It’s a fact. Sometimes a photo is special merely because of the place where it was taken. Sometimes a photo is special merely because the subject is special, unique or usually unattainable. Some photographers are very highly-regarded because they got access. They may or may not be great photographers. They may or may not deserve praise for their skill or craft. But it doesn’t matter. If you got a good photograph of Marilyn Monroe – even a decent photograph – you could get some traction. After 9/11, New York police virtually shut down ANY access to the World Trade Center site. Yet some photographers managed to get access and their photos became iconic overnight.
Getting access is a big deal in the photo world. It’s getting harder and harder thanks to the idiotic, mindless, war on photography. If you listen carefully to the messaging coming from places like US Homeland Security, they’d have you believing that everyone who owns a “professional-looking” camera is a terrorist.
So now more than ever, having good information, skills and a plan to get access where you need it is important.
Here are some methods and tips I’ve used in the past to gain special access to people, places or things for photography purposes.
1. Research the heck out of the subject. Know everything that can be known. This may prove useful later. I once researched a famous musician because he also happened to be a race car fan. I needed a photo of him for a magazine assignment. I found out he loved Porsches. So I went out on a limb, got my buddy who was a manager at a Porsche dealership to loan me one of the first turbo Carrera models. When I got in touch with the rock star’s manager the Porsche was the carrot that got me access.
2. Be helpful. Yep, it sounds counterintuitive but if you’re the person around town who’s always helping out – wether it’s volunteering or granting favors, it’s likely that some of that will come back to you. I volunteered for years at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. One day I wanted to get into the tower to make a sunset photo. They let me in as if I were Al Unser because I had volunteered there for three years. It was worth it.
3. Know the right people – not the most people. You want special access to a music venue? Make sure you’re great friends with the ushers and doormen. Want access to the ball field at AT&T park in San Francisco? The head grounds keeper may not be as big a star as Barry Bonds but he CAN get you onto the field. People who want special access should make a habit of finding and knowing the folks who grant such access. It’s not rocket science.
4. Despite the admonitions above in number three, don’t dismiss anybody as irrelevant. You never know when someone might know someone else. A young man came up to me at a trade show in Vegas. He said he listened to Photofocus. We were shooting at a booth on the show floor and he asked for help with the lights. I gave him a pointer or two. Long story short – he said he works as a rigger for a show on the strip. That show is a Cirque show and he can get me access to tickets, the cast and the venue. Even unskilled tradespeople have special access that you may someday need.
5. Be nice. This is the most important piece of advice I can give. Acting as if you are ENTITLED to get to shoot at the ball park or the race track or the music venue is probably a surefire way to make sure you DO NOT get to shoot there. The people who often control access are bombarded every day by someone who, just like you, wants something special. Try seeing what you can do for them first. Try finding out how they are doing. Be polite and considerate. Maybe today isn’t the best day for them so come another day rather than trying to bully your way in. It’s corny but true. Do unto others and all that.
These are just a few tips. You can add patience, practice, and hard work to all these. In any event, good luck. Work at getting special access and someday you may have a special photograph.