Access–your ticket to better pictures


Graduations which are happy affairs can also pose a challenge if you’re there to photograph your loved ones. The bigger the commencement, the more hassle you’ll encounter. On assignment for the University of Redlands, I had unlimited access but I never overstepped my boundaries by parking in one spot and blocking the view of others.

If you photograph anything that has to do with people, you will inevitable come across this word: access.

It’s the difference between getting close enough to give yourself a chance to get a decent picture and being so far away that you can’t even see the intended subject of your picture.

It’s also the difference between being given permission to bring a camera on the grounds or keeping it in your trunk.

Since not everyone has deep pockets and can afford a super telephoto, what is an amateur to do?

Having being on the “inside” in my previous life as a newspaper photographer, I found myself on the “outside” not too long ago.arnie_s

Political Rallies

On that occasion, Arnold Schwarzeneggar was campaigning to ouster Governor Gray Davis.

Schwarzeneggar was to show up for a brief stop in Riverside and boy was it brief!

I thought I would take my 2 kids and wife to see what the fuss was about.

We arrived 2 hours early at the Fleetwood Industries compound.

davis_sI brought one camera with an 80-200 zoom lens.

I guess I didn’t blend in enough.

I caught the eye of a public relations person and he insisted I move all the way to the back.

His reasoning: I was a professional and wasn’t allowed up front where mothers with their point and shoot cameras were.

When I contacted Lou Monville, the public relations person who was handling the affair, he claimed he had no control over Arnold’s people. Nice.

I didn’t get why I was told to go to the back. Wasn’t I there as Joe Citizen? What has what I do for a living have to do with where I should stand at a political rally?

I wasn’t heckling. I had brought  my kids to see if they could get a glimpse of the future governor of California.

The hecklers, by the way,  had been relegated to the outside of the Fleetwood Industries compound.

As frustrating as that may sound, as I said the word of the day is “access.”

It was no different when I covered the Skins Game out in the Coachella Valley.


ernie_els_sGolf enthusiasts paid big bucks and waited hours upon hours on around a hole.

Working photographers would saunter up to these holes along with the foursomes like an army and just plomp down right in front of these spectators.

Understandably the fans were not happy-campers.

Who would be?

If you paid some ridiculous amount of money and you waited for hours to get what you think is a front row seat and next thing you know, some schmuck stands in front of you and there is nothing you can do about it except hurl insults.

When I was on the receiving end of those insults, it bothered me of course but I had a job to do.

I had to walk all 18 holes. It wasn’t like I was there intentionally to ruin their day. But I did wonder why not just watch the game on tv?

Safe, (no risk of being hit  by an errant ball) comfortable and free.  This is where I’ll probably get lots of hate mail. Golf as a spectator sport isn’t like soccer, football, baseball or basketball where the crowd can go nuts.

There’s all manner of restrictions. Not just for the fans but for the photographers covering it.

Marshalls hold up signs that say “Quiet” before the golfers strike the ball. Photographers can’t be in the line of their sight and may not fire their shutter until they strike the ball.


u2_2“First 3 songs” is the mantra of most concert photographers.

That’s the time frame they are allowed to shoot most of the time.

Not sure why but someone in the music industry must have dreamed that up.

And usually the public relations folks like to keep all the photographers in the front in the “pit.”

Three songs go by rather quickly if you are working.

Hopefully these artists are professional enough to give their all during these first few numbers.

Otherwise you get pictures that are ho-hum.

Every now and then you’ll get an artist who is so controlling of their image that they insist the enforcement of the 3 songs rule.

One I remember is Bob Dylan.  At a concert I was working, he threaten to stop his concert if he saw any photographers working beyond the 3 songs.

I’d like to see him try and enforce that with today’s cellphones being able to record video and stills.

So what should an amateur do if they are interested in any of the 3 kinds of photography?

If you’re interested in shooting sports, just shoot amateur sporting events. There’s rarely any restrictions on those. As you get better, you can build your credibility but make some nice enlargements so you can show athletic directors and other credential granting officials your skills. Before you know it, you’ll get better access. (there’s that word again)

As for concerts, it’s probably the same. You can shoot some local bands and build on that. As your body of work improves, you can offer some prints in exchange for access. Over time, the word will get around that you’re dependable and you’ll be networking with the right people who issues credentials.

I suppose you could try and sneak a camera in. Just be warned that you will be asked to leave if you’re caught. Most sports venues will post signs that say something about in the entrances.

The enforcement is hit and miss.

As for political rallies, the bigger the fish the harder it will be for you to get close for obvious security reasons.

Every now and then you can get lucky. When former vice-president Dan Quayle  made an unscheduled stop at a fast food restaurant in Norco, many unsuspecting locals got to shake his hand and be photographed with him. So it happens.

As an aside, on that occasion, Quayle who was campaigning saw a sign at the fast food restaurant that read “Now Hiring.” He thought that would make a good Kodak moment but was quickly put in his place when reporters asked if everyone should take a minimum wage job.

That’s probably why landscape photography or table top or still life photography can appeal to so many people

You just have to drive out to the middle of nowhere, get up early or stay late.

Or find your still life theme, get your props and work in seclusion in your studio.