It’s good to be back here on Scotts’ blog. Thanks Scott and Brad. Photoshop World is fast approaching, and this year I’m thrilled to be presenting on Night and low Light Photography and Concert Photography. I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss an aspect of concert photography that those not in the business probably don’t even know about, and that is the Photo Release we are often asked to sign before photographing the band.
If I ruled the world and made up the rules, there would be no photo releases, but sadly (for me) I don’t rule the world (yet) and these releases are a part of doing business. Let me walk you through the typical steps involved with shooting a concert. I am going to talk about the recent 91X-Fest as an example because it is the perfect example of all the types of releases we get to deal with.
The 91X-Fest is the summer concert by the local radio station, and I have been photographing it for a variety of outlets for the last few years. This year I was covering the event for the radio station but since the actual concert was put on by Live Nation at a Live Nation venue, I still had to go through the local Live Nation representative to get permission to shoot the individual bands. I emailed my request to shoot the show, stating who I was shooting it for, and what the images would be used for.
There were 11 bands on the schedule, and the local Live Nation rep would compile a list of all the photography requests, contact the bands and get approvals, then get back to the photographers and let them know when said yes and who said no. The local rep was also in charge of sending out and collecting the signed photo releases for the bands that had them. The photo release is a form that stipulates where the images can be used and how they can be used. Most times, they restrict the photo usage to the specific outlet that you site when applying for the photo pass. So for example, since I was shooting for 91X, the images would be used on the 91X websites and social media accounts. If I was shooting for a magazine, then the images would be limited to that magazine. One of the bands headlining the 91X show was The Offspring, and they had a photo release that limited the images to just the outlet I was shooting for. Here is an example of what that looks like.
The second headlining act was Cheap Trick, and they also had a photo release. Their release is what’s known as a rights grab release where they allow you to shoot the concert but for that privilege, they then expect to not only be able to use the images for free, they expect the photographer to sign over the rights to the images without compensation. That wording looks like this.
Not only does the band expect to approve each photo used, they expect copies of all the images (you can tell how long the band has been using this release by the wording as there is no mention of digital files but instead still reference negatives and transparencies. So even though I was working for the radio station that was putting on the show, I refused to sign the Cheap Trick photo release and did not shoot their set. One of the reasons that bands get away with this is that there were other photographers who were quite happy to sign the release as it meant they got to photograph the band even though they were not earning a dime from the work. I can’t think of any other job where people would be happy to work for free, then give away the rights to their work, just because of the subject matter. (Notice I said work for free AND give away their rights). It’s a crazy idea, yet as concert photographers we seem to think it’s pretty normal.
Out of the 11 bands that performed at the 91X Fest, there were three bands with photo releases. The third band with a release was WOLFMOTHER, and their release was a first for me. It was a photo release that actually stipulated that I could use the images for self promotion, on my social media outlets provided that it was representative of my work as a whole. It also allowed the band to use the images for their social media and websites and non-commercial use. I was good with that.
The rest of the bands that day did not have any photo release at all. You can see some of the images from their sets in this blog post. So if you have wondered about the rules when photographing a concert, I hope this cleared up some things and why you don’t always see the images from the shows I shoot on my social media or website.