Tuesday, May 24, 2011



I got the chance to shoot a burlesque show recently; and got a little lesson in event photography on the fly. More words after the jump, as well as pictures (but note: they are *mildly* NSFW).

So it was my dear friend Liz’s birthday; the “plan” had been to go to Kennywood, our local and much beloved amusement park. But as the date grew closer, it became clear that the weather just wasn’t gonna cooperate; and at the last minuet changes were made and an alternative was found…

Friday morning I checked my mail – the new plan was to see a burlesque show that night.  Specifically the Sticky Buns Burlesque show out of Baltimore. Sounded fun; and hey, it might be interesting to shoot.

Now, a good rule for event photography is to not just show up with your camera and just assume you’ll be allowed to take pictures. Sure, most every cell-phone these days can take pictures (and in a lot of cases video comma HD). And yeah, a lot of point-and-shoot cameras pack just as many (if not more) megapixels as DSLRs. But I’ve been to plenty of events where half the audience was holding up their phones or compact cameras, but my gear was frowned upon. Point is: it’s always best to at least try and get permission before shooting any event. More specifically, this was a show where people were going to – you know – get all skimpy ‘n such. So I figured that the rule would apply times two.

One Google search later landed me on their web page, and therein an email address. Short and to the point: Me photographer coming to show can I? In this case I was also lucky enough to know the MC for this event, who’s name I referenced mostly so I didn’t come off as some Internet creeper.

Later that day, I got an email back: Sure, but with some restrictions. No backstage access, no use of photos without permission. Now, I’m asking these folks to do me a favor – ie, let me photograph what they do, so I’ve got no problem following their rules. This would turn out to be important later, when they announce pre-show that the taking of pictures was strictly prohibited; except for that one guy who was allowed. Heh.

When I arrived at the venue the doorman immediately eyed up my camera bag. Jumping the gun on him (because nothing works like the truth) I politely explained that I would be taking pictures and had permission to do so from the performers. Same thing when I entered the theater space where the performance would take place. I quickly spotted a security guard at the front of the stage and made a b-line for him. I introduced myself and let him know my deal.

Fun tip: People, as a general rule, like to feel the power that comes with authority. As I was walking over to the security guard I spotted my best position for taking photos – the front row of seats stage right. Now, this was a general admission show, and I had paid for my ticket. There is nothing stopping me from just sitting in the front row and just doing my thing. But after I introduced my self to the security guard, I asked him if it was ok for me to take pictures from there. It’s a silly question in this case, because he’s not gonna say “no”. But suddenly I’m his friend because I’m asking him, Godfather style, for his permission. Later – and twice during the show he came over to me and asked me if I was ok or needed anything. It’s the little things.

Shot the show, went home and did a quick run-through of the pictures. Picked a few of the better ones and quickly sent them off to the Sticky Buns folks with my thanks. The next day I went through the rest of the pictures (some 200 in all), cleaned them all up, zip’ed them into a file, and sent them off as well.

I don’t know if there is a moral to this story (or even a clever way to wrap it up), save this: Even when your shooting something for free & really just for fun, always treat everyone involved like a professional. Get permission, talk to and treat the venue staff with respect. Treat the subjects just like you would a paying client – follow their rules and get them the “deliverables” as promptly as you can. If you can do all that for a free gig, it only makes it that much easer when it’s “for reals”.





End of line.


  1. "... always treat everyone involved like a professional. Get permission, talk to and treat the venue staff with respect."
    couldn't agree more

  2. Very True!
    I shoot mainly concerts and find the more professional I am and the more I treat the folks I meet as kings of their domain the more doors that seem to open and the less hassles I get.
    ...Great post

  3. I completely agree. Plus, I think its great to use (with all respect to the performers) smaller shows to practice the right techniques that you’d use on larger gigs.