Snapping the stars on stage sounds like the best job going – but it’s not all sunshine and roses when you work as a music photographer.
Here’s some insights into the eventful profession from a pair of photographers living life on the live music frontline.
It’s not all rock n’ roll
Anthony Longstaff, a live music snapper from Yorkshire, swiftly puts paid to the assumption that it’s all glitz and glamour when you shoot shows for a living.
“Everyone thinks it’s all meeting bands and hob-nobbing with celebs. But it’s far less rock and roll than that.”
Scotland-based band and gig photographer Euan Robertson agrees:
“There’s definitely a perception that it’s more glamorous than it is. I’ve had a lot of: ‘OMG you get to go to the show for free!’ In reality, especially with bigger shows, you’ll be escorted into the photo pit just before the headline act starts, and then escorted out of the building after three songs.
“Sometimes you’re allowed to stay, but often you’re on deadline to get shots delivered. So you don’t actually get to enjoy much, if any, of the show, which can be a shame when it’s a band you like.”
Things can get very rowdy
Trying to take snaps while in the midst of a mosh-pit is rarely an easy business. And sometimes things can get out of hand.
“I’ve been punched and threatened a few times from people in the crowd,” says Longstaff.
“I appreciate they’ve waited a long time to get to the front to see their favourite band, but I’m only there a few minutes and I move around a fair bit too.
“I’ve been to a gig where another photographer had his camera kicked from his face by a band member purely because he got a bit too close to the stage.”
But it’s not just their immediate surroundings a photographer has to be conscious of.
Aerial threats are also worth bearing in mind.
“Flying pints of beer, cider and ‘unidentified’ are a regular hazard,” notes Robertson.
“At T in The Park this year I was hit on the head with a nearly-full pint of cider (in a plastic cup, thankfully) and then an hour later hit in the back with a full, unopened can of lager.”
Your gear can get damaged (in very strange ways)
Perhaps inevitably, this kind of rough and tumble is not necessarily great for expensive photo equipment. And accidents do happen.
“A friend of mine, who is the frontman of a great band, went for a stage dive,” recalls Robertson.
“Having left the house in a rush, I didn’t lift a camera strap which had been detached for the previous day’s video shoot. So, a camera, carefully placed next to a stage monitor, was suddenly under the Doc Marten of that frontman.
“It didn’t do so well.”
And those notorious downpours at Britain’s summertime festivals? Sometimes freak weather does more harm than a misplaced rocker’s boot.
“At this year’s Leeds Festival [I was] photographing Foals,” says Longstaff. “It was absolutely chucking it down, and even though my cameras were covered with waterproof plastic bags, the water seeped in at speed.
“You’re in the pit 15-20 minutes so it’s ample time to cause irreparable damage. One camera is currently sitting in a tub of rice for the next seven days to dry out.”
Working with celebrities can be difficult. And weird
Tales abound of eccentric demands when it comes to stars’ riders and requests. And Longstaff acknowledges that this can also extend to scruples about on-stage photos too.
“The bigger the artist the more difficult it is, usually. Not to name anyone publicly, but one artist will only let you photograph them from stage right for one song only. One particular female ‘diva’ only allows you to photograph her from the front, no side shots.
“A certain star made us wait hours to give us his restrictions, because it depends on what mood he’s in when he wakes up.”
Robertson meanwhile notes that band photoshoots can often go in strange and unforeseen directions. Sometimes with hilarious results.
“A couple of months ago I ended up in the ocean with Prides – all of us fully clothed. It was a bracing experience.”
But it’s definitely worth it
Regardless of shattered equipment, frustrating restrictions and the occasional front row punch-up, both photographers genuinely enjoy shooting bands and live shows – and wouldn’t change it for the world.
“It’s the pure love of creating images that represent a time or a place when it was euphoric,” says Longstaff.
“The great interaction you get with bands, who help you create fantastic shots. The great people involved in the scene.”
“There’s something odd that happens when I shoot a show. I get totally lost in what I’m doing. It’s an incredible adrenaline rush.
“It’s not easy. In fact, it’s one of the most technically challenging types of photography I’ve encountered. But that means that when you do get the shot, it’s massively rewarding. The great thing that makes up for all the negatives is the incomparable buzz to shooting a show – and knowing you’ve captured a winner when you’re done.”
[All images by Anthony Longstaff]