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Contemporary Live Music Photography

December 18, 2009

‘A picture’s worth a thousand words’.

As a writer, this phrase always makes me a little sad…..but it is often true. Think of some of the iconic live shots of bands. They always convey not only the moment, but the personality of the band, and even the sentiment of the era.

The way that concert photography occurs nowadays both excites and upsets me.

For the professionals- meaning those in the photo pits with passes and fancy cameras- the experience often seems overwrought with rules. After having a few photo passes under my belt, even with my low end point and shoot, I can tell you that the three song limit that most bands have is highly unfortunate. In fact, when I’m in the crowd, I often won’t even start taking pictures until the photo pit is cleared. Everyone ends up with similar pictures, and all of those pictures are of the band in the same squeaky clean positions. When the pit is cleared is when most of the real magic starts to happen. The band has a sheen of sweat by then, and they’ve gotten a feel for the crowd. The photographers miss the middle, the end, and the encore. That’s a lot of moments left uncaptured.

But it’s the fan photography that I am even more torn about. Everyone has a digital camera and a camera phone. And I certainly take pictures for my site, and twitpics with my phone. But there needs to be limits. I am always mindful of my camera- I take a picture, then put it away, then maybe take another, and put it away again. But many concert goers have turned into the paparazzi. The crowds have become a sea of cameras; musicians are now staring at cell phones more than fan’s smiling faces. And sometimes as a fan I have to stare through someone’s camera to see the show. And the quality of the majority of content produced by this- on flickr, youtube, and the like- is really low quality. Bad audio, blurry pictures….it’s really quite unflattering. However, if it were between this and nothing….I’d take the low quality ones. When I miss a show or am researching a band, and can’t find anything on them, it’s heartbreaking! When the NIN/JA tour started earlier this year, I ‘watched’ part of the first show via someone’s cell phone videos in real time– a blurry piece of crap with extremely distorted audio that made me so excited it’s not even funny.

What would happen in an ideal world? I’m not really sure, but it seems like things could use a little change. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Other opinions:

Lefsetz- Empowering the Audience

Music Industry Bows to Point and Shoot Cameras

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