In the Pit #16: Access Some Areas

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The Wombats play to a jam packed Magnet

The Wombats play to a jam-packed Magnet

Getintothis’ Martin Waters takes a look at why access is the key to getting those unique shots that make all the difference.

AAA. That’s the photographer’s equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.  Access All Areas. It allows you to go roaming, to find the best spots and to identify what you think are going to be killer shots and, more often than not, it allows you access to shoot those crowd scenes from behind the artist.

To photographers access can be the key. But we tend to accept that elusive ticket rarely lands in our lap unless you’re part of the touring crew, really well in with the promoter or are just having a boss day blagging it with security. So that leaves most of us plying our trade from the pit.

The Flaming Lips at Sound City 2015

The Flaming Lips at Sound City 2015

But look at the image above, shot at Sound City a few years back. I was pretty pleased with it, but I can guarantee that I can find a handful of similar images taken at the same time by any one of the dozen or so photographers who were in the pit with me that night. In fact, there is a pretty similar one in a recent In the Pit article.

So while we’re more than happy to spend our time in the photo pit – and trust me, getting access to there isn’t always a breeze – your spirits do flag a little when you arrive to see a pit heaving with photographers. Now that’s not because we’re an anti-social bunch or would crawl over each other’s bodies to get a killer shot (we would) it is because you know the odds are high that there are going to be a mass of very similar images being produced.

While you will try your best to get some variety, to catch something a little different, to play around with your settings or to use a different lens to add a different dynamic, you know full well that there are 3 photographers standing on your shoulder shooting a fairly identical shot.

It means for any decent sized gig, the images you see in many cases are pretty much identical. 

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I was recently reading some reviews of the Nick Cave gig in Manchester and checking out the attached image galleries. While they all had decent images, all three reviews I saw – including the one here at Getintothis – were all shot from Nick Cave’s left. This could be for a variety of reasons in terms of access, the limited amount of shooting allowed and any other amount of restrictions, but it means that there is so little variety that they are practically indistinguishable.

Not convinced? Well here’s an example. Below is an image shot from the sound desk at the recent John Legend gig. All four of us were corralled into here. It’s pretty far back. The result is that all of us were capturing pretty much the same images give or take as we were hampered by the kit we could use. The final output largely depended on how we chose to crop the images.

John Legend

Shooting from the sound desk

Below is my image of John Legend’s entrance. Now compare that to an image shot for the Echo by the excellent David Munn. Apart from a tighter crop, they’re pretty similar.

John Legend

John Legend

Here’s another example, same concert. My shot of Legend in full flow and David’s shot. While Legend’s position is different, you can tell we are both having to shoot over the heads of the crowd from essentially the same position, there was no scope for us to be able to move to get a different angle or any sort of variety.

John Legend

John Legend

This isn’t just a phenomenon unique to music photography of course. Think of any iconic landscape view and I’ll show you a ton of identical images. Name a classic building in Liverpool and I can do the same.

It is, however, one of the reasons why the AAA pass is essentially the holy grail. So all those samey images of gigs and festivals you see, taken by us grunts from the pit and trying to climb on top of pretty much anything to get a better angle. Those gloriously high shots of the stage, the crowd and the full lighting effect, well they’re courtesy of those with the right badge that lets them up into the sound desk or the cherry picker and good luck to them.

You can get good images from wherever they tell you to shoot from, as you can see from the shots populating this site, but you’ll get those exceptional, one-off shots when you can get the angles others can’t get.  Access will always be key.

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But even when your access is restricted somewhat, you’ll still find photographers pushing things to the limit to get that special shot.  The image at the top of the page of The Wombats, for example, wasn’t achieved because I had stage access, that was achieved as I asked the guy next to me to hold me up while I hung off the wall.  I’ve also been shown the door from venues more than I care to mention for try to bag a shot from places I shouldn’t.

I was shown the door at the O2 for pushing my luck to get the shot of The Kooks below but you have to take the opportunity when there is a shot you want. So maybe that’s one of the reasons why AAA may remain the holy grail for some, but opportunity is the bread and butter for most and we’ll keep pushing our luck till we finally get to unwrap that golden ticket.

The Kooks

The Kooks

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