Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away (college), I used to devote my Thursdays and Fridays to snapping concert photos in L.A. for music publications. This not only helped fill my piggy bank with beer money, but also taught me the fine art of not being an inconsiderate jerk to other concert-goers whilst taking photos. And now that the summer festival season is winding down and live music is (largely) scampering back indoors, it seemed like an opportune time to not-so-humbly submit a few etiquette tips.
Here, in no special order, are a few easy rules for Instagramming/snapping photos at a show without being that annoying person blocking everyone else's view of the stage:
1. Take your photos within the first three songs
First things first: It's perfectly fine to whip out your smartphone and take a few photos. You paid money to be there. Just get it all out of your system within the first three songs. Unless you're watching Björk strap on magical angel wings made out of solar panels an hour into her set, usually the band/act you're watching will dispense with most of their various lighting scenarios and gimmicks within the first few songs.
Plus, the best part about a photo of a live performance is no one knows what song is playing. R. Kelly could be doing something so-so like "Fiesta" and you could hashtag it "Ignition Remix" and no one would know! Then you can put your phone away and sway back and forth with your hands in the air (or whatever).
Exceptions: The lead singer is doing something kooky, like climbing the 10-foot speaker system or throwing a self-indulgent hissy fit; an unexpected guest comes out (the rest of 'NSync rising out of the stage counts); the venue is kind of empty, in which case snap as many photos as you want. Just remember…
2. Don't use flash
Your iPhone's little flash is woefully underpowered for such occasions, especially in dark venues or at night. If you're 10 feet away from the performers, your photo will still be blurry. If you're right up at the stage, taking a flash photograph is basically doing the Men in Black memory-wipe thing to whoever's performing, which is very rude of you.
My advice? Hold your phone up (flash off), frame your shot, and hit the shutter whenever the onstage lighting peaks. Eighty percent of concert photography is serendipitous, anyway. Sometimes you just get lucky.
3. Don't upload it there!
Still using Instagram to actually take the photo? Total newbie move. Use a camera app of your choosing (like VSCO Cam), snap a few shots, then put your phone away for the rest of the set. Upload it later when you're on your way home, while your ears are still ringing and you aren't surrounded by sweaty people.
4. Vine judiciously
This is where things get tricky. Vine and Instagram Video can really help you get a *feel* for a memorable live performance (at least if you're not at a Prince concert). For example:
That sign language lady is great! And you wouldn't have been able to capture all her gusto in a photo.
Now it's worth bearing in mind that 98 percent of all your Vining will come out forgettable, blurry, and probably with indecipherable audio. And whenever you're focusing all your efforts on keeping a few pixels depressed on a 4- to 5-inch screen, you're obviously not "experiencing" the concert to its fullest potential.
So for the sake of everyone around you, let's say you're allowed one Vine max per live set.
5. Be cool
Obviously none of these are hard and fast rules, and there are endless variables you have to consider at any show. What if the concert is outside during the daytime? What if Miley Cyrus twerks into a pole? What if there's an orchestra? What if Bob Dylan crumbles into a dust pile and is literally blowing in the wind during his last song ever? (In which case, you should definitely take a photo.)
But as a basic rule of thumb, think: Would this annoy the people around me? And when all else fails, remember that it's always better to have your phone tucked away than to have it out — the truth of the matter is that your Instagram friends probably don't care nearly as much about how you spent your Friday evening as you do.
With all that in mind, happy shooting!