In Australia it is likely that about 95% of the photographers in the pit at any given gig are working for free, for the love of it. We get to see lots of great music and amazing gigs, but we also get to gigs early to get a good position, to shoot up and coming/support bands, we sometimes get escorted in and out of venues – having to wait outside for each bands set to commence, we work for hours after we get home, editing shots and getting them online as soon as possible after the show – all because we love photography and we love live music.

I have been shooting live music for online publications since 2008. I love it, in part because it’s a huge challenge! You never know what you are going to get until the show starts; what lighting you will have, what sort of performance you will be trying to capture, how active the crowd will be, how many other photographers you will need to work around. And even when you think you know, it can all change in a second. It is not easy, and it’s even more difficult to do well.

It’s also not cheap. My kit is minimal compared to many, yet it’s total cost would still be around $7000. While I do it for the love of it, I would also love to make a career from it. A paid career. Photographers are often asked to shoot “for exposure” or “for credit” with the intention being that people will then see those shots and offer you paid work. But paid photography work in this industry in rare, and it is becoming more commonplace for a photographer to be required to sign away the ownership of their images, or their ability to use the images for any other purpose beyond a singular editorial use, before being allowed to shoot a performance. I have signed contracts that have specifically prevented me from using images in my own portfolio, that have stated I must hand over the “negatives” of my images to the band if requested to do so, and even that a band “shall have the right to exploit all or a part of the Photos in any and all media, now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe, in perpetuity, in all configurations as [they] determine, without obtaining my consent and without any payment or consideration therefor”. Yep, it gets pretty intense!

I understand that there may be some people out there who do the wrong thing, who try and profit from photos they have taken of an artist, maybe selling shots to be used on t-shirts, or posters etc. And I assume that this is, at least in part, the reason why there are such tight conditions on some of these contracts. It’s completely understandable that an artist wants to protect their image.

There is no doubt that live music photography takes a lot of skill, but it also involves being in the right place at the right time. You can’t get the shot if your aren’t there, and the longer you have to shoot for, the more opportunity you have to catch a great moment. Without being granted access to shows, we can’t capture these moments professionally, though nearly everyone in the crowd has mobile phones and as we all know they are happy to use them throughout the whole show – resulting in poor quality images (and video) surfacing all over the internet. A good photographer will cull their images, presenting only the best; those that convey the feeling of the performance, that show the performers caught special in moments, while there is no control over what the crowd captures.

For a live music photographer there is no bigger compliment than seeing one of your shots being chosen/shared/used by the musician you have photographed. It means that out of all of the available images, they thought your shot captured something special and they liked it enough to share it with their fans. For me, personally, live music photography is my passion and my artistic expression. This is why it is so heartbreaking to see images being shared without crediting the photographer. Sometimes the photographer’s name wont be tagged/mentioned in the post, sometimes the watermark will even be cropped out before it is shared. It takes away the ability for the photographer to be appreciated for their work, for their skill, and takes away the opportunity for potential work via this exposure.

So what I am hoping to do with this project is better understand all perspectives on the relationship between a live performance and images of the performances, of the art of the musician and the art of the photographer, of the businesses surrounding music and photography. To open up a conversation that will allow us to all better understand the value in this dynamic and how musicians and photographers can come together to help each other and our industries.