Here Are Some Weird Pictures From 2002

Many years ago I went to LA for the first time to hang out with my little brother who was trying to make a movie that never got made. While we were there some weird parties were thrown. 10 years later several of these people run actual businesses, one of them is a Hollywood producer, two of the people who met at these parties are now married and are about to give birth to a human child, my brother has moved to LA permanently and I had sex with one of the girls in the pictures in 2010ish. The bongkey lives on.

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Why Music Festivals Suck For Photographers

Every time I shoot a music festival I have a bunch of kids come up to me and ask me how I get my press pass. They want to stand in front of the stage and get access to their favorite bands and are envious of the photographers who get paid to do it. I just want to break it down for everyone and explain why I hate covering music festivals and why they are often the hardest and most annoying things I have to photograph.

First the good stuff. I get to take photos for a living and I should stop my complaining right here. But I won’t. There are some things I really enjoy about covering music festivals. I love to travel and I love to get paid well for my work. I get to fly all over the US to shoot these things and I get paid pretty well to do it because they are usually long and full of billable hours. Plus airline miles! I like to see my friends who are in the music industry who I only get to see at these things and often I get to see a band I really dig. Plus they are hard work and that makes me feel like I am doing an honest days work instead of shooting a party for three hours and then going home to edit photos in my underwear. That being said, music festivals are a huge pain in my ass.

Music Festivals Are Huge– Often music festivals are spread out over a massive area, some times in the case of SXSW or CMJ over a whole city. When you are carrying two cameras, three lenses (including a huge telephoto), extra batteries, memory cards, chargers, a jacket, food & water and your camera bag it gets fucking draining. Think about how tired you are after a day at a festival and add 50lbs and the fact you pretty much have to run everywhere to get to the next stage. Fun times.

This Is Only One Of Lollapalooza's Many Stages

This Is Only One Of Lollapalooza’s Many Stages

Long Hours – I know I just told you how I actually enjoy the long hours and hard work but I don’t enjoy that stuff until it’s over and I am looking back. When I am on day three of working from noon to four AM and then editing photos until 8am I am not happy about it. I am in fact miserable. Which brings me to clients.

Dances With White Girls Naps At WMC

Take Naps When You Can – DJ Dances With White Girls Naps At WMC

Clients Need Photos Right Away – Most of the time I shoot an event a client needs the photos by 8am the next day if not sooner. So when everyone else is going out to party you are stuck in a hotel room or on a friends couch editing and uploading photos. Clients don’t understand why you can barely keep your eyes open the next day and half the time they don’t even do anything with your images until Monday. Still, I always make sure to have a fast turn around to keep clients happy. Nothing pisses off a client more than a photographer taking forever to get them photos.

The Weather – No matter what happens you are expected to get the shot so if it rains you better be prepared. I don’t mind getting wet so I rarely bring a poncho but I have weather gear for my camera and my camera bag. Music festivals are often in the summer so the sun can be brutal, but then it can get freezing at night so you better have a jacket because you sure as hell can’t go back to your hotel. If the sun is bright your photos can suck, if there’s no sun your photos can suck. No matter what festival you are photographing something nature is going to do to you is going to make your job harder.

Don't Forget Your Rain Gear!

Don’t Forget Your Rain Gear!

Festival Press People – Before I bash all these PR people that work music festivals I have to point out that they have a hard job. It’s not always their fault that shit is fucked up and they are dealing with journalist after journalist yelling at them for the same things. Because of this they tend to be extremely bitchy and unhelpful especially if you are working for a smaller outlet. Fortunately, I shoot a lot of this stuff for Village Voice Media and I have a little more pull than if I was shooting for my blog, but it’s still a huge pain in the ass dealing with getting credentials, getting the right credentials, getting access to whatever you need access too, etc. An amazing amount of stress is put on a photographer just because we have to deal with people who for some reason want to make our jobs really difficult for seemingly no reason.

Band Press People – Music publicists are often a weird breed of people and the more successful they are the harder they are to deal with. I don’t even run a music blog and I get hundreds of emails a week from these people but when you need a favor from them they often don’t respond to emails or give you a hard time. Some of them are great at their jobs and a pleasure to deal with, but I have dealt with so many bad ones it’s hard not to include them on this list. The biggest problem though is with these insane contracts PR people try to get you to sign if you want to shoot bigger bands. Acts like Foo Fighters, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears all have these crazy contracts that say the band owns the photographs once you take them. They are total bullshit, legally suspect and I never sign them. All other photographers should do the same.

Then Again Maybe Dealing With PR Girls Isn't All Bad...

Then Again Maybe Dealing With PR Girls Isn’t All Bad…

Photo Pits – Photo pits are the bane of my existence. They are the three feet in front of the stage full of photographers. At big festivals like Lollapalooza the stage is 15 feet in the air and you can’t even shoot the bands without a telephoto lens shooting straight up at them. Often you can only enter them from the far side of the stage so you have to walk through a crowd of thousands of kids just to get to the pit. They are filled with photographers who all are getting the exact same shot and you have to pretty much shove people out of the way just to get an unblocked. I am generally a very friendly photographer to work with in a pit and always there to help people and make sure everyone gets a good shot, but recently as more and more amateurs show up in photo pits I have started to become a dick. Which brings me to my next point.

Nothing Like A Bunch Of Photographers To Ruin A Shot - Fishbone At Voodoo Fest

Nothing Like A Bunch Of Photographers To “Enhance” A Shot – Fishbone At Voodoo Fest

Other Photographers – I have been shooting music festivals for more than 15 years and I started shooting bands for a little zine I published when I was in high school. I didn’t really know how this shit worked but I was trying. I am sure I pissed off some of the seasoned pros, but it wasn’t as big of a deal because there were never more than a handful of us in the pit. With the advent of blogs and digital cameras more and more people are getting media access to music festivals and most of them have no idea what they are doing. So many kids who have no experience are willing to shoot these things for free because they want to go to the festival but they have no idea how to act in the pit. Now I truly believe that if you are a good photographer you can get the shot you need with nearly any camera but filling up the photo pit with kids with kit lenses, point and shoot cameras and iPhones is insane. If you are shooting with a lens that can’t even fill the frame you are just wasting everyone’s time and getting in the way.

Nicki Minaj Being Charmingly Blocked By Cell Phone Cameras

Nicki Minaj Being Charmingly Blocked By Cell Phone Cameras

Other Photographers Part II – Some photographers are so obnoxious they need a second section. For some reason people with no photo pit experience decide they need to lift their cameras in the air to get a better shot. Doing this gets in everyone’s fucking way and ruins shots for everyone behind them. If you need to lift to get the shot do it from the back of the pit so you aren’t in anyone’s way. 90% of the time you are going to get a horribly composed shot anyway because you are just guessing wildly. When I see people do this I will grab their arms down because I don’t really respect them enough to ask nicely. Keep your fucking cameras at eye level. On this same point, almost every festival has a no flash rule so take your flash off your camera so it’s not in anyone’s way. Also, if you have a good place in the pit shoot a song there and move so someone else can get their shot. You want a variety of angels anyway, not just a shot right in front of the lead singer.

I Know You Love DFA 1979 But Keep Your Damn Camera Down!

I Know You Love DFA 1979 But Keep Your Damn Camera Down!

Videographers – I have a lot of the same complaints with videographers as I do amateur photographers but the videographers are worse. They hold their cameras up in the air and look through their monitors and get in everyone’s way. Often they have fuzzy microphones or big lights attached to the top of their cameras and it ruins shot after shot of the photographers behind them. On top of that 99% they aren’t even supposed to be shooting video and if they get in my way I will rat those mother fuckers out so fast.

Not You Too Joel McHale! You Are So Great On Community!

Not You Too Joel McHale! I Love You On Community!

Three Songs, No Flash – Three songs, no flash is the standard rule at most big concerts and festivals. Basically it means that the photographers get to be in the pit for three songs and they can’t shoot with flash. The flash part makes perfect sense as most concerts should be lit well enough that you don’t need one. Flashes get in the way of other photographers and they are distracting to performers. The three songs part completely sucks. I get the idea. You can easily shoot 100 photos in three songs and then you get the hell out of the fans way… the problem is that the first three songs are never the songs you want to shoot. I would take the last three songs every time. If you are dealing with a rap group some times the whole group won’t come out until half way through the set. You are never going to get a photo of a special guest performer or an amazing encore. Imagine if three songs and out was the rule in the 60s. No one would have ever caught Jimmy Hendrix setting his guitar on fire or the Who smashing their equipment. On top of that every photographer gets the same exact shots and they don’t capture the real essence of the performance. Plus you only get to hear three songs and then you move on to the next one. I have photographed so many bands multiple times but I couldn’t tell you anything about their set from the fourth song on.

My Only Decent Shot Of A$AP Rocky At Pitchfork Because He Came Out During Song Four

My Only Decent Shot Of A$AP Rocky At Pitchfork Because He Came Out During Song Four

Photographing DJs – DJs are usually boring to shoot anyway but if you can’t shoot them from the stage you are just waisting your time anyway. Photographing a DJ from the photo pit is completely pointless because you can just see the top of their head over the table and their laptop. My favorite DJ’s to shoot put on a show and get away from their table. I will shoot Steve Aoki, Girl Talk or Major Lazer any day because they put on a better show than most bands, but for most DJ’s I don’t even bother. I just turn my camera away from them and shoot the crowd.

Steve Aoki Is One Of The Few DJs That Puts On A Show Worth Photographing

Steve Aoki Is One Of The Few DJs That Puts On A Show Worth Photographing

Bands Suck – One of the most over looked things about music fests is that most bands suck and a lot of the ones that don’t suck are really boring to photograph. If you are just going to stand there and play music you might as well stay home and just have someone play your CD for us. 75% of bands have terrible live shows and 75% of those make awful music anyway. If you are working for a festival for a client you often have to shoot band after band that you hate that you don’t even want to look at much less photograph.

Say What You Will About The Insane Clown Posse... At Least They Know How To Put On A Show

Say What You Will About The Insane Clown Posse… At Least They Know How To Put On A Show

I am going to stop whining now. But If this article stops one 20 year old kid from agreeing to shoot photos with their brand new $400 digital SLR for free fo some mediocre music blog I will have done my job. In fact, I will make a promise to any music blogger right now. If I am covering a music festival I will let you run my images FOR FREE if you apply for a photo pass, get the pass and then don’t give it to anyone. One less photographer in the pit will be well worth it to me.

Now it should be said that if any photographer is coming to a music festival for the first time, or just wants some advice I am not here to give you shit. If you come to these things excited about photography and music and willing to listen to some of the pros in the pit we will welcome you with open arms. We all started because we loved this stuff and we respect young photographers with passion. We just need you to not make our jobs any harder than they already are.

I recommend to anyone just getting started in music photographer to check out the book Concert And Live Music Photography: Pro Tips From The Pit by J. Dennis Thomas. It has great tips on everything you would need to shoot music from equipment to post processing but most importantly it has a fantastic chapter on photo pit etiquette that everyone should have to read before they shoot a concert for the first time. It will go along way to helping you gain acceptance from pro photographers plus if you are ever in Austin J. Dennis Thomas WILL be in the photo pit with him, and he is a dude you do not want on your bad side.

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