Gig photography etiquette

In Music Photography

Letter in Drum Media

The letter above appears in this week’s Drum Media. Apologies for the crappy picture, i just snapped it quickly on my phone.

Despite being a concert snapper myself, i wholeheartedly agree with everything this punter says. It makes me so irate when i see other photographers do stupid stuff like point their external flash backwards into the faces of the crowd and snap away continuously at the action on stage.

There is an etiquette to concert photography and those photographers who are so arrogant or so unaware of the annoyance they’re causing give us all a bad name.


  1. I hate it when other photographers use flash at a gig when they don’t need to. I would say 98% of the time all you need is a flash lens (f2.8 or faster) and you’re fine.
    In terms of getting in people’s way, I respect the punters views and move out of the way after 3 songs if I get to stay for the whole gig and move to the sides. I’ve never had any problems with being in the way of anyone and even had some people thank me for moving out of their way and respecting their view.
    What I find frustrating is this. The countless camera phones and compact digital cameras people bring to the gig, particularly right up the front. They hold then up during the ENTIRE gig, use the video record feature and block everyone else’s view. Seriously, let the professionals take the shots (they come out better anyway) and enjoy the show. You’ll be thankful for it in the long run when you can remember each and every performance.

  2. Er… that second sentence should read “a fast lens” not a “flash lens”. I blame being in Malaysia for that error 😀

  3. I wasn’t at the Essential Festival so I didn’t see this taking place, however is this letter writer referring to actual photographers or people in the crowd?
    I never really see any flashes going off from the pit, surely they know the rules and aren’t allowed to break them, Dan?
    I know when I’m down the front of a gig, I try to get my pic and then put my camera away. I know what its like to spend a gig watching it through some idiot’s LCD screen.
    I just don’t get who this guy was referring to?

  4. Going slightly off-topic, on the very left of the above photo you can see how the RHCP fan calls Sarah a tool, just because she said the gig was average. A tool!

  5. Bobby – Yeah, there was some disgruntled people this week, as there always is when someone gets a poor review.
    Amanda – i wasn’t at the festival either, so i’m not sure on the specifics. From my understanding there was no pit at the Gaelic like usual. So i guess people with cameras were just snapping from the crowd and being a bit flash happy.

  6. That’s a new one on me – using the audience as a reflector… hmmm. Even if that does work, I can’t believe people being so ignorant to actually do that :-S

  7. Yes, some people are THAT ignorant. Just recently, I was shooting a gig and there was this person beside me snapping away with the flash head in the bounce position but shooting the camera in vertical(portrait). So every time she took a picture I was blasted with the flash. I was well lit but I sure can’t say the one’s on stage were.

  8. That sounds like pretty ordinary behaviour. I am quite happy to pull up photographers who perch in front of my friends (the shorter ones) and I for too long and flash inappropriately at gigs. Sometimes they don’t realise that they are making life difficult…sometimes they are just dicks. People tap me on the shoulder if I am in the same spot for too long and rightly so. I think photographers need to be aware that once their 3 songs are up it’s time to show a lot more courtesy to paying punters regardless of whether they have access for the whole set or not.

  9. Does angling the flash into the audience actually do anything, technically-speaking? Or are they misguided? I know you can bounce the flash off a white ceiling – but an audience’s heads?
    And yeah, there’s a reason its 3 songs no flash

  10. hmmm ive emailed a nice little response to the letter. thanks for reposting your tips!

  11. I am more annoyed by the proliferation of phone cameras and digital cameras at gigs and frankly sick of watching a gig through a whole bunch of raised hands holding these things. I’m just going to go back to my cave now.

  12. There is sometimes a benefit to be gained by using flash and bouncing it off a low ceiling. Here’s an example at the basement. But in that example the flash is pointed to the roof and not firing in anyone’s face.
    I can’t imagine a reason to point the flash backwards, unless you were back to a wall. The roof at the Gaelic Club is so high that you’re not going to get any benefit by pointing your flash upwards. And if you do it’ll probably annoy people on the balcony.

  13. Does anyone here drink on nights they’re shooting? I don’t know if I should be admitting this, but I’ve taken some of my favourite shots of bands while drunk(!), although not to the point where I’d be pointing my flash backwards. But I wonder if a few stubbies might be to blame for some of the ignorant behavior?
    Btw Dan, did I see your head pop up in two separate social pics in the current Yen magazine?

  14. Haha – good point Sean. I’m sure we’ve all been a bit dopey after a few beers.
    And yes – i think i did pop up a couple of times in Yen. It’s cause i’m mates with those photographers and an easy target.

  15. I often wonder about the flash rule. I’ll admit I use my speedlite once and awhile, but never at a ‘big gig’.
    Quite often at a hardcore/punk show in a local hotel or something the flash can work, and not many people there are as likely to give a toss compared to a crowd at say, an Augie March gig for example.
    Also, usually the hotel gigs here have very low lights so a fast lens doesn’t always help much.
    If there are good lights, why use a flash?

  16. Whenever I photograph I try to remain as innoffensive and unobtrusive as possible. People are there to see a band they like and have a good time, not have annoying photographers in their face.
    The thing that annoys me is people with crap point and shoot camera who leave them on full auto mode and spend the whole gig snapping away and taking either blurry or completely washed out (or both) pictures.

  17. I too was at the essential festival and had a similar annoyance during Bit By Bats set, and have had other experiences that have driven me mad as well.
    I always assumed that when these dickheads were pointing the flash into the crowd it’s because they felt they didn’t need flash for the photo they were taking, but were too lazy to remove the flash from the camera. To me the logic behind this makes sense, but obviously the effect that it has on the audience members behind the photographer is either not thought about, or not cared about when they do it.
    However, I’ve seen you photograph Dan, and the thing i noticed was how unobtrusive you were, so kudos to you.

  18. I too was at Essential and I have a feeling the “Pissed Off Punter” was more so talking about the upstairs stage at the Gaelic, thats where Children Collide played. It was a very small stage, where you were pretty much on the same level as the band, so when there were three or four photographers there they did pretty much take up the whole front of stage area, because the stage was quite small. Some were kneeling down right at the front, which was sensible, but if they were standing up then yes they could well have been blocking people’s views.
    Lucky for me I am incredibly short and thus never block anyones view 🙂
    I didn’t witness any of the flash pointing back to the audience though, but i was probably too busy having a good time to notice!

  19. With pointing the flash backwards – there *can* be a reason to do it – you use the sensor on the flash to help you focus in low light. Maybe they were doing that and didn’t realize you can actually set the flash to “not fire”?

  20. If the bloody lighting guys knew what they were doing then photographers dont need to use flash. Total darkness or bleeding red lights dont make good photos.

  21. I don’t see the need for flash at the Gaelic unless you plan on taking social shots
    I’ve never had a problem with lighting being so dark that you simply cannot work with it
    I’ve had more problems at the Annandale recently where I HAVE had to resort to flashing & unfortunately I can’t afford a speedlite
    I agree with the above, paying kids these days find it more enjoyable to remember the show by washed out & blurry shots on their mobiles rather than watching the damn show
    The flash in the crowd thing is pretty rude if you ask me, as it was said, the gaelic walls are too high for light to be bounced effectively

  22. I use my speed light at gigs quite allot, mainly because the venue i normally shoot at has crap light. So far I haven’t had one person complain and the venue manager is happy for me to be shooting with flash at the gigs. What i find annoying is people holding compacts up facing the crowd and taking shots of the crowd at eye level. More often than not recently it seems people are using phones with a flash so often if im lucky i can get more than enough light from other people’s flashes… (Makes you wonder how the bands feel)

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