Photographing Rock Stars at the Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco
When my buddy Marc needed someone with a “nice camera” to take photos at the 2010 Outside Lands music festival for his newspaper, the Benicia Herald, I jumped at the opportunity.
The unpaid but totally awesome gig came with a VIP pass and special entrance to the photographer’s pit right in front of the stage for the first three songs of each artist’s set.
Al Green: Gospel and Soul Music Singer
First up was Al Green and I arrived in the photographer’s pit around 10 minutes early. My first act was to stake out a prime position directly in line with center stage, which also had a ledge to stand on for a more level shot.
As Al came on, the crowd went wild and he began throwing kisses and roses to the audience while I snapped away.
“Zoom in, pull out, change a lens on the quick, try and get a drummer in the background, focus on just Al’s face, get his whole body in, up on the ledge, shooting from the ground.”
Before I knew it, Al Green’s three songs were over and I had managed to take more than 200 photos in around 12 minutes. I was also completely hooked on the rush of being in the pit, searching for the perfect photograph and jockeying my way around a sea of fellow shutterbugs.
Phoenix: French Rock Band
Phoenix came on a few hours later and I found that arriving just as the set started was not a good idea. The sparsely populated pit from Al Green’s performance was now teaming with photographers lined up in rows clamoring for the perfect angle. I couldn’t get by them to return to my prime spot and had no choice but to start shooting from the far left of the stage.
Thomas Mars Was a Foot From My Camera
As luck would have it, the right moment fell in my lap when Thomas Mars, Phoenix’s lead singer, decided to climb into the crowd directly in front of me and serenade the crowd.
Though his back was to me, I stretched out my arm and used every bit of leverage my 6’3 body could muster to position my wide angle lens as close to his face as possible and held down the shutter. I’m quite happy with how a few of them came out and literally being a foot away from the action was a heart-racing thrill.
“OMG, he’s right next to me going into the crowd – let’s hope some of these come out because I can’t see what I’m shooting. He’s back on stage rocking out – try to get some motion in the images. Wait, my three songs are up already?”
Why Only Three Songs?
I’ve heard a few different theories as to why photographers are only allowed in the pit for the first three songs. One idea is that the artists don’t want photos taken once they start to sweat.
Another is that they tailor the beginning of their show to the photographers and then once we are all gone, the artists are freer to “go wild” without worries that their “rock-out face” will be misrepresented.
NAS and Damian Marley: Rapper and Reggae Legend
After crossing the enormous length of the festival grounds, I once again arrived at my next concert moments before it began.
Upon arriving at the entrance to the pit, the security guard in front looked at my wristband and decided he detected fraud.
“Where did you get your wristband,” he asked. “From the Benicia Herald,” I replied.
“Who is that?” was his response, at which point I quickly explained why I was legit.
All the security guard could come up with next was “so do I have to let you in?” I quickly said yes as I walked by him and pulled out my camera.
“Get the Jamacian flag in the shot.
Wait for the flag to be behind his head.
Come on guys, stand next to each other and sing.
There’s too much space between NAS and Damian.
Switch lenses real fast and take closeups.
Too much NAS, not enough Marley.
I’m still waiting for my money shot.
Throw your hands in the air…wait, gotta concentrate.
There it is. A few more.
Wait, I don’t want to leave yet.”
That’s a Wrap!
With that final ushering out of the pit, my day as a rock and roll photographer had come to an end. I did not have the credentials to enter the pit for the headliner, Kings of Leon, so instead I retreated back to the Chase Freedom VIP lounge where I had spent much of the day enjoying free food and beverages while chatting with other photographers.
The whole experience was a wild ride and one I hope I get the opportunity to do again. I loved the rush of being in the pit, shooting by the seat of my pants and making constant adjustments to the camera as I followed the artist’s every move on the stage waiting for that perfect moment to click the shutter.
It was also pretty great having pretty much full access to the entire festival except for behind the stage. So thank you to Marc and I can’t wait to see my photos in tomorrow’s Benicia Herald.
Tweeting the Experience
When I wasn’t taking photos, I did a little bit of Tweeting about the experience. Below are all of my updates from the course of the day.
Taking pics frm the photog pit up front is like having 1st row seats but still watching it from a small tv in my hands.After 3 songs all photogs must leave the pit. God forbid a musician gets a sweaty pic taken.Theres so much free beer, wine, food, water and soda in the media areas its a wonder ne1 stops to take pics.
Getting yelled at by a bouncer on a power trip is funny.
Its all about luck when the lead ringer frm Phoenix goes crowdsurfing right in front of the spot i got cuz i was super late 4 their set.
Guy @ NAS show asked me who i got my photog band frm and if he had to let me in. I simply replied yes then walked past him to the pit.
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Here are the rest of the photographs that I took at Outside Lands 2010.