SURREY — Front-row-centre is a pretty good view for concerts - that is, if you're OK paying a scalper hundreds of dollars for the "privilege" of looking up the lead singer's nose for two hours.
You know what's a better view that money can't buy? The photo pit.
It's that little strip at the front of the stage where the security guards stand to catch crowdsurfers and prevent stagedivers. If you've been to a show at the Commodore Ballroom or Vogue Theatre in the last year or so, odds are you've seen me pointing cameras at the talent onstage. (I wear a backward red baseball cap and have a goatee shaped like the Rebel Alliance logo from Star Wars.) I've been photographing concerts ever since I found out my university newspaper, The Runner, could get me into shows for free. The fact that I could take photos at the front of the stage was a bonus, but it's what really hooked me into music journalism.
My first show was Danish heavy metal quartet Volbeat (trust me, they're popular in certain circles) at a sold-out Commodore Ballroom. I couldn't believe security just let me walk into their pit, right in front of the people who'd waited hours at the barricade.
Granted, they gave me three songs and then I was out, but it was a thrill - I'd never been that close to a big-time musician before. The lead singer was within arm's reach, and I could take as many photos as my memory card could hold.
The Runner got me into Van Halen, Motörhead, Roger Daltrey, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, and the Jack Black/Kyle Gass rock comedy duo Tenacious D, among others. Plus, it allowed me to get shots that were far better than any an iPhone could capture.
After graduating, I started my own concert photography website, Shot @the Show (shotattheshow.com), to continue my pursuit of amazing live-music imagery. I typically shoot two or three concerts a week, but I sometimes shoot two or three shows in one night.
I've shot at Rogers Arena, Pacific Coliseum, Rickshaw Theatre, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Orpheum Theatre, Malkin Bowl and the PNE, among other live music sites. I go to some venues so often that I know most of the security guards by name.
Last I counted, I've photographed more than 150 artists, including John Mellencamp, Adam Ant, Snoop Dogg, Iron Maiden, Heart, Linkin Park, John Fogerty, Steve Vai, Alice Cooper and Journey.
Rumoured to have been started by Rush drummer/rock 'n' roll overlord Neil Peart, there is a standard set of rules for taking photos professionally at concerts: three songs, no flash, from the pit. Some bands ask that you shoot from the sound board, others require you to publish photos only in black and white. (I'm looking at you, The Neighbourhood.) But others make harsher demands: Jay-Z only gives photogs 90 seconds of each of his first two songs to shoot, and Avril Lavigne has required that shutterbugs send 11-by-14-inch prints of their photos to her lawyer within a week of publication.
And it's not always good times being in the pit, either: I once took a full beer to the back of the head while waiting for Iced Earth to hit the stage. At least, I hope it was beer.
And some concert-goers can be quite hostile when you're standing in front of them. Yes, you "paid good money" to be there - right there, on the other side of the barricade. Now suck it up for 12 minutes and I'll be out your line of sight until next week.
But for the most part, it's as awesome as the first time I set foot in the pit. I could never predict the time when P.O.D. vocalist Sonny Sandoval jumped into the pit and climbed on top of the crowd, or when the bassist of Chevelle put a guitar pick on my head while I obliviously looked down at the photos I'd taken. (A fan grabbed the pick of the top of my head and I was none the wiser.) The biggest show I've ever shot to date was, believe it or not, in Surrey: Mumford & Sons at Holland Park. While I have wretched disdain, to put it politely, toward the group's sound and the members of the hipster subculture it attracts, it was quite the experience to have 25,000 people behind me while I photographed away - in front of each and every one of their pretentious, tweed-wearing, post-ironic fans.
Concert photography will never get old for me. I still get that anxious feeling when I'm standing in the pit, waiting for a band to hit the stage - and once the show starts, it's that same thrill time and again.
Check out my live music photos at shotattheshow.com, and while you're at it, like it on Facebook at facebook.com/shotattheshow.
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