Earplugs for Concert Photographers

If you're a music photographer, you've no doubt been asked by your fellow concert photographers which earplugs you use. I know I've had this conversation several times, and I thought it would be a good topic for a blog as I try to make this a more regular thing.

There are tons of earplugs out there, from cheap foam earplugs that you can often find being given away at the promo table at most shows or being sold at the merch table, to high quality musician's earplugs. If you're a concert photographer, odds are you're going to want something a little higher in quality than those cheap foam things that will fall out of your ears. I know, I used those for the first concert I ever shot. They worked, but having to constantly fix them in my ears was annoying.

So what are your options and how much should you spend? I'll say that if you're professional concert photographer - i.e. you work directly for bands as either their show or tour photographer and are constantly shooting full shows - you should absolutely invest in the highest quality earplugs you can find, but if you're shooting shows through a media out and being paid very little or not at all, you can certainly find good earplugs at a reasonable price. These earplugs from SureFire are cheap and will do the job, as will these from Alpine Hearing Protection.

Then you have better quality earplugs for anyone from $10-$30 more than the ones linked above, like these (also Alpine) or these from Earasers, which come in 3 sizes and have replaceable gels available at a discount for when yours eventually wear out, and the Westone earplugs for about $45.

Finally, you've got high end earplugs like these $300 bad boys from Etymotic Research, which offer 24dB of noise cancellation. Those are what you should own if you're a working professional concert photographer and are getting the big bucks, but if you're shooting shows as media, stick with the much cheaper options.

I personally use Earasers. I bought them at a 40% discount through another photographer as part of his sponsorship promotion a little over a year ago, but they're super comfortable and priced reasonably enough for what they offer and how they fit in my ears. The only negative I find is that they're difficult to hold onto due to the entirely silicone construction, and I drop them a lot as a result - I've almost lost one of them on separate occasions, which is obviously a problem in a dark venue when a band is about to come on and you're next to the main, scrambling with a flashlight to find your missing earplug before the band starts playing.

That's the only downside to Earasers, and it could be easily fixed if they would offer an option to buy earplugs that are tethered to a string like other earplugs so that they can hang around your neck between bands, and you can't lose them trying to put them back in their case or in your ears. But they're very comfortable, at least for me, and they're always what I recommend to anyone looking for earplugs. Your mileage may vary from mine, but I'm happy with them overall and should definitely replace buds with fresh ones.

*Obligatory disclaimer: I'm NOT sponsored by Earasers and I get nothing from them for promoting their stuff. I'm just a guy who likes his hearing.

Shooting From The House & Steve Hackett Photo Blog

It's been a little bit since I wrote something here, hopefully I can make this a more frequent thing and actually stay on top of it. It's difficult to want to sit down and write a blog when you're constantly shooting, editing and writing review after review after review, but maybe when things slow down I'll be able to put more time into this.

Anyway. I wanted to talk a little bit about shooting from the house - more specifically, shooting a seated concert where there is no photo pit and you are not allowed to be at the front of the stage as you normally would. This happened at the Steve Hackett show I shot a couple months back. It was a seated show, in a venue that is normally GA standing room only. Aside from it being very weird to see seats on the floor, we were allowed to shoot from anywhere in the house - side stage, floor, VIP. Anywhere, as long as we weren't blocking anyone's view - for the entire 2 1/2 hour show.

That's another thing that almost never happens in this business. Normally, photographers are restricted to the first 3 songs, or songs 2-4 depending on the band, and that's it. So for Hackett to allow the entire show was pretty cool, and it was a fun show on top of that. But, here's the tricky part: How do you move around the house when you're allowed to shoot from anywhere, but not allowed to obstruct anyone's view?

Ideally, you want to shoot from the aisles or side stage, so that you're not standing in front of anyone and can easily move around, right? Nope, the aisles here were a no-go because of the way the back rows were set up, so while we could shoot from "anywhere", anywhere actually meant anywhere that didn't interfere with paying fans. So no pit, no front-of-stage, the board's too far and the aisles are off limits. What does that leave?

Basically, side stage and behind the last row of seats on what is normally the GA-pit level - there are 3 levels at PlayStation Theater - GA floor, GA standing room on a platform, and elevated GA seats behind that - I chose to shoot most of the show from the elevated area at stage right to give myself a better angle, and from the VIP, while also shooting from behind the last row on the floor for a bit. I honestly think I enjoyed that more than shooting from the pit, because when you shoot from the pit your angles are limited and are pretty much the same for every show. Shooting from the house gives a different perspective and lets you get unique shots, and it beats the hell out of being stuck at the board without the ability to be mobile. But you also have to be respectful of the people who paid to be there, because while the photo pit is your space, the house is theirs and they don't want to watch the show through the back of your head.

So, if you ever have an opportunity to shoot a show from the house, do it. It'll change your perspective on concert photography and I honestly wish I could do it more often instead of being stuck in a small pit with 20 other 'togs and no room to move.

Here are a few photos from the house at the Steve Hackett show:

Photo Pit Etiquette *RANT*

Okay, look, I get that everyone is in the pit for the same reason - to get their shots within 3 songs and get out of the way. That's fine, I don't have a problem with that and understand the rules are the rules for a reason, and photographers are limited to a minimal amount of time to shoot and leave the pit. Fine, I get it, that's not the issue.

The issue is people who walk around the pit like they own the place or like their photo pass - the same photo pass I and everyone else was given - entitles them to be an asshole. It doesn't. You don't get to push people out of the way or hold your camera up in front of other photographers, blatantly getting your entire camera body AND the speedlight you're not allowed to use and should not have mounted to your camera, in my frame for 3 songs.

See exhibit A above. I get it, photographers want different angles. That's fine, but you should NOT be doing this while standing in front of other photographers. You see me standing right beside you and you throw your camera, flash and all, into my frame because *YOUR* shot is more important than mine.

Is the image above the best photo? Nope. Is it any worse because there's a giant camera and hand in the frame? Probably not, but I have other shots I looked at and deleted because THIS GUY was so self important that he had to do the "Hail Mary" ALL NIGHT and ruin at least a dozen of my shots.

Again, let me be clear that I don't have a problem with photographers wanting different angles. That's fine, I do things all the time that allow me to get a different angle. What I DON'T do is throw my camera up in front of other photographers. I move behind them and out of their way so I don't interfere with their shot, because theirs is no less important.

Moral of this story is: don't be a jerk to the people you have to work with, because karma's a bitch and what goes around, comes around. Play nice in the pit, everyone, and happy shooting.

Obligatory cheap plug: Head over to www.soundboardmagazine.com for the full photo gallery and review from the Dropkick Murphys show featured above.