Getting Access All Areas

Having been lucky enough to receive regular photo passes, like all good things, I wanted more. More access, being able to shoot backstage and from the stage itself.  It would be three years from starting out before I received my first AAA photo pass. As you can imagine, for a photographer, it’s an amazing opportunity to be creative.

There’s a thrill when shooting gigs regardless of the level of access granted, however, if you’re lucky enough to receive an AAA pass, it’s usually the result of a relationship that’s been built between yourself and the band, management or labels. Either way, it’s a privilege to receive one and certainly not a trust that should ever be abused or broken.  If you choose to be a dick backstage, then your pass can be revoked at any time, and in turn, you’ll probably end the relationship that you’ve spent so much time on developing, plus news travels fast.

When shooting the first three songs, you’re in a designated space, which is usually the pit.  With an AAA pass, it’s a different story, you’re allowed to shoot the full show and from pretty much anywhere you like, unless you’re given specific no go zones. These ‘no go zones’ are places such as artist dressing rooms or other green room environments. Access to these locations are usually invite only or on a pre-arranged basis, you don’t have the freedom to simply waltz into their space, understandably so.

My usual plan when shooing on a AAA pass, especially where the headliner is concerned, is to grab any shots of the band making their way to the stage once they’ve left the dressing rooms (again this should be agreed. They are in their mental zone, the last thing they want is a guy with a camera in their face distracting them). Once the show starts, I will shoot the first three songs from the pit and after that, then I will make my way backstage and shoot from the sides or from the back of the stage if at all possible, before exploring the show from points around the venue. I aim to cover everything.

Despite having full access, you still have to be mindful. The paying crowd has come to see the band perform and not you. Wandering around on stage to get shots is not part of the deal, unless you have express permission beforehand. (If you’re ever in doubt, then don’t)  I’ve watched this happen and heard stories of photographers oblivious to their surroundings or boundaries, being on stage when they shouldn’t, and the reason I know this wasn’t agreed… The singer or any other members shocked and confused expression usually gives it away.  If you can’t be invisible or discreet, then you have no place being there, this goes for any backstage work.

Full access comes with added responsibilities and respect towards others in their workplace whilst backstage, it also comes with its thrills too. For me, it’s a chance to really get creative with the space I’ve been given in regards to, angles, lighting, perspectives and also getting shots from the back of the venue whilst it’s filled to capacity. I love to document events and these are great shots for showcasing the performance.

I apply the same attitude for every show I’ve worked on, no matter how big or small.  I’ve been lucky enough to shoot the band EMBRACE twice on an AAA pass, these were my biggest shows to date.  Once when they headlined the stunning Piece Hall followed by their even bigger show at the Leeds Arena. Both are huge venues with so many photo opportunities and with so much ground to cover, there is plenty of running around required too. (I will blog these two shows at a later date).

After the show, getting in front of the computer to edit a full access gig is a real buzz, the anticipation of seeing those unique shots. If you’ve been given privileged access, I find it a matter of courtesy to run any shots past the band or management for approval before posting anything online. The last thing you want to do is piss anyone off with shots that don’t do them or the show justice. This is also an opportunity for them to bag any shots they may wish to release themselves for their PR material etc.

As I mentioned at the beginning, it took three years for me to get my first opportunity, I’d like to think that in that time I’ve built enough of a reputation as someone who knows the score and puts the band’s interest before my own, which in my opinion is how it should be.