I’m writing this post on behalf of a musician I respect — let’s call him Theodosius — who came to me at a jazz party with a reasonable request.

“Michael, could you spread the word in JAZZ LIVES — whose readers love the music and the musicians — that flash photography is very hard on us?  I’m in the middle of a solo, trying to make something beautiful and swinging, and a fan — no doubt a nice man or woman — sticks a camera or an iPhone in my face and the flash goes off and nearly blinds me for the next sixteen bars.  I know these folks only want an on-the-spot photo of someone they admire to take home, but it’s hard having explosions of light in our faces.”

I would be the last person to discourage people from taking photographs of our heroes . . . but Theodosius has a point.  In the most kind-hearted enthusiastic ways, people are sweetly oblivious of the havoc they create with their cameras.  I’ve seen fans who want to get close to the band stand up in front of large audience and push cameras into the band as it’s performing . . . distracting to the audience as well as the players.  Only at crime scenes in Forties movies do photographers — real ones — get in front of other people who are trying to see.

And even photographers with elaborately “professional” equipment have cameras that set off strobe flashes with the impact of small-arms fire (to say nothing of the clicking and beeping with each shot).

I asked several professional photographers I know — people who make their living photographing musicians and dancers — about this, and the consensus was solid: people who know how to use their cameras shut off the flash and set the camera or phone for a higher ISO speed . . . so the camera and the photographer are both unobtrusive, which is the ideal we all might aim for.

Wouldn’t it be delightful if the musicians were the whole show, not the fireworks in the audience?

May your happiness increase.

11 responses to ““STOP! DON’T SHOOT!”

  1. Pingback: “STOP! DON’T SHOOT!” #jazz #photo #photography | Jazz and music a gogo | Scoop.it

  2. I think this is a very reasonable request of any and all musicians … no one should have to tolerate a flash going off in their face! Most formally-stylized events, where the music is the only focus, (concert halls, jazz clubs where conversation is discouraged during the performances, etc.) prohibit flash photography, and as a photographer myself, I’m in total agreement with that. The problem comes when the band/orchestra is effectively a side show, providing “background music” to an event where, for example, the dress style of the attendees is the focus. In that case, flash photography cannot be prohibited, but there is no reason at all, in my opinion, why the musicians can’t ask the host to announce that no flash cameras can be pointed at the musicians.

  3. Michael, your comment brings to mind a concert I attended many years ago featuring Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie among others. They performed on a temporary elevated stage set up atop an outdoor tennis court. Ella had recently had cataract surgery. A number of people approached the stage and took flash photos. She was standing near the edge, since the stage was shallow and she wished to be close to her audience. After a few photos she said words very much like, “Please stop. You don’t know how much that hurts me.” Most but not all people heeded her plea. Her vision was impaired to the degree that Dizzy came out after her final song to offer his arm to escort her safely from the stage. Your message about “turn off the flash” is important.

  4. Thanks for saying that. I think most venues have given up on trying to enforce their No Cameras rule. It’s annoying and dangerous.

  5. Dear Suzanne,
    I don’t want a No Cameras rule. . . that would mean No Videos for this blog. I think Theodosius and others just want them to be unobtrusive, at a distance, and silent . . .which still seems reasonable to me.

  6. I agree. But there is precious little common sense these days in the concert-going public.

  7. Pingback: “STOP! DON’T SHOOT!” | Jazz from WNMC | Scoop.it

  8. jOhn p. cooper

    Sounds plenty irksome to the eyes, but cannot most pianists play w/o having to see the keyboard?

  9. It has to do with being blinded: notice photographs of Earl Hines: he always has sunglasses on in later life.

  10. jOhn P. Cooper


    Ah! See – I read the following line and thought that he was suggesting that he was no longer ably to play properly b/c of the flash.

    “nearly blinds me for the next sixteen bars.”

    Yeah – them things are bright. Look what happened to Lars Thorwald! And that was in the 50s…not to mention King Kong in the 30s.

    jOhn P. Cooper

  11. the latest digital cameras (SLRs, rangefinders, etc) have astonishingly low-noise performance at high ISO’s, which combined with a fast prime (ie, non-zoom) lens enables low light fotos WITHOUT flash.

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