Photo Pit Etiquette

Photo Pit Etiquette

Photo Pit Etiquette

Let’s talk about the coolest spot in a venue – the photo pit. The photo pit is the special area in front of the stage that separates the audience from the artist on-stage. This is our working area and safety zone as concert photographers.

The photo pit experience will be different at every concert you shoot. You might have this space all to yourself or you might have to share it with 40 other colleagues.

As you can tell, shooting from the photo pit can be an awesome experience, but it can also be very challenging. Therefore, I want to give you some advice on how to survive in the photo pit and make it enjoyable for everyone.

Yes, we’re all trying to get that perfect shot. However, does that mean you have to bully your way through the shot? Absolutely not.

Here are 5 tips to refresh what etiquette should be followed in that narrow pit we all adore.

  • Don’t use flash! Not only will it blind the artist, it will probably get you kicked out of the pit (or show). This is always a big no when it comes to photographing in the pit. So leave your flash at home or make sure you disable it on your DSLR. Read more about my essential camera settings here.
  • 3 Song Rule. In general, you’re only allowed to shoot from the photo pit for the first three songs. It’s now normal that the “3 Songs” rule has been established on a global scale from small clubs to big stadium concerts. The time you have to get your shots is therefore often no more than 10 minutes depending on the band. Leave the pit after the security guys have told you to go and don’t try to continue shooting. Even from outside the photo pit.
    Who do we have to thank for these restrictions? I have heard several stories that Mr. Bruce Springsteen started this back in the 80`s, because he was pissed of with all the photographers in the pit taking photos all the time. Despite these restrictions, I always prefer the photo pit as my main shooting area at concerts.
  • Be nice! Yes, that shot might be a killer one but don’t take it at the expense of you blocking someone else or completely derailing someone from their spot. It does get tight at times in some pits especially if there’s a lot of photographers, so you’re not going to be the only one trying to get an amazing shot. A suggestion is to maybe talk to some of the photographers before the show starts and get a little signal going, like a light tap on the shoulder – that way there’s less tension as well.
  • Respect the security guys. Security guards are your friends but they can also be your worst enemy in the photo pit. They have a tough job and have to ensure the safety of the artist on-stage. At some shows there will be crowd surfers who will try to climb onto the stage and do everything and anything in order to reach their idols. In this sense, the security guards are also protecting you and making sure nobody kicks you in your back, or worse, destroys your camera equipment when flying into the photo pit. Be polite and obey their rules, as they can make or break your shoot.
  • Along with the above tip, be nice to the fans at the front of the pit. They paid good money to be at the very front of the stage only to be blocked by photographers. So just try not to block them as much.

Even if the pit is crazy crowded (like the photo above provided by my friend Steve Brazill at the Ozzfest meets Knotfest), just do what you can with what you have. But last of all, have a good time – not a lot of people get the opportunity to shoot from the pit, so embrace it.

Listen to my Podcast episode with Steve Brazill about Photo Pit Etiquette here.

Let me know your photo pit experiences in the comments below.

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  • John Decker
    • Thanks for sharing your great work John! Indeed there are times when photos from the back of the venue also work really well.

  • Mike McKenney
    • Great shots Mike and thanks for posting! Especially with more famous bands the “Front of house” rule is getting more popular.

  • Dennis Percevecz JR

    I want to be in the pit

    • Hi Dennis. If you want to get access to the photo pit you´ll need a press accreditation from a magazine or online blog. There are also other ways to get into the pit e.g. when you work directly with a band

  • Rui Bandeira

    i think that the flash shoud not be on camera on the pit even if its off, because it will probably block the view of the photographer that is behind you.
    And please never ever take you backpack to the photo pit,much less, use it on your back on the PIT…everytime you move the guy behind you gets kiked with your backpack…

    • Hi Rui, thanks for sharing your tips. Exactly, put your backpack somewhere in the photo pit where it doesn’t block your colleagues

      • Rui Bandeira

        when i see a photograther on the PIT with the backpack on is back it alwais reminds me of the Ninja turtles… 😀

    • Mike Hughes

      I can never understand it. Esp at something like a multi day festival, it’s heaven to get in the pit and dump the pack side stage for a few minutes. I’ve even tried just putting the cameras on at the car, maybe one spare lens in my pocket, and leaving the back behind entirely. I got the idea off someone else who wears a long enough raincoat to cover both cameras. Much easier if you’re using Blackrapids or similar straps though, so the cameras dangle down at your sides

      • I totally agree Mike. The Blackrapids are great straps as well to avoid neck pain on a longterm run

    • Danny Frischknecht

      a very good piece for making your life easier is a camera belt like the spider pro dual system where you can handle two cameras. you can change the cams very fast, they are really good arrested in the belt and during the festival you get your hands free and your shoulders happy. about 200+ € as a good investment.

      • Thanks Danny for the tip! Is there a special camera strap brand you´re suggesting? I use the HoldfastGear Moneymaker strap which allows to use up to 3 camera bodies (not that I have 3 cameras in the pit 😉 )

  • Rui Bandeira

    and one thing to remenber also…alwais wear black or dark clothes, the less you are seen the best.
    all stage tecks and roadies wear black for a reason.

    • Yes, especially in indoor venues. I don´t have a a problem wearing a white Tshirt in the photo pit of big festivals. It happend last month when I was shooting The Rock En Seine Festival in Paris. The temperature was above 35°C, so I decided to make my life easier with a white T shirt 😉

      • Rui Bandeira

        yep, and in big festivals the org is starting to make the photographer use a special vest winth a strong color and some times with a big logo so in big festivals ist ok.
        if im shooting for a band that gives me total access to pit, stage and backstage i alwais use black

        • When I am working with a band on stage I always wear black. People pay to see the band and don´t want to get distracted by a photographer on stage.

  • Kateřina Triss

    I absolutely agree with all the rules written there + the one about backpack. Because I usually use 2-3 lenses, I started to take with me to the pit a small handbag, which is incredibly useful and small enough not to kick other photographers. It is ALWAYS good to talk to other photographers and security people (if they are willing to talk). During my last event (2 days long punk festival) I made a friend from one of the security guys, we were talking about music and everything – and he let me put my big backpack in bacstage for security, so I could easily and comfortably take photos from “the crowd” 🙂 Maybe one more plead: please, in photopit to not raise your hands with your camera all the time, especially if you are standing in the middle of the pit. Other photographers have a big problem not to have your hands on their pictures. My sample picture was made from the middle of the crowd, band: Pennywise.

  • Mike Hughes

    If you’re gonna shoot in portrait mode, there’s a right and wrong way. Try and avoid the ‘right arm over the top’ mode, if that makes sense? Instead swing the camera so your trigger finger is at the bottom, then the rest of us won’t be trying to shoot past your raised right elbow. It’s steadier too. Everyone I shoot for wants it mainly in landscape, but now and again it’s necessary
    I won’t even go there with Live View mode – just ‘no’

    • Thanks for sharing your advice Mike!

    • Michael Butterworth

      Both of those really wind me up. The best solution is to get a vertical grip, that not only solves the elbow problem, but it’s more comfortable for you. I did have one guy recently who clearly did not know what he was doing, the camera he was using had a vertical grip and he still did a right elbow up manoeuvre in front of me!!!!!!

      • thanks for your comment Michael. I agree, a vertical grip might be the best option

    • thanks for sharing this tip Mike!

  • Miles

    Dude are you some kind of fuckin asshole? Why are you giving tips to MORE people who want to get in the pit? Lets just alll give someone a goddamn photopass. This industry is horse shit and people like you are fucking it up even worse by telling all to hear so that they and their mother can shoot shows and allow the pits to get crazy filled. There are more photographers than people know what to do with them. Fuck you.