Standing up for the concert photographer, by standing on his neck

Jul 5, 2015

Kevin Bergin

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

Jul 5, 2015

Kevin Bergin

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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Earlier this week, the Washington City Paper made a stand against what it considered an unfair concert photography contract presented by the Foo Fighters with an article entitled Why We’re Not Photographing The Foo Fighters. Concert photographers everywhere stood up and slow clapped for the headline and main idea of the article and the stand it took on photographers rights. In the last paragraph of the article however, the Washington City Paper did something even worse to photographers than the Foo Fighters ever could have; they called on the fans to submit photos of the show, and they offered to pay for them. Instead of simply not covering the event and saying “Screw you, Foo Fighters” as the article’s title might make you believe, they’re saying “Screw you, concert photographers” and created a new class of concert photographer; the front row, amateur, on spec, freelance iPhoneographer. The ramifications are going to be far reaching to the concert photographer, the concert attendee, the artist, and the publications themselves.

For the concert photographer we’ve learned how to use our (typically very expensive) equipment, what shots work and which don’t, how to behave in a photo pit, we’ve fostered relationships with PR firms, management companies, artists, venues and publications over hundreds or thousands of events and we deliver substantial amounts of content for a relatively low price. By crowdsourcing their content, Washington City Paper has effectively removed this position as a viable income source. We simply cannot compete with 3,000 people all hoping to make a quick buck off their photos. The law of large numbers means that thousands of people shooting hundreds of pictures each will come up with a small amount of publishable photos, probably as many as a handful of seasoned photographers and that as supply rises, demand falls and prices go down.

If no one is occupying the photo pit, the front rows of your local concert hall will become a wall of iPhones, with everyone hoping to recoup the a portion of the cost of their ticket by selling a shot. At the more raucous events (the ones I love to cover), the photo pit provides a slight barrier from crowd surfing, moshing or stage diving revelers, a benefit our new iPhoneographer won’t have. In addition to concentrating on getting a sellable shot, Johnny iPhone has to contend with Drunky McMoshenstein crashing into him. If you don’t spend enough to be one of the few that splurge for front row seats, or don’t get their early enough to hug the barrier at a general admission event, prepare for even more cell phones in front of you than you already see.

There are a set of rules in place for concert photographers that make us less intrusive on the artist’s performance while still allowing us to get the photos we need to cover the event: We shoot 3 songs, we don’t use flash, we don’t do video and we cull through our coverage. In fact I had just tweeted this last night before reading this article.

Will the new amateur, on spec, freelance iPhoneographer follow these same rules? Judging by what I see at concerts every week, no, not at all. The artist will contend with even more smartphones in the air, popping off flashes and bootlegging blurry grainy images and video with blown out sound straight to instagram. For some artists, the response will just be “no photography.” I’m not naive enough to think that we make or break artists as photographers, but we’re part of the machine, and we’re part of the only profitable portion left for them. In the long run, not having access to the high quality content created by concert photographers at your show will eventually hurt an artist that has already taken so many shots from the crowdsource distribution of their music.

The logistics of crowdsourcing photos will create a new burden for the publications. Rather than reviewing 25-100 images to select a few for print or publication, the publications will have to sort through thousands to tens of thousands of blurry, grainy, poorly composed shots for a few publishable gems. Concert photographers are not expensive as photographers go, typically making from less than a hundred to just a couple hundred dollars an assignment. By the time you cull through all the bad photos find the good ones and post process them, what has the publication really gained in the process? Not much. What you’ve lost however, is a relationship with a professional who values and invests in his work, shows up when he says he will and consistently creates good content.

Put yourself in my shoes, and those of my concert photographer brethren; imagine you work for a company, you purchase thousands of dollars in equipment to work for said company and a third party comes along that has a contract that makes it incredibly difficult for you to do your job, through no fault of your own. Rather than simply not attending the event or requesting amendments to the contract, your employer decides to pay people who aren’t experienced and haven’t spent a dime on specialized equipment to do your job because they don’t have to play by the same rules you do, negating that pesky contract. The end product is not as good as yours, but could be considered passable on occasion. You get a “super sorry, maybe next time that third party won’t be so mean,” someone else gets paid. Does that leave you with the same warm, fuzzy feeling about the stand Washington City Paper made for photographer’s rights? If they were a catering company and instead of sending chefs and cooks they sent people who really enjoy cooking at home, would that be standing up for culinary rights? The problem is the artists’ contracts, not the concert photographer, so why are the concert photographers the only ones paying the price?

About The Author

Kevin is the Senior Staff Photographer for Gigzealot.com. You can follow Kevin on his website and follow him him on twitter: @kevinbergin, instagram: @berginphoto and facebook. This article was also published here and shared with permission. Lead illustration based on photo by Pink Sherbet Photography.

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37 responses to “Standing up for the concert photographer, by standing on his neck”

  1. Marcus Wolschon Avatar
    Marcus Wolschon

    “as supply rises, demand falls and prices go down.”
    Why would demand fall?
    Supply rises, demand stays the same and prices go down.

    1. Kevin Bergin Avatar
      Kevin Bergin

      Demand for each individual image would fall due to the glut of similar images. Demand as a whole would remain steady, you’re correct.

  2. Jasmijn Decuyper Avatar
    Jasmijn Decuyper

    What is this picture?!

    1. Arcmor Avatar
      Arcmor

      Yeah, what’s up with the picture?

  3.  Avatar
    Anonymous

    “The end product is not as good as yours, but could be considered passable on occasion.”

    Mismatch between vendor and client: client wins.

  4. Kaouthia Avatar
    Kaouthia

    Of course, if the media start buying crappy noisy cellphone photos from the crowd with band members the size of ants, the backs of peoples heads and blown out stage lights, while bands with less restrictive contracts are still getting quality imagery to promote their gigs in the press, it might just make the more restrictive performers think “yeah, maybe we do need proper photographers after all, so we should quit screwing them over”.

    When they learn their restrictive contracts don’t work, and that absolute chaos also won’t work, there will be change, and you’ll get the result you wanted.

    1. Kevin Bergin Avatar
      Kevin Bergin

      That would be the best case scenario in this situation. How many publications will go “meh, this crowdsourcing thing isn’t that bad, and we’re not paying out anything more than we were” and sack their entertainment photographers, taking them away from even the less restrictive artists?

      1. Kaouthia Avatar
        Kaouthia

        Or maybe they do know it is bad and they just want to prove to the bands just how much?

        I thought most of ’em had already sacked their photographers already anyway and just went with freelancers?

        1. Michael Rocker Avatar
          Michael Rocker

          In the 40 plus years I have worked in the live music aspect most of the photographers I had dealings with were all freelancers.

      2. Ralph Hightower Avatar
        Ralph Hightower

        I think that USA Today and the Chicago Tribune did that by laying off their photography staff and depending on “citizen photojournalists”.

        1. Michael Rocker Avatar
          Michael Rocker

          Many of the major newspaper publications have done away with their photography staff and depending on the actual reporter at the scene to become the “photojournalists”. In the digital age there is no longer a need for them to maintain a darkroom. Phone it in.

          1. mike Avatar
            mike

            I think the newspapers know that their remaining readers are willing to put up with garbage quality.

          2. Michael Rocker Avatar
            Michael Rocker

            Over the last 10+ years many newspapers have cut back in staff as well as product. Years back commuters would buy a paper and read it on the way in to work.. With the advent of the “Smart Phone” circulation of those publications have gone down drastically. Some major newspapers have gone totally on line. Just recently Jeff Bezzos owner of Amazon bought out the Washington Post. Laid off about 33% of the news/ editorial staff. Sold off the building they were in for over 100 years and looking for a smaller space.

  • catlett Avatar
    catlett

    This is not so different than any other business that has capital expenses. Just because one WANTS to be a concert photographer doesn’t give them some inherent right to do so on their preferred terms. There are artists who have carefully crafted their public image and don’t want someone else to be able to publish just any photo that they want to. In other words they won’t grant a blanket model release.

    You say “put yourself in my shoes.” Turn that around and put yourself in their shoes. If someone wanted to use a photo that they took of you or your loved one for a KKK recruiting poster or a NAMBLA poster or something I’m guessing you wouldn’t like it and would not give a blanket model release that would allow that or other types of uses that are contrary to your public image.

    I get that the photographer WANTS to be able to use the images they take in any way they want to but they are trying to make their living largely on the based on the popularity of the subjects they are shooting. There are other things that may be shot with that expensive equipment. You just don’t WANT to. In the US there is no inherent right for a photographer to make money off of someone else’s recognizable face, hence the contract. Without the contract you can’t really make much money on anything you publish either.

    If you don’t like the contract don’t shoot that show. Shoot something else. My bet is that all this complaining will ultimately end up with musical acts changing to work for hire contracts and for a select few photographers and releasing the shots their publicist wants. The rest of you won’t be shooting concerts for profit anymore. They don’t need you for publicity. You need them and therefore all the complaining in the world is not going to change the contracts. If anything it will spur more artists to restrict their contracts instead of giving blanket approval for you to do whatever you want.

    1. Kevin Bergin Avatar
      Kevin Bergin

      I think you missed my point. I understand the need to protect the artist’s image, and really don’t have huge issues with signing amended releases (something I do regularly, after redacting the single use and rights release in perpetuity clauses.) I’m not suggesting that the concert photographer deserves cart blanche commercial license, but I don’t feel the artist deserves it either, not for free at least. Free unlimited commercial license chokes a revenue stream from the photogtapher, but that’s probably another article altogether. The issue I raise in this article is of WCP’s willingness to sell its staffers or freelancers down the river for an inferior crowdsourced product.

      1. Realspear Avatar
        Realspear

        The problem with this is that it is not “free.” In fact, the contract that signs over rights is in exchange for granting access and tickets. The event is private and there is no right for the photographer to be in the pit or to take photos with their equipment. Now that doesn’t mean it’s a good deal for a photographer, but it’s a contractual arrangement that the photographer (or publication) can choose to accept or reject.

        By the way, it’s also unlikely that the performers will ever use the images. Major artists hire photographers for concerts, or use the venue’s photographer. It’s much more about protecting the artists’ image.

        1. Go away Avatar
          Go away

          Its also worth noting that my professional work for the various outlets I have worked out at over the years has been featured on many high profile websites and FB pages crediting me when im not being an internet troll. They DO NOT have the right to “use” my images other than sharing them and crediting me unless they offer to buy them from me or pay me for a shoot, and I have also done that. Christ all mighty there are some really stupid people who feel the need to chime in on this debate.

      2. catlett Avatar
        catlett

        I completely agree with you that the artist should not get free use of your work so if that was your point I did miss it and apologize. You aren’t doing work for hire. You are there on your time and on your capital expense and it is your copyright so yea, if they want to use your work they should have to pay for it.

        The reality still remains that they will always have the option of paying someone under a work for hire though if their only concern is paying individual artists for the right to use individual photos that would seem rather silly. They should just change the contract wording to restrict commercial release of their performance to approved shots and let everybody eat.

    2. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      “There are artists who have carefully crafted their public image and don’t want someone else to be able to publish just any photo that they want to. In other words they won’t grant a blanket model release.”

      Except that thousands of camera/cellphone owners DO shoot their photos, too, aren’t under contract, and can do whatever they like with them, without giving a crap about the subject’s “carefully crafted public image”. That’s WHY there are those that do this for a living in the first place, because they know how to get a decent image, show their subjects the way they want to be seen, and the way the fans want to see them.

      They also (mostly) have the common sense to not let out images that could be detrimental to the subjects of the images, and consequently, potentially, their own careers.

      1. catlett Avatar
        catlett

        Wrong. They can do what they want with them BUT they can also get sued for it. All of the tickets are explicit about what is and is not allowed.

        1. Kaouthia Avatar
          Kaouthia

          And that stops them, does it?

    3. Go away Avatar
      Go away

      You are an idiot. It is people like you who are ruining the industry.

      1. catlett Avatar
        catlett

        Says the idiot that doesn’t understand wanting to glom onto someone else’s fame isn’t an inherent right.

  • Kelly Bonds Avatar
    Kelly Bonds

    Race to the bottom. It affects a lot more than just Photography.

  • steven_nc Avatar
    steven_nc

    Be careful what you wish for.

  • Stephanie Bell Avatar
    Stephanie Bell

    :(

  • betweenloveandlike Avatar
    betweenloveandlike

    Just to clarify-they asked for photos of JUST the Foos. I am the “freelance photographer” mentioned in the piece and my photos are what will be used for all other acts. I think my editor’s intent was to be like “see these photos were taken too and they didn’t sign anything.”

    But to your overall point, yes it’s becoming dangerous out there the rise of cell phone UAE instead of formal photos. Pulitzer winning photog John White and the entire photog group from the Chicago newspaper who were laid off and reporters given iPhones instead is prime example.

    1. Kevin Bergin Avatar
      Kevin Bergin

      It’s a slippery slope and although I’m glad your editor worked to protect you, I felt that through the article Mr. Cavendish made the attempt to play the hero of the concert photographer while driving a spike in the profession’s back.

      My apologies if I inadvertently referred to you as freelance, I purposefully left your relationship with the paper out of the article because I wasn’t sure exactly what it was.

      Thank you for contributing first hand knowledge to the discussion, I appreciate it greatly.

      1. ls1200 Avatar
        ls1200

        The thing that you’re talking about with “amateur photographers”… you’re kinda doing it as an “amateur journalist.” Your lack of research perfectly illustrates that.

        1. Kevin Bergin Avatar
          Kevin Bergin

          You do realize that this article was picked up and reposted by DIY after it was originally posted as an editorial piece on the site I work for, right? No journalists were harmed in the making of this article, thanks for the troll though.

          1. ls1200 Avatar
            ls1200

            I’m not trolling. It’s my genuine opinion that what you’re doing here, writing an article for mass consumption around the globe (and for pay, no less), is just as much an appropriation of a journalist’s craft as the people who upset you by getting paid for photos taken in conditions you find unprofessional.

            Just some food for thought. Maybe technology is changing old paradigms, uncomfortable as that may be to some of us.

  • Notnow Avatar
    Notnow

    I wouldn’t be surprised if WCP used the situation as an opportunity to minimize WCP’s own use of professional photographers. That is, they may have wanted to find a way to do that in the past, and they found a convenient excuse.

    1. betweenloveandlike Avatar
      betweenloveandlike

      Nope they’ve had Darrow Montgomery on staff for like a million years now. It was about the release as i stated in my comment

      1. Notnow Avatar
        Notnow

        Thanks for clarifying WCP’s intent. To me, your perspective is very valuable. I’d be interested in your experience and how you worked the details with the WCP, the bands, and the organizers as a freelancer, (if at all). Or, did you buy tickets and happen to bring your camera? If you purchased a ticket, what were the ticket holder’s limitations regarding photography? Or, did you approach WCP first, before the gig, to shoot some images for them, or did you contact them after? Or, did you go to the show independently to shoot some images on spec with the expectation of finding a buyer afterward? etc. Gosh, this would be a good DIY article that, I think, would be worth DIY buying from you.

  • Cesar Sales Avatar
    Cesar Sales

    Where’s the DIY? This site used to be great for cheap diy stuff. Now it’s just petapixel-lite. Add some half dressed models and it could be fstoppers-lite.

  • ArtRose SV Avatar
    ArtRose SV

    Don’t forget that newspapers are getting killed by Internet news rivals. They’re cutting costs everywhere possible just to stay alive, its basic survival – http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/04/28/decline_of_newspapers_hits_a_milestone_print_revenue_is_lowest_since_1950.html. As others have noted they’re not the 1st to move to outsourcing from independents. New technology destroys old business models so you need to be where things are heading, there are many journalism professionals in the same boat.

  • ArtRose SV Avatar
    ArtRose SV

    Don’t forget that newspapers are getting killed by Internet news rivals. They’re cutting costs everywhere possible just to stay alive, its basic survival – http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/04/28/decline_of_newspapers_hits_a_milestone_print_revenue_is_lowest_since_1950.html. As others have noted they’re not the 1st to move to outsourcing from independents. New technology destroys old business models so you need to be where things are heading.