This morning I happened to come across an article at Fstoppers regarding the concept and rule of photographing the first three songs for a band's performance at a concert. The article can be found at "Living by the Three Song Rule as a Band Photographer - Fstoppers". While it covers some good points overall, I wanted to take a moment to give my thoughts on the practice and why I'm a firm believer in establishing a limit and respecting boundaries.
You are not there to enjoy the show as a fan
Read that statement above. Read it twice or three times if you have to. That is what should be in your mind and ever present when you are photographing a show. You are not there as a fan. You are there to cover the show in a professional manner.
Covering the show in a professional manner means respecting the rules established by the band, their management, and or publicist. If a band states they only want the first three songs covered, it is not your place to question that, offer alternatives, or go beyond that limit. Getting credentialed is a privilege not a right, especially consider a lot of bands have their own photographers.
I posted the Bon Jovi picture above for a good reason. That concert saw us shoot one song from the back of the venue and one song from the side of the pit. They were not ideal conditions, but everyone credentialed made it work the best they could. Bon Jovi has a very prominent tour photographer, who actually came out and gave us pointers on what to do in regards to the rules established. Instead of complaining, we took the advice and ran with it.
There could be numerous reasons why a limit is in place. Some acts do not like being photographed later in the show when they are tired and sweaty. Others might have specific light cues they want captured in the first three songs and not in the remainders. Some might not want a constant distraction of camera lenses poking up at them while they play and want to eliminate that as early as possible. Whatever the reason is, though, I do my best to respect it.
"But David, what about all the fans with cell phones? Aren't they distractions? Why do they get to do it and we can't?"
You mean the fans that paid money to watch the show? Yeah, that argument isn't going to fly with me. Again, if you are not the band's official photographer, you really do not have a leg to stand on when trying to argue anything in your favor. That's just the way things are. The quicker you realize your importance in the grand scheme of things, the better.
The reason I posted the photo of Weird Al is to let you know that some artists will take into account the production of their show and let you shoot past a particular song limit. Because of Yankovic's performance style and multiple costume changes, I got to shoot the entire concert.
Some artists understand this, and others don't. Again, that's just the way it is and, as a concert photographer, I don't lose any sleep in trying to convince the ones that don't to change their minds. It is their concert, and I am a guest. It is not my place to try and change things for my benefit.
This applies even if I know the images are going to be better. If a band or act has poor or limited production during their song limit yet changes course later in the show by pulling out all the bells and whistles, good for them. I am not going to photograph it if they do not want it covered. I am still walking away with images from the performance and, for what I do, I can assure you that the more eye popping photos do not always translate into getting licensed. Some of the best photos I have ever taken have sat dormant, while others that are plain, ordinary, and straight to the point have made me money. That discussion, though, can be saved for another time.
If a band is bummed out they do not look good in the images during the limit put in place, that is their problem, and they need to address it internally and review their policies.
A band or act is also not supposed to make your job easy. I am a firm believer in the concept of "playing with the hand that you've been dealt". When I get to a show, I can get a good sense of how things are going to look and can react accordingly. I strive to produce the best images possible under the circumstances handed to me. Each show is different. Each act is different. It would be foolish to expect anything else.
Touching back on shooting the full Weird Al show, I do want to state that, for a lot of acts, this would be overkill. There is simply no reason to shoot an entire performance, especially if the band does not do a lot on stage. I always shake my head when I hear people say "I took 1,000 images at this show" when I know the act does not move or do anything worth taking 1,000 images. If you can properly capture the feel and look of the show in 1-2 songs then you do not need to cover the entire show.
This is why a song limit will never bother me. I'm glad the author of the Fstoppers article wrote his perspective because it gave me a reason to finally put mine out there as well.