First 3 songs, No flash

Now that Covid is starting to become a thing of the past (fingers and toes crossed), Concerts are back and they are back with a bang. The SSE Arena has seen André Rieu the Dutch violinist, Prog Rock from Dream Theater, The Script, Queen and Adam Lambert, Bryan Adams, David Gray, The Farmers Bash and Billie Eilish in the past number of weeks.

I'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be stood in the pit when the lights go out and the show's about to begin.

When you get access to shoot a concert there are rules you have to follow, these rules are generally first 3 songs, no flash.

This can vary slightly from artist to artist but normally its first 3 songs, no flash. Dream Theater photo pass was approved and the contract said that we'd be in the pit for 12 minutes of the first song. I had no idea who or what kind of music Dream Theater made. A quick Google search revealed the Progressive Rock outfit had songs which varied in length but most were about 15 minutes long with long solo guitar sections.


The first 3 songs, no flash rule doesn't always apply and different bands have different contracts. Bryan Adams is one of those artists who's photo contract basically sucks (He's a photographer as well so should know better). One song only, no flash, shot from the side of stage. I've photographed Mr Adams before and the rules were the same last time so I knew what to expect this time. Biggest problem we had with this gig was the fact that the only light on the stage was a bright red spotlight shining straight onto the artist. In case you didn't know, a red spotlight (or blue) are basically a photographers worst nightmare. I always Google the tour so I have a rough idea of what's going to happen so on this occasion knew about the red lighting and had already resigned myself into producing B&W images from this gig. On very rare occassions photo approval is required from the artists management and this was the case with Brian Adams. All images had to be sent for approval before sending to the client, in this case the SSE Arena.


12 images (virtually all the same) from the gig were sent for approval and after a number of hours passed permission was granted to use 2 images. (Not one of my finer gigs, but i knew this was going to happen).


André Rieu brought his show to town which is an absolute spectacle (not my scene at all, but I appreciate the scale and effort that goes into his shows) A full orchestra and choir, all in Tuxedos and Ballgowns, with a lighting and stage show that really ads to the performance and draws you into the experience.


Queen and Adam Lambert, what can I say. This is one of those gigs that was an absolute pleasure to shoot. No photo contract to sign, no approving of images before usage, great access in the pit, superb lighting, simply put, first 3 songs, no flash.


Last time Queen played in Belfast myself and another photographer, Tremaine Gregg, got access approved 30 minutes before they went on stage and had to drive (rather quickly) from either sides of Belfast and literally both run into the Arena as the band came onstage. This time we had been granted access a week in advance so no pressure. This was a popular gig and there were lots of photographers who had been granted permission to shoot. Normally there are a maximum of 4/5 allowed in but tonight there were about 9. We were brought in and got to walk the pit to see what was allowed and were we could and couldn't go.

As I said early, I normally Google the gigs before to get an idea of lighting and stage presence of band members but this was the first night of the tour so we were shooting blind. Nothing to worry about with this show as Brian May always plays to the crowd and Adam Lambert is just the biggest showman out there. This was one of my favourite concerts to shoot.


May/June was a busy month for the SSE Arena gig wise and probably the biggest one was Friday 3rd June when Billie Eilish rolled into town with her Happier than Ever World Tour.


This was another gig I had no idea about so I watched a few youtube videos to get some tips and pointers.

After a long musical intro a hatch opens on stage and Billie springs into the air to arrive on stage (this will make a good photo)

Then it was basically a mix of pure red lighting (photographers nightmare) and strobe lighting effects (makes the nightmare worse). If you've never seen Billie Eilish on stage she is like a coiled spring thats been releashed, she jumps (constantly) runs around stage, jumps (constantly lol) but interacts well with the crowd. This was going to be like the Bryan Adams gig and be a really hard shoot.

Billie's management only allow one photographer per show so the pressure was on to get a few usable images.

Before the show, the contract had to be signed. Approval was required before photos could be used online. Low res images had to be sent to 5 different people before approval was received.




Got into position in the pit and focused on the spot were the hatch was, ready for the big entrance. Lights out, pitch black, what seemed like an eternity passed then boom, fireworks and Billie appeared from the hatch which was about 20 feet away from were I was focusing the camera, missed shot, great start, then the red lights came on.

When you are in the pit its hard to tell when the third song is over as you are concentrating on capturing images and it never feels like you have been in there long when security tap your shoulder and ask you to leave.

19 images sent for approval after the gig and next morning approval was given for 8 to be used. I personally think the ones that weren't given approval were better but i suppose rules are rules and the images that didn't make the cut were deleted (well, I say deleted lol).




Throw into the mix all the PR jobs, Awards ceremonies and 4 days of the Balmoral Show it's been a really hectic couple of months which after nearly 2 years of a Covid-19 hiatus I shouldn't complain about. So do I get a break now, Hell no, roll on Saturday 11th June when the biggest 80's & 90's party of the year takes to the stage.


A blast from the past as I get to focus on Boney M, Liberty X, S Club, East 17, Ace of Base and the Vengaboys to name just a few.

I might even throw another blog post up after the gig.

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