Struggle of a Concert Photographer

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File Photo: A Sony camera covered in fake projectile blood during a Gwar concert.

Alisha Kirby
Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Approximately 30,000 music fans descended on the Bridge District this past weekend to attend Sacramento’s second annual TBD festival, filling the air with marijuana smoke and Selfie Sticks.

A quick scan of the crowd made it apparent that a majority planned to document the event via constant, blurry cell phone pictures.

A handful of photographers at the event, however, were there to do a job, donning press passes and 15 pounds of gear which appeared to get heavier as the three nights wore on.

Yet many of them are unlikely to receive a paycheck for their work.

“As a concert photographer, I have yet to make any money on concert photography,” said Bryce Fraser, founder of Shiftsync Media, a Sacramento-based lifestyle blog.

A music photographer may be in a constant state of unpaid internship status, often working to convince clients that his or her work is of monetary value.

“When it’s something fun, like concerts or even a sports game, you’re expected to do it for the experience,” Fraser said.

Unfortunately, the cost of a professional grade camera and the various lenses one may need for different jobs quickly adds up, said Carlos Almanza, a photographer at XSiGHT Productions studio in Downtown Sacramento.

“Cost-wise, the gear runs for about $5,000 but I’m fortunate enough to have a studio that backs me and allows me to use the gear for free,” Almanza said.

Almanza, who studied video production and film at the Art Institute and boasts seven years of experience, still finds himself bartering his work for studio time for friends’ bands.

The problem, he said, lies in the misconception that professional-grade photography is as simple as aiming the camera and pressing a button.

“I would say that it takes a certain amount of skill to take a legitimately good photo,” Almanza said. “You need to know your light and composition, because it’s way more than just picking up a camera, saying ‘stand here,’ and pressing the shutter.”

It is difficult to draw a discernible line in the sand to separate those who are considered “real” photographers from those who are not, Fraser said. Some say it all depends on whether or not one earns a paycheck, while others say a degree or a varied portfolio is necessary.

“The line is definitely blurred,” Fraser said, “(but) having some knowledge of photography and what makes a good photo helps. It is an art form, but not many people treat it as one.”

Fraser recounts last year’s After Shock festival, where bands including Weezer, the Offspring and Awolnation took to the stage at Discovery Park in Sacramento.

Almost a dozen people in the photo pit — an area directly in front of the stage barricaded off from the rest of the crowd and only made available to those with press passes — used nothing but iPads and cell phones.

There is a level of professionalism that Fraser said is disappearing, which makes it harder to leverage one’s own abilities when discussing pay.

Despite the frustration of being expected to work for free, however, some photographers say passion will always be a driving force when deciding what projects to take on.

“One time, a band and I set out in the snow with a couch to take promotional photos in the snow,” said Allen Daniel, freelance photographer for 1906 Studios and Joyus, an online department store.

Though woefully unprepared in only a pair of skinny jeans and a windbreaker, Daniel laid in the snow to get the “perfect shot,” something he said he didn’t think twice about.

“It felt like my fingers were going to fall off and I couldn’t feel my feet,” Daniel said with a laugh, “but I definitely learned my lesson and it was blast creating those images for the band.”

No mater the project, the more creative the picture, the more work and expertise it likely took to make it happen, Daniel said.

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