Does Everybody Get to be a Concert Photographer Now?


“Please turn off or silence your cell phones, and absolutely no photography.”

The request at the beginning of Tony Bennett’s (Yes, I’m old and I like jazz. Deal with it.) rapturously received concert last week at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall was standard stuff. What happened afterward was far from standard, however.

Sure, there were the usual squadron of iPhone screens glowing with miniature images of the actions. But there were also dozens of point-and-shoots — each with flash destined to never stray from “auto” — going off. During every song. Multiple times. With nary a scold from the ushers.

Yeah, I’ve been to enough indie rock shows to realize that, whatever the signs say, at least a couple of smartphone shots are considered part of the ticket price now. I’ve even dealt with really indie shows where someone with an SLR blocked the stage view for the entire show. (Tip: Real concert photogs get to shoot the first three songs. If they’re lucky.)

London post-punkers Savages clarify their position on concert photography.

London post-punkers Savages clarify their position on concert photography.

But even the average iPhone user knows to turn off the flash in such situations. And this was a decidedly white-hair crowd in a symphony hall, a setting I’d usually assume to be one of our last bastions of manners.

I had my usual inner hissyfit about inappropriate use of flash during the show and the general decline of courtesy. But afterwards, I started to think: What’s a reasonable expectation for a respectful (of audience and artist) concert experience today?

With most people packing a capable camera in their pocket or purse, it’s obviously unrealistic to expect blanket photography bans to work anymore. And phone screens have come to seem like tolerably mild distractions.

But flash? Blocking the view of the stage for a better angle? Taking photos through the entire show? When does my need to have a pleasant musical experience trump your need to document it?


I’m honestly stumped as far as the contemporary boundaries of courtesy, so you tell me. And chew on this idea for savvy musicians to offer some carrot with the stick:

After the second or third song, turn up the house lights and strike a few poses after telling the audience this is their chance to get a few well-lit, color-balanced photos. Anyone who keeps shooting after that? What would vigilante justice entail?

Image credits: Photographs by Rama/Wikimedia, sciencevsromance/tumblr, UltimateLibrarian/Flickr

  • 5443543

    people are idiots…. i donĀ“t even have a camera on my phone and i have never made pictures on a concert. braindead zombies..everyone these days…..

  • BuddhaRocks

    I’m dumbfounded why any artist would even care. After all, they’re your fans! And if they share the photos, it’s free publicity! And you’d think seasoned performers wouldn’t even notice it most of the time. The only exception I can think of would be if flash photography interfered with the performance by disrupting sensitive equipment.

  • mlieberman85

    Probably cause it’s not just the artist but the fans that are standing there trying to enjoy the show and someone right in front of them keeps holding their hand up every five seconds to take a shot with flash or I’ve had people squeeze through to try and take video and they’re standing right in front of my line of sight all show.

  • p.rock

    Red house lights, only on the performers faces. :) Should end photo attempts.

    Or make them worse, as everyone spends the entire two hours trying in vain to get a properly-exposed photo.

  • Kyle Grantham

    It might be free publicity but if I’m in the audience and flashes are going off all around me as people try to shoot the show, it’s incredibly distracting. It’s also got to be distracting to the artists on stage constantly being blinded by flashes from every angle. We’re not talking massive arena shows here either. Guys like Tony Bennett are playing small theatres now.

    As a photojournalist, who had a blast covering George Thorogood the last time I shot a concert, the hoops we have to jump through are ridiculous. Signing releases saying we won’t use the photos for anything but journalistic purposes, constant rights grabs different artists try to slip into these releases, only getting two songs (yeah, it’s two now, if you’re lucky) and then the shooting position restrictions. Rarely will an artists let you near the stage anymore, it’s typically all shots from the sound board, and then you’ve got fans pissed because you’re firing off 400 frames in a 5 minute period to get as much as possibly in the tiny window you have, or it’s the fans blocking your shots sticking their damn iPhones, and even worse iPads, in your photo.

    Aside from getting nazi ushers to enforce no-photo policies. It won’t stop, unless the bands refuse to play until it stops mid-concert. That likely won’t happen either.

  • Mansgame

    People are already paying $75 a ticket,$45 to ticket master, and $20 for parking. Let them do whatever they want to enjoy the show.

  • Pablo

    What? Including vigilante justice for anyone who annoys the vigilante?

  • Tommy Sar

    Yeah, but those idiots with their flashes going off and glowing screens blocking my view RUINS the experience that I also paid for. We all paid to experience the concert. Even though I love photography, it’s hard to get immersed if you’re too busy shooting and chimping.

  • Sascha Rheker

    Believe it or not:

    Some people still go to concerts to listen to music and see the show. That’s why it is called concert and not photo workshop.

    That’s why professional photographers are only allowed to shoot the first three songs.

  • Jamil Abbasy

    My girlfriend was recently bopped on the head (she’s 5’1″) when an amateur photographer leaned in for a better shot with his DSLR at a tight general admission show. I say leave your camera at home and enjoy the show!

  • gochugogi

    It’s impossible to stop a tsunami and getting folks to disable phones and cameras is pretty close to the same thing. However as a performer I can say between the foot and spot lights I already feel like I’m looking into a dozen settings suns and I rarely notice P&S camera flashes. They’re mainly bothersome to the audience. Perhaps camera manufactures should have an auto concert/museum mode with disabled flash…

  • Fuzztographer

    Yes, silence the me-too “fauxtographers” taking grainy, straight-flashed, blurry snaps with their compacts and camera phones. They don’t add any value to the show; arguably, they detract from it.

    But the professional who is concerned with quality results has a net positive effect. Their work can promote yours. They understand that the audience is there to enjoy the show can respect the boundaries. They understand that you want a positive image and can selectively publicize you in a good light (Beyonce photographers posting goofy, unflattering captures notwithstanding)

    The “first three songs only” rule is asinine and irritating. I always assumed it was to prevent photographers from interfering with the crowds experience (and it is to some degree), but a pro concert photographer explained to me that it was actually because band members are so vain that don’t want pictures later the show when they might appear sweaty and tired. I argue that such photos have far more depth, drama and character.

    Venues should really take photographers into account with stage design. Don’t want them to block the view of the crowd? Make the pit an actual *pit* that’s, say, a foot or so lower than the main floor. Everybody wins: the crowd is happy because they get a good view of the show, photographers are happy because they get to make great shots, bands are happy because they get photos from that low perspective that makes them look like gods. Now they just need to be less self conscious, they are *performing in public* after all.

    Banning flashes is just fine. A concert photographer who needs to use a flash is a bad concert photographer. Sure, you could do some neat stuff with off camera strobing, but it’s far from necessary for great concert photos.

  • Brian

    Don’t want flashes? Put up a stage flash with a sync. When a flash in the audience fires, then the stage flash fires, right at the audience. Bingo, all flash pictures are ruined, so then they’ll either turn off the flash or stop photographing.

  • Huh?

    I thought i came to a photography website? Are you seriously suggesting people shouldn’t take photos at gigs? Yes more education on photography etiquette is needed, but even the most talentless hack photographer deserves the right to shoot pictures. And anyone who stands on a stage and asking for peoples attention should not be upset when they get that attention in the form of a camera.

  • facepalm

    Nailed it.

  • cunguez

    I haven’t been to a show at the Davies, and perhaps this isn’t as much an issue at Bennett shows (though on second thought….) but I know that at the Fillmore or the Independent or most of the other major SF venues, despite the very relaxed city and state smoking restrictions (and no, not referring to tobacco), security usually pounces on anyone or anything puffing smoke with a quickness. Standing at the back of the room at a recent gig while smoking an e-cig (totally legal in California, incidentally), I had a guard approach me before I even finished exhaling.

    And while in my case everything was totally kosher, in most other instances I’ve witnessed, security has handled the situation effectively and without much fuss or disruption. I don’t know why they couldn’t or shouldn’t also be tasked with enforcing their venues’ existing policies regarding photography. And like anything else, it’s much more a matter of nipping the situation in the bud, taking action against the initial wave of people waving around their phones or DSLR’s or whathaveyou, and making the rest of the crowd aware that particular behavior will not be tolerated or go unchecked. So I don’t agree with the idea that marshaling an entire venue full of people is impossible, or even a colossal task, necessarily. Granted, I fully concede that there is a tg point in terms of venue size at which point this does not hold true, but certainln smaller, more intimate spaces where crowd photography is that much more an issue

  • BigEnso

    Just because you take pictures at a concert does not make you a concert photographer.

  • Devin Dillinger Paredes

    thats all fine and dandy that YOU dont have a camera phone, or take pictures at concerts, but as for the rest of us dont you think if a band means enough to someone to make them want to pay the sometimes high ticket prices and perhaps even travel to see them perform that it might be something worth documenting if you are so inclined?

  • Devin Dillinger Paredes

    no body is claiming it does.

  • Igor Ken

    or never get what’s going on and keep trying until their heads pop.

  • Roy

    Did you read the article’s title?

  • Matt

    Not a concert but…I saw Aziz Ansari a few months back…at the start of the show he acknowledged the fact that the cell phones were a distraction to him and the audience so he told everyone who had a cell phone to take it out and he would walk around and pose a bit so the audience could take pics, post um, share um, and just get it out of their systems and we could then enjoy the show.

  • Devin Dillinger Paredes


  • Colin Peddle

    He actually does this all the time. One of his television specials has him doing it at the beginning of his set (or was that Louis CK…). It’s a classy move and responsible too. Your fans want to support and like you, part of that is memories and sharing with their friends via photos, what they did in life.

  • Willi Kampmann

    I always take pictures on concerts; to me it adds to the experience. But of course I never use a flash (rarely even have it attached to my OMD) and I never hold my camera up in the air or bump into other people with it. I don’t see what’s wrong with holding your camera in front of your face and taking a couple of images. The shutter usually isn’t really audible and in quiet moments I resist shooting to make sure it doesn’t bother anyone. I’d love to have an electronic shutter though.

    Be respectful and unobtrusive and I don’t think anyone will be bothered by you taking pictures.

  • Roy

    Then there’s your claim.

  • KH

    It’s funny when I see someone post 50 pictures of garbage from a concert the night before. Just relax and enjoy the show.

  • 9inchnail

    Not if it ruins the experience for all the other people who also paid those high ticket prices and travelled just as far.

  • 9inchnail

    Maybe people should learn that their P&S flash is not a floodlight and won’t illuminate the hall. I’m always amazed when I see people using their flimsy flash to photograph something that’s two hundred feet away. Auto mode is great.

  • Lauren

    At SXSW this year, I saw at least one person a show holding up their IPAD to record entire songs. It makes me want to run around the audience taking phones out of people’s hands to throw them across the room. Seriously.

  • David Becker

    Shoot, I was in Norway a couple of months ago and there were people using their P&S flashes to illuminate the aurora borealis. And then wondering why they got black squares (and dirty looks).

  • snapshot1

    Because it’s ALL ABOUT YOU Devin.

  • rdwrt

    The issue is the baby boomers have a neverending sense of entitlement, seeing how they are still the largest demographic around

  • Mansgame

    In a big show, nobody even notices the flashes. If it’s such a huge hassle, tell people not to bring their ipads with them and as much as I don’t like it, ban DSLR’s. But what’s the difference between someone holding up a camera phone than someone just raising their hands?

  • chphotovideo

    bwahaha. or go stand directly in front of them with your big head taking up their whole screen. I would SO do that.

  • Devin Dillinger Paredes

    its all about documenting things that mean something to me, whether it be a concert or the animals at a zoo. It is possible to snap photos at a show without being a hinderance to the crowd. whats next no talking at shows? anybody whos been to small venues, or shows at a bar knows or has experienced that people talking at the bar or in the crowd can be quite distracting and an annoyance to everyone around them as well as the artists performing.

  • snapshot1

    It used to be back in the day people would be respectful enough to go to the back bar if they decided a conversation was more important then the show. In fact the crowds used to police this in the 90’s telling people to shut the fuk up. Nowadays I watch people actually turn their backs to a band to have a conversation because – once again – people think they are the most important thing on the planet and hey “they paid to come to the show” so they get to do anything they want to have a good time… right? Honestly “things” don’t have to be documented and you don’t inherently have the right to “document” just because you have a camera in you hand. Again Devin – it’s not about you, its about the artist on the stage who has taken their time to craft their art and then perform it and people around you have the right to experience that art in the way it was meant to be – not through your arms raised up with a bright screen shining into their eyes a micro version of what they are trying to watch live.

  • SL3889

    The last time I looked any rights regarding pictures were fully invested in the individual being photographed, not the photographer. If the performer says ‘No pictures’ every snapshot is a violation of THEIR rights. Concert venues aren’t public spaces such as sidewalks, parks or streets. It’s very similar to an art gallery enforcing a ban on picture taking.

    Treat photography less as a right (which it isn’t anyway) and more like a privilege. You’ll still get some kick a$$ shots if you are also looking out for your responsibilities to the moment, the subject, and those around you.

  • Photo Logic

    I Shoot concerts, so if they did this, i would have to kill the lighting tech.

  • Photo Logic

    From Experience, Doesn’t work for Phone flashes.

  • Nana

    of course concert venues are public spaces, everyone can get in as long as they pay the ticket or are allowed in. They aren’t clubs with specific members that exclude non-members, so they aren’t private places. They are public because the only requirement to get in is to pay the ticket.

  • Nana

    and photography IS a human right, it’s free speech, you must be able to prove what you saw with your eyes.

  • Devin Dillinger Paredes

    i dont think this is something that you and I will see eye to eye on. You dont really set the standard for what things i should be documenting in my life, nor do you determine whether or not i have the right to document an experience in my life. Isn’t the essence of photography just that? documentation of life, and the world around you? whether it be at a concert, or in the woods or on the street firing a flash a foot from a person’s face a la Eric Kim.

  • tsayguy

    “What would vigilante justice entail?”

    I realize the author is discussing a frustrating thing going on at concerts, but really? “Vigilante justice”? Get a grip.