To Shoot or Not To Shoot Concert Photography


In recent days, Taylor Swift with her management team took on Apple Music over a rather greedy over-reach by Apple. Taylor Swift and her management called out Apple Music plans to not pay artists royalties during a three-month free introductory trial of this new music streaming site. Apple was quick to respond. Eddy Cue tweeted shortly after “we hear you @taylorswift13, and indie artists. Love Apple”. Apple quickly announced it will pay artists during the three-month trial period.

Yay! Artists should be compensated for their work. Even photographers.

This story takes a bit of a turn when UK photographer Jason Sheldon pens an open response to Taylor Swift and posts it online. He points out inequities in the fine details of Firefly Entertainment Incorporated (FEI) concert photos authorization form. He asks Taylor Swift to do the right thing and change the photo policy.

This opened up a hornets nest of commentary, not unexpectedly.

To be clear – Taylor Swift does not hire photographers to capture images at her concert, FEI is contracted by Taylor’s management to hire photographers at each stop of the tour. Freelance photographers only get paid if a publication uses their photos in an article. The contract referenced by Jason Sheldon notes this contract gives FEI free perpetual worldwide right to use images for non commercial use, including but not limited to publicity or promotion. Are they trying to infer publicity and promotion is non commercial ?

Taylor’s management team did respond to this open letter via her UK agent.

Photographer Jason Sheldon responds to this response. Pointing out the current contract for the 1989 tour includes the potential destruction of photographers media and devices holding the media if the contract is deemed breached. Jason asks if Taylor Swift will set in motion the process to amend the inequities in the current photographer contract. For your perusal Petapixel posted a copy of the current contract.

Reading both contracts have put knots in my stomach and make me question if jumping into concert photography is worth this nonsense. The easy answer is don’t write your name on the blank space of the contract. While I’m sure Taylor Swift does not make these calls about photography, it most likely falls in the province of her management company, perhaps the internet kerfuffle will bring this inequity to her attention.

One of my favorite photographers Jared Polin – – jumped into the fray and shared his thoughts on this Taylor Swift debate. I have to agree with the points he makes during his rant.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

The photo used in this post was taken last year at a concert in Vancouver. I was an audience member enjoying a beautiful outdoor concert who happened to have a tele lens in my bag.


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  • rochester_veteran

    I have a good friend who’s done concert photography, I met Jim T at the airfield we worked at in Germany and he was in ATC and I was in weather. We’re still in touch via FB. I’ll ping him so he could give his input seeing that he’s done concert photography and good stuff at that.

    • Tania

      Plain reading both contracts I can’t get past the idea that it is heavily one sided to favor the artist. Photographers, like musicians create art. Why then do these contracts stipulate exclusive usage rights of the photographs ‘in perpetuity’ to the Taylor Swift brand? Also, I didn’t see information in the examples provided for the photographer to request permission to use images for non commercial use such as in a portfolio. Maybe I missed something? Also, is the use of force up to destruction of photographic media a routine stipulation in concert photography contracts?

      • Tania, you (and Jason and Jared) have touched upon an old and, for me, sensitive topic. I don’t sell my photos to an artist, publication or stock photo vendor because the agreements usually contain these very one-sided provisions. For example, back in 1979 Rolling Stone mag wanted my concert collection (thousands of photos of 40-50 famous bands) but I would loose my original film, all rights to my photos and they didn’t have to pay anything unless one was used. I’d then get $25 each, not much even at that time.

        Many people now have good gear and know how to take great pics. This abundance decreases the value of photography and the perception that it is ‘art’ rather than a skill, like the show’s gaffer. The primary reason concert photos have any value is not the shear beauty or who photographed it; it is the musician/performer, so they want control and profit from their image.

        I don’t know how this will ever change but there isn’t much money made from concert photography.

        My aim has always been to be happy with the fun of making photos and forget about making money.

        • rochester_veteran

          BTW Jim, I still have that Mick Jagger Stones concert photo blowout that you took of their show in Frankfurt (?). It hangs on my older sons wall. Didn’t you take it when the Stones were performing “Jumping Jack Flash”?

          • Wow, I’m impressed and very glad you have that. There were about 20 produced. Coincidentally, I now have the same photo hanging above the desk where I sit writing this (it’s been stored for years).

            I don’t remember the song that was performed when I snapped that one but, yes, the show was in Frankfurt Germany.

            Is yours still framed in the black metal and matte with anti-reflective glass? Did I sign on back and write the date of the concert, 28 April, 1976? Were you with me at that show?

          • rochester_veteran

            Yes, you signed and dated it on the back, Jim. I didn’t go to that show with you because I was on duty at the weather station and couldn’t get anyone to cover my shift. Although I loved working in weather, I would have rather gone to that Stones Show with you! I did go to a lot of shows when in Germany though, my favorite thing to do back then. There were some great concert venues in Europe.