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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