Strapping thousands of dollars of camera gear to your body and navigating large crowds of intoxicated fans can present unique risks to professional music photographers. Never is that risk greater than at music festivals.
Weather instantly changes and causes mandatory evacuations. Photographers get robbed and, in extreme cases, personal assaults can come from the most unlikely place—the stage.
The hyper-focus necessary to capture moments of live events for worldwide news and media outlets often leaves professional music photographers vulnerable to safety and security concerns.
Music festivals are growing in numbers and have gained popularity over the past decade with now over 32 million people in the U.S. alone attending at least one music festival each year. In the summer months, there are hundreds of festivals and many choices every weekend for press photographers to provide coverage. Typical crowds range from 10,000 attendees to over 100,000 at the largest festival settings.
John Guarnieri is a former member of the United States Secret Service, under the Obama administration during his six years of service. He is now a partner and operations manager for Silver Spear Security. The firm specializes in personal protection, security consulting, threat assessment, risk mitigation, tour security and venue security. Silver Spear personnel specialize in protecting top industry recording artists and overseeing security operations for major U.S. music festivals on land and sea.
Guarnieri has a unique vantage point to see and assess risks for musicians, venues and individuals who are working in the music industry. We reached out and asked him for the top 5 tips for staying safe when working as a press photographer at major music festivals.
1. Always Know Your Surroundings
Photographers should know what type of terrain they will be shooting on and anticipate weather conditions that may arise so that they wear the proper clothing and shoes for the event. They should familiarize themselves with all of the venue exits in case the need of evacuation arises and where a safe meeting place is located nearby if an exit is required.
Be aware of all other press with you in the group. Take a photo of everyone in the group so you know who was there in case any issues arise during the festival.
2. Protect Your Gear
When walking through the festival grounds, be sure to conceal your gear when not in use. A casual concertgoer should not know you are working press if they don’t see you shooting photos. Determine if there are there secure staging areas for press that you can navigate.
Photographers should also travel in pairs in well-lit areas from stages, around the festival grounds and into parking lots to avoid being targets of theft.
3. See Something, Say Something
Photographers are trained to notice details and capture fan experiences all throughout the festival grounds. Sometimes you may see or hear something suspicious before the security personnel. Examples can be seeing smoke, someone on the ground in need of medical attention or suspicious backpacks left unattended.
If you see any suspicious activity taking place at the festival, report it to security personnel on site immediately.
4. Watch the Crowd
Know your audience. Many festivals have enthusiastic crowds that will participate in crowd surfing, mosh pits, and even throwing items at the stage during the music performances. Be aware of what is happening around you to avoid getting hit with debris or flying bodies coming over the barricade wall that can result in serious injury.
Always stay aware of items being thrown off the stage as well. This could be anything from liquids, instruments, or stage jumpers.
5. Barricade Safety
Barricades exist for fan, media, and artist safety. Barricades are in place at most major music festivals and become the area for the photo pit where photographers work to capture their live music images. This is a small working area that separates the large crowd from the stage so it is important that the integrity of the barricade is maintained.
Upon entry into the photo pit area look at the barricade to make sure it is secure. If you notice anything that is broken notify security immediately.
Standing on the barricade wall to capture crowd images can provide unique photo opportunities but be alert and stay out of the way of security personnel working and crowd surfers that may be coming toward the barricade wall.
An enhanced awareness will keep you secure so you can comfortably navigate this unique work environment. Remember these tips to stay safe during festival season and enjoy the show.
About the author: Amy Harris is a photographer and music journalist who resides in Cincinnati, OH. Amy has shot the biggest names in music for the last eight years. Amy’s work is syndicated by AP Invision and can be seen in publications including: Rolling Stone, KERRANG!, Paste Magazine, NY Times, Washington Post, In Style, People, Total Guitar, Ebony, Country Weekly and many more. Checkout Amy’s portfolio.