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The Photo Pass

Lesson 21 from: Getting Started in Music Photography with Red Bull Photographer Todd Owyoung

Todd Owyoung

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Lesson Info

21. The Photo Pass

Next Lesson: Photo Pit Etiquette

Lesson Info

The Photo Pass

All right, now, we're going to jump into the photo pass and I know this is a huge question and concern and kind of issue for people getting into music photography because there are so many barriers to entry. You have to have this special, you know, sticky piece of paper that you can put on your shirt that says you have the permission to be there and have a camera and to have access to the photo pit or to the artist. So before getting into that, there's the unspoken agreement of access and that is value for access is the agreement that you have between artist and press. The photo pass exists to do work for the band, for their publicist, for the management. No one is entitled to photograph artists. This is a private event. Sure, they're public entities, but this is something people pay for in a private venue. And I should impress on the fact there's no entitlement to photograph artists. It is within their rights to refuse you and that's kind of the fact. And publicists and managers are t...

he gatekeepers to these larger artists. Their goal is to protect their artists and to protect the salability of it, their image, and all these things, and you have to keep that in mind when you're requesting for photo passes. So what does a publicist want? The publicist is often charged with, you know, being the gatekeeper. They're the ones approving the photo passes. So what do they want? They want concert reviews, they want photo galleries, they want trusted coverage. They want publications generating press about their artist, generating word-of-mouth, generating buzz because that's their job, is to generate, you know, press for the artist. And when they get reviews, when they get coverage in this way, they're doing their job and they're satisfying their employers, the managers, the artists themselves. And you really have to prove that you're providing value. So your images have to fulfill the goals of the publicist when you're requesting a photo pass. A photo pass given to someone building their portfolio, posting to Instagram, that does very, very little for the artist because you've almost no guarantee of the number of eyeballs on it. You may be sure you're getting dozens, hundreds of likes, but it's very fuzzy. Whereas in contrast, if you can be a publication that is a known entity, you know, obviously, there's like the Rolling Stone and Q Magazine and Spin, et cetera that are established publications. But even regional blogs or magazines or websites, you have regular, you know, page views, page visits, time on site, et cetera, and photo editors and music editors, you're building a relationship with these publicists. So they really want trusted coverage where they know there's gonna be a guaranteed audience by an established publication or organization pushing out content that promotes their artist. Shooting for publications, again, is the number one way you're going to get access as a music photographer because they know it's going some place they can trust, they can track it, they can see, you know, views or whatever on the reviews, they can read the comments, and they'll know that the publication is pushing out to social media, putting it to their fans, and doing work for the band. You know, if you're building your portfolio or it's for personal use, or you just want to photograph an artist, that's not a great reason to request a photo pass. Certainly, you can request it, but there's no reason for them to actually give it to you 'cause it's not doing work for them. And that's kind of, again, the unspoken agreement. You're providing value for that access because when they give you access, it's only a liability. And you have to really keep that in mind as a music photographer. In terms of what a manager wants, they want press. That's why they hire publicists. But they're also looking to really protect the artist. They're trying to safeguard their image. They're looking to limit liability and they want a minimum of disruption. They don't want a bunch of photographers running around the venue and blocking, you know, a fan's view, getting in the way of a camera operator, or like, otherwise being, you know, in the show. So when management approves a pass or credentials, they're looking to have you do work for them, but they also really, you know, they're giving you the bare minimum that they need in order for you to accomplish those goals for them. And anything beyond that, more than three songs, you might think, oh, well, all the best stuff happens after three songs at the finale. Well, if you think of it from the artist's point of view or the management's, you know, after three songs, you're gonna be kinda sweaty, you're getting tired-looking, you might not want that as part of your image or your brand. And so you have to think about these things from both sides, I think. And as someone who shoots for management, it's a consideration that I've definitely kind of taken on as I've had more experience, where when I first started out, I might think, oh, well, these are just kinda meaningless rules and they don't really, you know, it just seems pointless. Like, why are these arbitrary rules in place? But they really are for a purpose. You know, three songs, limiting of time, no flash. You know, not distracting the artist. So these rules are in place for a reason. So common restrictions for photo passes are three songs, no flash. Pretty basic. You're in there for a limited amount of time. And the reason for that is simply managers and publicists, for the most part, they're looking to produce, they're not looking to document the show. That's what they have a tour photographer for or someone they might hire on a one-off basis. For press, they're looking to produce a homogeneous product that shows what it's like, the first three songs, the lighting is the same, the singer looks the same, they're not too sweaty, they look good, all these things. And that's what they want. That's what's gonna do work for them to hopefully sell tickets in the other venues and all these other things. And certainly not all artists and their managers are so concerned about the image. You do have artists in smaller venues who might still have photo passes who let you shoot for the entire show. But it's a common reason for that three-song limitation. In addition, not all artists want a photographer in the photo pit walking back and forth and distracting them for a show. It's simply another liability. It's another distraction. They don't wanna see that. In terms of no flash, that's a pretty basic consideration for a photo pass and it just goes to not distracting the artist and keeping your footprint, your visibility to a minimum. So if a flash is going off, it's on-camera, right at the artist, it's going to be distracting. With a photo pass, more uncommon restrictions include less time and this might be less than three songs. It might be two songs or one song or only shooting specific songs during the set, not a continuous first three. In addition, for larger artists, another common one might be distance limitations where you're shooting from the sound board, the front of house, where you might be, you know, a smaller venue, 20 or 30 or 50 feet, and at a larger, in an arena, you know, 100-plus feet away from the artist. And the reason for that is simply, again, to create a homogeneous product. You're faraway, it's flattering because, you know, you're shooting an entire photo, it's a flatter image, a flatter perspective. You're not shooting up at them. It's not getting double chins or up the nostrils. You know, it's kind of, you know, a pretty standard image. You know, it's way more flattering than shooting up at them with a wide-angle lens, which is gonna exaggerate things. So you know, these are considerations and again, these are all done with the interest of minimizing disruptions and protecting the image of the artist. And this leads to photo releases. You know, in addition to the photo pass and these common restrictions protecting the artist, photo releases for larger artists are a real consideration for artist management as a means to protect their clients and certainly for photographers because it may mean limitations on use and your rights to the images. A publicist basically wants to know four things when you request a photo pass and this is all under the presumption that the photographer is doing the request. Ideally, photographers aren't even requesting a photo pass. It's generally probably up to a photo editor or an assignments editor or a music editor at a publication. They're gonna have the most authority and the credibility because they're the ones dealing with publicists day in and day out. They're the ones getting the press releases, the tour announcements, et cetera. So if an editor can request this for you, that's gonna be your best bet. When I shot a lot more editorial, I personally liked to request the passes myself because it meant I could build a rapport with a publicist myself, that they might know my name and I could send them image links. They can have a more direct relationship. In addition, I could kind of ask for favors. I could say, "Hey, we wanna, "you know, do an editorial coverage. "We're gonna do a web gallery, and this and that. "I'd love to include in it an exclusive portrait. "Does the band have five minutes for that?" So that's the reason this is kind of set up under the context of a photographer requesting a photo pass. But they want to request... Sorry, a publicist wants to know four things when you request a photo pass, what your publication is, the coverage you're offering, the date and the venue, and last, your name. Your name's probably the least important thing on here. And the publication is really the single most important thing that a publicist wants to know because again, they're gonna be able to size up what you're offering, if they trust that publication, and basically, the value you're offering. Because with a finite number of press passes or credentials available at any given tour stop, and there are because there's a media buy that the label might do of 10 tickets or whatever the case might be, where they're buying those 10 tickets, there's a specific number of a photo passes allotted and they're going to give those photo passes, the media passes to the largest publications. If you're, you know, a local blog or you're whatever, you're going to be lower on the kind of pecking order. And so who you're shooting for is by far the most important thing when it comes to requesting a photo pass. And in terms of a photo pass request template, again, this is under the context of a photographer requesting it, but also something that an editor could use. You know, I'm a contributing photographer to Rolling Stone. We'd love to cover, you know, Jay-Z's show at Madison Square Garden in New York on August the 12th. This coverage will be for in print and a web gallery. My assigning editor is CC-ed. You know, can you provide me with a ticket and a photo pass for the show? Short and sweet, all the facts, all the details, and nothing the editor does not need to know. They don't need to know that, you know, you love this artist and you grew up listening to them and you're shooting for your portfolio, et cetera. You can say those things, but it's not going to get you a photo pass because it's not providing them value for that access. And again, if you're not shooting for a publication, your chances of being approved for a photo pass are extremely limited. The first photo pass I ever received was for an artist named Andrew Bird. And very naively, I emailed his publicist and manager, and kind of just, like, I just said, I was like, "Hey, I'm a fan, "I already have a ticket to the show. "Do you need a photographer?" I didn't even know that a photo pass existed. And very politely, his publicist replied, "Well, we don't have budget for a photographer, "but if you want a photo pass, we can arrange that." And a light kind of went off in my head, I was like, oh, photo pass, so that's what you need. But I wasn't even approaching it from the perspective of providing value. And simply because his tour manager was really nice and maybe, I don't know, took pity on me or thought it was endearing that a fan wanted to photograph the show and didn't have crazy restrictions or kind of, you know... For their artist, she granted me a photo pass and that was kind of how I got into it. But that's really an edge case, a very unique example. And for the most part, unless you're doing work for the publicist and the manager, you're not going to see any return on requesting to shoot for your own uses. All right, photo releases. This is a big, contentious topic in music photography because when you have larger artists, again, the management and the team surrounding this artist are always going to have more restrictions than if you're shooting a local band who's just starting out. So with photo releases, it's management's job to protect their client and their client's business interests. This is pretty basic, but it bears, you know, saying because from a photographer's point of view, you might think, oh, I wanna photograph Beyonce, why can't I photograph Beyonce? I need her image in my portfolio. But from a manager's point of view, it's a liability. They don't know you. They don't know where the images are going. Surely, it could just sit in your hard drive and then go in your portfolio. They don't know who's selling prints, putting it on a T-shirt, putting it on a coffee mug, et cetera. And so every point of access they give is simply a liability and the bigger the artist is, the bigger that liability is because as we know, in the music industry, it's tough. Selling your image is keeping your image intact. That's a huge part of brand building and what management and artists are trying to protect these days. And in regard to protecting themselves and the artists, you know, this holds true not only for their music, but for their image. You know, the management are trying to protect the royalties from Spotify and streaming services and album sales, but they're also protecting the image, the visual identity of their clients. So a photo release is designed to limit liability of how and where images of an artist may appear and be used. Common terms in a photo release or a contract might include, you can only use it for a specific publication, the original requesting publication. You can only use it for portfolio use. Maybe you can only use it for those things and there's no syndication specifically. You can't request under a publication and then turn around and submit it to Getty or WireImage because again, they don't know where the images are going. Even though Getty and WireImage might be syndicating it for editorial use, which is still fair use, the publicist wants the guaranteed placement and knowing exactly where those images are going ahead of time before approval. And lastly, the thing that's more scary to photographers is transfer of copyrights. And this is the part that's really contentious and alarming, as it should be, to photographers because you may be asked to transfer your copyright to a third party, to the artist, to the management, et cetera. And this brings up the whole notion of a copyright grab. And this is when you would be asked, in order to gain access to an artist, you're requesting under a publication, let's say, I wanna photograph whoever, the Rolling Stones. In order to photograph the Rolling Stones, you have to sign this release and it may include something that pertains to your copyright. I should emphasize, as the creator of an image, this goes for any type of photography, you automatically own the copyright to every single image you create until you assign it away and other agreements are made. This is simply a fact. And photographers need to understand this, that while you might not have all the rights to sell an image, to license it commercially, et cetera, you still have the right to that image and to use it within fair use. So here's a sample photography release. And this is one where it stipulates, you know, I'm requesting this and it's going to appear in this publication. And the more scary elements appear in the second clause where there's all kinds of alarming language, where I agree you shall have the right to exploit all or part of the photos in any and all media known or hereafter devised throughout the universe in perpetuity. I mean, if you see a contract that says in perpetuity, it should give you strong pause. Now, I should say this is for editorial use. That these are extremely alarming because it's common if you're shooting for commercial clients or for a brand, for a sponsor, you may be working in a work-for-hire situation. And obviously, if you're being fairly compensated for your copyright or for extended use, that's up to you. But if you're shooting for editorial, which, to be honest, we're gonna cover this later, editorial rates have been plummeting just as editorial publications have suffered in the last couple decades, and so if you're getting an editorial rate, which is not high to begin with, signing away your copyright to these images is a really a bad deal and not one you should take. And if you want an image in your portfolio just to have it, that's one thing. You really have to make that decision on your own. But as a music photographer and as someone who advocates for other photographers, I can't say that it's a great deal to make. And every time a photographer signs a release like this for an artist, it really kind of erodes the power of photographers, the integrity and, like, the strength. So I would really advise you to dig deep, think about whether you really need that artist in your portfolio, if you really wanna sign that release, and to think about it really hard. And I can't say that no photographer ever signed this because it's certainly something that happens. And by the same token, a lot of these photo releases have been historically simply scare tactics where I can't really imagine that there's a management company that has a whole, you know, binder or a cabinet full of photo releases that photographers have signed over the years. But you never know and you are signing a legal contract, so think long and hard about it. And hopefully, you know, if you can not sign a photo release, that's probably the optimal situation. So I would say it is your duty as a photographer to refuse any unreasonable photo release unless you're fairly compensated. And by the same token, I would say that if you're presented with a contract like this, just like any part of the business, as any photographer, every challenge is an opportunity. If you are presented with a copyrights grab, a photo release, whatever, by a publicist, by a manager, I would encourage you to push back, to say, "Hey, I'd love to cover this for my publication. "I don't feel comfortable with the terms here. "I promise I won't sell the images, do whatever, "but I don't feel comfortable "with transferring my copyright." And you may never know. There are instances where I've done just exactly that. I've called up the publicist, said, "Hey, I really don't wanna sign this. "This doesn't seem like a good deal." And they said to me, "Yeah, you know what, "you don't have to tell anyone. "Just don't sell the images." And the pass was approved, I shot the show, never sold the images, and everyone was happy. So I would say that all these situations, it's not always black-and-white. If you feel comfortable with it, definitely push back. And if you want that artist in your portfolio, you wanna cover the show, push back, and worse that can happen is they say, "Nope, you have to sign it," and you might have to walk.

Ratings and Reviews

Alexandra U

I highly reccomend this class for any one who would like to get started or dip their toes in the concert photography scene. This class has many useful tips and trick for any level of photographer, not just beginners. I have been in the music scene for over 10 years and I was able to gather so much information in every chapter. Watching this video boosted up my confidence as a photographer because it validated that I am already succeeding in my concert career. Thank you for this amazing stream. It sparked my creative soul once again.

Kris Comer

Wow, this was awesome! I have been a concert photographer for almost 3 years now and I still learned some great tips! I loved that he covered different ideas for promo shots which is one of my weaknesses. Any beginner should definitely check out this course! It is straight and to the point with all of the most important steps.

a Creativelive Student

I have been taking Creative Live classes since 2010 and this is at the top with the best classes t I have taken. This may have been the first time Todd taught a class, but you would never be able to tell. He doesn't just brag about the high profile clients he has shot, he also makes sure to relate to the photographer just starting out. I really enjoyed the two live shows as well as the additional portrait shoots. His concepts on location scouting, playing with distortion, multiple poses in one spot, speedlights, etc. can be applied to all kinds of photography, not just music photography. Highly recommend!

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