The media pit: the coveted spot to be at any show, right? Staring into your favourite artist’s eyes as you capture them, mid-bar of your favourite song, with the stage lights illuminating off of their sleek jacket that flaunts their fame and fortune while smoke billows out around them, creating an easy money shot.

Sounds perfect. But unfortunately, that’s not usually what all goes down in the fenced-in limbo between the stage and the crowd.

For large shows, you usually have three short songs to get the shots you need before security ushers you out into the pack of drunk, screaming fans who will make it impossible to get any type of usable footage with their waving limbs and tossing of their sweat-soiled hair. Three songs. You have less than 15 minutes to find the right lighting, settings, angle and poses to capture the artist in all of his/her live-performance glory, all the while sardined into a tiny area with 20 other photographers, climbing over each other to get the same shot, while the artist spits and sweats all over you and fans behind you high-pitch scream into your ear. Turn up.

I don’t call myself a photographer, but I’ve had the opportunity to photograph a number of artists in their natural habitat such as Danny Brown, Wu-Tang Clan, Action Bronson, Ab-Soul, Talib Kweli, Fabulous and Pusha T, to name a few. I have lived to tell the tales, although on a few occasions, just barely.

Samantics’ Media Pit Survival Guide:

Watch your back. Wear a helmet, shoulder pads; hell… you might as well just come in full football gear, because it gets physical. I remember last year at Canadian Music Week, Tyler the Creator came to Toronto and performed at The Opera House. Since Urbanology had hopped on media accreditation early, there was a videographer from another publication and me in the pit. What we thought would be a fairly comfortable photographer experience, turned into a warzone when Tyler’s DJ, Taco, hit the stage. The underage crowd erupted, moshing and crowd surfing in the sold-out venue to Schoolboy Q and Chief Keef records. Security dove into the pack of people like superheroes, pulling out younger kids who were getting trampled in the madness. While zooming in on Taco, through my Canon lens, I nearly collapsed after receiving a blow to the back of my head. A crowd-surfing fan had lost his balance and had fallen into the pit on his head, kicking me in the back of mine on the way down. He cracked his head open on the steel grate on the Opera House floor, leaving a puddle of blood by my combat boots. From that day forward, I’ve been just as conscious of what’s happening on stage as I am with the ruckus behind me.

Make friends with security. Although they can be a pain, security is there to do their job and you are too. You might as well work together. On occasion, I’ve asked security to hop on stage to snap a few shots, even without official backstage access. If they see you’re doing what you came to do and come back after you get the shots you need, you begin to build a good working relationship, which can make life a lot easier. If it wasn’t for Kool Haus security, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be onstage photographing Wu-Tang Clan, which to this day has been a career and life highlight of mine.

Get to the venue early. Study the lighting and angles of the stage in order to find the right settings and post up in your spot of choice so you’re prepared when the artist comes barreling out onto the stage. From then, you will have no time to waste. Shout-out Urbanology’s Art Director Isa Ransome (@IsaRansome) with the best F Stop, ISO and shutter speed tips.

Bring earplugs. This is something that I regret not doing since the beginning of my concert days and have suffered hearing loss in my left ear, because of it. It all happened at the Meek Mill show last winter when the notorious screamer performed at Luxy. The club was rammed, so much so that it was nearly impossible to move. I had a great visual spot to shoot right beside the stage speakers. Unfortunately, a little too close. From “House Party” to “I’m A Boss” Meek rapped his ass off, but at the expense of my eardrum. I wasn’t able to hear out of my left ear for about a week and when my hearing did return, it wasn’t to the same caliber it had been before. I find my ears a lot more sensitive at events now so I recommend earplugs, so you aren’t deaf by the age of 30, which I probably will be, all thanks to M-M-M-Maybach Music.

Network with fans in the front row. Make concert-goers feel special by snapping a photo or two of them and their friends, hand them a business card and let them know where they can find your work. Take a photo of them with your business card. Answer their semi-annoying questions about what it’s like to meet famous people and how much you get paid for your dream job, because hey, you know the show isn’t going to start for three more hours and it’s a great networking opp. You may never use the photos, but you’ll see how quickly you build a following and brand yourself as that person with the camera at the shows.

Don’t be that guy (or girl). The guy that shoves other photographers to get the shot. Nobody likes that guy. That guy gets ‘accidentally’ elbowed.

Have fun. Don’t let the pressure of getting the shot suck your passion for it. Thrive off of the lights, the music and the energy of the fans and let that inspire you.

Photo By. Janelle Scott-Johnson

Samantics is a weekly column, written by columnist Samantha O’Connor, highlighting and discussing the Toronto hip-hop community – the talent, the identity, the events, the slang, the industry and all things in between.

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