Music Photography – Thinking Outside the Pit
A while back I wrote about how to get a pass to take photos at a gig. That pass not only gives you permission to take photos, it will also allow you into the hallowed photo pit, if the venue has one, usually during the first three songs. But, like buying an expensive lens, getting into the photo pit is no guarantee of good photos. While the pit will give you unobstructed close-up views of the artist on stage, photographers shouldn’t think it’s the only good place to take photos from, or that security will necessarily stop you from taking photos after the first three songs. If you want a set of photos with a range of different angles and perspectives, either for yourself or for a website with space for more than one photo, your work isn’t over when you come out of the pit. Indeed, you may have to think outside the pit.
Taking photos at a gig isn’t just about getting a nice portrait of the artist. It’s also about capturing the mood of an event in a particular place and time. So to tell the story of an event, to give a sense of occasion, capturing venue details and the audience is essential. I recently took photos at a Gary Numan gig at the Royal Festival Hall in London. For those readers who don’t know this venue, it’s one of London’s iconic concert halls, traditionally home to classical concerts, but in recent years it has started hosting contemporary artists. For Gary Numan and his fans, this gig would be quite an occasion, so I wanted to make sure the venue was a large part of my photos from the event. Having shot there before, I knew the venue follows a fairly relaxed policy of allowing authorised photographers to shoot from anywhere in the venue, provided they don’t impede the audience’s view. So instead of shooting from just in front of the stage, I decided to take up a position (at least for the first song) raised above the stage, to its left. For me, taking a straight head shot of Gary Numan seemed pointless – he might as well have been standing on the stage of any venue in the world, not one of London’s most iconic concert halls performing one of the biggest gigs of his career to a packed house.
Most venues don’t give you the option of choosing where you shoot from during the first three songs. You have to be in the pit. And security at some venues in London will eject you from the venue itself once you have left the photo pit. But there are some (examples in London include The Scala or KOKO) that allow you to wander around the venue after the first three songs. Some of the old theatres, built on various levels, also offer great vantage points from above. The shot below of Jake Bugg was taken from the highest level, the so-called “gods”, at the Royal Albert Hall and the one below that is of Bo Ningen taken from the third tier at The Scala.
As well as wanting to capture the mood of an event with your photos, there are two other reasons to take photos from outside the pit, both stemming from the fact that most of the other professional photographers will only take their photos from inside the pit. The first is that because the angle from the pit is by far the most popular, we’ve become slightly bored of the pictures taken there—especially the up-the-nose shot—so you might get some satisfaction from producing something quite fresh. Secondly, if you produce pictures that take a radically different angle to that taken by all the other photographers, they might also stand out from the crowd in the eyes of a photo editor.
At festivals, security is usually more relaxed about shooting from the audience. And quite often you’ve got more space in the crowd than at evening gigs. Again, photos that include the audience in the frame can give a sense of the atmosphere at the event. If you’re tall enough, you might be able to do this without assistance. If not, look for a good vantage point or bring your own stool to get a little height. Sometimes—if you ask nicely—you can access the slightly elevated disabled area for a few minutes (as I did for the photo below).
So, while getting your hands on a pass that gives you access to the photo pit might make you feel like you’ve really made it in your career as a professional music photographer, don’t stop looking for a variety of different angles outside the pit if you’re able to carry on shooting after the first three songs. You might just get your best shot of the night after you’ve left the pit.
Richard Gray is house photographer at Bush Hall in London. He is @rugfoot on social media and his work can be seen at www.rugfoot.com.