like shit, not only does it interfere with the performance and piss off the audience and the artists, but it often ruins my photos too.
    Flash has NO place in music photography.

       0 likes

    • Jude says:

      When you’re wrong, your wrong. And you’re wrong. There are places and times for it. Maybe not at the kinda shows you shoot, but there are times places and times for it.

      As for gigs and professionals? I see professionals from magazines and newspapers coming and using flash all of the time in smaller clubs.

         0 likes

    • Jennie says:

      You (and some others above) are inaccurate, in my opinion.

      I have shot hundreds of gigs, as well, over seven or eight years. It’s what I shoot. More than 99% of these concerts were done without flash, but every now and then there’s a good, solid reason to use it. Bands, venues, and publications all want what they want – shots that sing and that will also suit their purposes. Creativity helps.

      For example, there’s a certain look a flash can give, sort of a 70s or 80s B&W hard-lit punk energy – a stark underground intensity – that can be perfect for certain bands. I’ve shot shows where they’ve chosen me because they WANT that look. The fact that I can offer it gives them options and it gives me business. And joy.

      Another example that’s been mentioned in above posts: rear-curtain synch. It can take a mediocre scene, a mediocre shot, and make everything beautiful. Streaks of reflected light, the arc of a swinging guitar or some odd bit of metal, and then POP – the (well-planned and well-executed) flash can freeze the musician and deliver the magic. It’s yet another way to tell the story.

      I will say that I’m not into using flash as a simple fill during a show. Even with an off camera cord and some kind of bracket, the use of direct-angle flash will often produce awkward-looking results. And if there’s a smoke machine going… YIKES! I have seen a couple of gorgeous exceptions, but generally, not a fan.

      I think it’s important to be professional and kind. I would never use a flash without obtaining prior permission from the band (and also the band’s management, if applicable). I check with the venue, let them know the plan, make sure I’m not going to get tackled by their linebacker security. (I have been tackled by security even so!) I talk to the spectators or other photographers near me. I shoot sparingly, watch the action of the musicians, make sure I’m getting it as clean and as quick as I can. One song, maybe two, or just a couple of tries off the cuff if crazy stage action develops. And then, back to the non-flash shooting, my typical modus operandi.

      Six years is a long time, and I’m stoked that you’re widely published. Sweet! But I’d like to suggest that there are other ways of doing things. I hope you’ll rethink the idea that there’s no excuse for flash and that all flash-users are dicks who don’t know any better. I am just involved in my work and I want to give my client(s) something fresh and different and beautiful.

      I’m not saying there aren’t dicks, just that we’re not ALL dicks. Some of us are actually cool, or aspire to that. So.

         0 likes

  12. Jude says:

    When you’re wrong, you’re wrong.

       0 likes

  13. Wax says:

    Just discovered this site today, and reading this article brought back some fond memories. I’m actually a journalism graduate; focused mainly in music and entertainment throughout college in the early 2000s… A few years in, I started shooting my own stories because I could double my pay, it was sometimes more convenient and, of course, it was just plain fun. (I should mention that my mom is a photographer, though; so I grew up around high-end gear and learning about photography.)

    Anyway, I just wanted to point out one other reason why direct flash is frowned upon, especially by the label’s publicity… It plays into one of the same reasons the “2 or 3 songs maximum” rule exists; the performers start to look all sweaty and exerted really quick, which usually doesn’t result in flattering photos (even for hardcore metal bands). Direct flash only enhances these physical details, literally casting a spotlight on them, so to speak… Even with the sheer amount of shots to choose from because of today’s digital storage mediums, your print-worthy captures can easily be sullied if the performer looks like he just finished working out at the gym.

       0 likes

  14. Eli Hamann says:

    I use flash all the time at smaller venues where you can get nice and close to snap off a few shots and then retreat with a longer lens. I hate over saturated grainy shallow depth of field music photos I always see in people’s “portfolios”. How as a professional can you justify the lead singer looking like a lobster? Quite being such a pussy and get in there at 5.6 drag the background and get yourself some real skin-tone. Sure you can’t pop off 8 frames a second, but if you are actually talented you will have the patience and know when the peak moments present themselves. At those peak moments nobody gives a shit about flash they are all head banding or screaming or dancing and the flash kinda just works into that space very nicely.

       0 likes

  15. imagecreation imagecreation says:

    Maybe I have shot in some different venues, but the couple times I have done bands in clubs, I have used flash. I light from the sides with off camera flash and gel my strobes because I want stage type lighting, not crisp clean strobe lighting. It’s been 4 or 5 years since I shot any because I can’t stand the noise. But I will say this, both bands that I did saw the difference the flash made, but never realized I was shooting with strobe during the event.
    Also, you can do some cool stuff with the fog from the fog machine and gelled strobes.

       0 likes

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