Access (or How to Get Inside Places to Take Pictures)

When I started photographing seriously about 15 years ago, I joined the North American Nature Photography Association. NANPA had (and still has) an annual convention where attendees could learn about the latest technique and equipment, sign up for photo reviews, attend field workshops and rub elbows with some of the country’s best nature photographers. It was fun!

During one of my first conventions, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire about what I cared most about as a photographer. The questionnaire’s options included things like equipment, education, fees, networking, and access. I don’t remember which options I checked, but I do remember I did not check access. And that’s because, at the time, I didn’t know nuttin’.

Now I don’t know a whole lot more, but I do know that access is very important to a travel photographer. Not only does access—to the opera, a symphony concert, a flamenco festival, a baseball game, a museum, you name it—allow you to take pictures in the first place, but those pictures will be unique because most photographers won’t have them.

Gaining access is probably not as hard as you might think, but you must follow the #1 rule for getting something: ask. Here are some tips to getting access to photograph events and venues:

  1. Whenever possible, ask ahead of time, in writing. Nobody likes to be surprised by last minute requests for access, especially live events like concerts or sporting events.
  2. Ask nicely and politely but be confident. I usually say something like “I am a freelance photographer based in the Denver/Boulder Area and am writing to request media credentials to attend_____.” I then add a short paragraph listing some of the publications where my work has appeared. If you do not have any credits, say you will be submitting your pictures to_______(your state’s vacation guide, for example).
  3. Don’t sound like a fan (“I ADORE Justin Bieber and, like, must attend his concert or die!”).
  4. Be candid about your credentials. I have never said I work for National Geographic, for example, but my success rate is around 90% (my request to photograph the space shuttle near Dulles Airport did get rejected).
  5. ALWAYS send your request to the marketing department, NEVER to security. Marketing people are “yes” people, security people are “no” people.
  6. Once you obtain access, make sure to follow all the rules of the event or venue. For example, concert photographers are usually allowed to stick around for the first one or two songs and that’s it. Photographers at sporting events are expected to stay in certain areas. Follow the rules to the letter.
  7. If you are unable to obtain permission beforehand, ask for permission on the spot. This works best for low key events or lesser attractions like small museums. The picture here depicts an event called Yoga on the Rocks near Denver. I went to the gate, identified myself and asked if I could take some pictures. A very nice lady gave me permission but asked that I photograph from the perimeter only so I would not disturb the participants. I said no problem.
  8. Send a quick thank you note after the shoot. This is good PR and just the decent thing to do. And if one of the images does get published, I will send my contact person a note about this as well.
 Yoga practitioners, Yoga on The Rocks, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, Colorado

Now get out and shoot something.