How To Get A Press Pass

Are you a freelance photographer or writer seeking special access to shoot an event? If so, you likely need a press pass or media credential. This largely elusive and highly coveted badge is particularly used for event and concert photography, and it exists in a variety of forms and goes by several different names. As a professional freelance event photographer, applying for press passes is part of my job. I’ve had the privilege of being part of the White House Press Pool to photograph President Obama and photographed more concerts and festivals than I can even remember. Along the way, I’ve had my fair share of approvals and rejections and have learned a lot when it comes to the proper way to apply for a press pass.

In this blog post, I will share the 5 step process on how to apply for a press pass.

how-to-get-a-media-pass-2

What is a media pass?

First of all, let’s define what a media pass is. These passes go by a variety of names–photo pass, media pass, press pass, press credential, photo badge, etc. To keep it simple, I’ll refer to it as a media pass. Whatever name it is referred to, a media pass is a badge or piece of paper that formally allows you to bring professional photography equipment inside of an event space and take photos from a photo pit or specially designated area. The special access granted by the media pass vary from event to event, so be sure to ask what you can and can’t do with a media pass.

How do I get a media pass?

Now that we’ve defined the media pass, let’s talk about how to get one for yourself. Typically, media passes are only granted to members of the media, such as newspaper or magazine photographers, or the official event (house) photographer. Media passes are rarely granted to those seeking to use the photos for personal use or to build their portfolio. If you’re seeking a media pass, you must be on assignment from a publication. Thanks to the prevalence of magazines, blogs and other media competing to provide event coverage for audiences, it can be easier than you think to get a photography assignment.

Step 1: Prepare yourself

Before you pitch your services to a media outlet, make sure you’re properly equipped in these two respects:

a) Create an online photography portfolio of your best work. Try to include photo samples of other similar events that you have covered before.

b) Equip yourself with professional concert photography gear. Generally speaking, it’s frowned upon for media credentialed photographers to use a cell phone or point-and-shoot camera. Don’t forget a press pass holder like the one below.

press pass holder

Step 2: Get an assignment from a media outlet

To find a media outlet to pitch your services to, answer this question: “what publications do I know of that might be interested in running a story or photo gallery?” Research media outlets and see what kind of event press coverage they tend to do. See how your style fits, or if you have a unique or artistic viewpoint to add.

Learn more about how to pitch your photography services and get a free email template to send to photo editors.

how to get photos published online

Step 3: Apply for the media pass

Once you have the permission of a media outlet to represent them at an event, one of two things will happen. Either the media outlet will apply for a media pass for you, or they will ask you to apply for the media pass on your own.

The person or organization in charge of issuing media passes will vary from event to event. Sometimes it is the public relations firm, the event organizer, corporate sponsor, artist manager, etc. Track down the event’s official website and look for their “Contact” page. Reach out to the Press or Media contact and find out the procedure for obtaining a photo pass. Keep your email short and to the point, and be sure to include the fact that you are on assignment.

how to apply for a press pass

Press pass contact email on the event website.

Media pass inquiry sample email

Hello!
My name is _____ and I am a photographer interested in applying for a photo pass for the ____ happening on _____.

I am on assignment with ____ and the photos would be published on their website. Upon request, I am happy to provide an editor’s note confirming my assignment. 

Please let me know what the procedures for applying for a press pass would be.

Thank you for your consideration!

Media pass sample application form

More often than not, they will send you an application form to fill out.

Sample Press Pass Application Form

How to Get a Press Pass for Concert Photography

If you’re interested in photographing a concert, you can typically ask both the event organizer or promoter as well as the band manager and record label of the artist. To find this information from the artist or band’s main website or Facebook page (see below screenshot example).

Band press contact facebook page

Step 4: Wait for a response

After you have successfully submitted your media pass request, the next step is to wait. Sometimes your approval email comes months before the event takes place. Other times, especially for concerts, you may not hear back until the day of the event. Be patient, and feel free to reach out to your press contact once or twice to check on the status (but don’t be annoying).

Pro Tip: Always ask for the name and phone number of an on-site contact. It’s not unusual that for one reason or another, your name won’t be on the press pass list when you arrive to check in. This happens to every photographer at one point or another. Be sure to ask in advance for the contact info of the tour manager or someone who will be there to help you out if this happens.

What if I don’t get a response?

It’s tough to say how long it will take to process a media pass request. In general, it’s ok to reach out with a followup a few days or even a week later. Ping them with a quick email such as, “Hi there, just checking in to see what the status is on my media pass request.” Remember to always use email for media passes. Never make a phone call unless it’s absolutely necessary.

What happens if they say “no”?

Some events welcome media coverage with open arms, whereas others allow close to none. A quick Google search on the event will show if media outlets have been approved before. This little bit of research can help properly manage your media pass expectations.

Step 5: Follow-up

If all goes well and your media pass is approved, follow-up after the event by emailing your press contact the final, published coverage. This makes their job easier and helps you build a relationship with them.

how to get a press pass

Photo by Stephanie Dore

How soon should I apply for a media pass?

In my experience, it doesn’t hurt to ask as soon as you hear about the event. Reach out early to make sure you have the correct contact information. You’ll have more time to find and pitch media outlets who might be interested in sending you on assignment. If the event is several days away from the event, there is still a chance of applying for the media pass and being approved. It depends on the event rules. For the best possible outcome, always follow any media pass deadlines that are imposed.

How to NOT apply for a media pass

One way to be automatically rejected for a media pass is to apply without being on assignment. Never apply saying you want to shoot to add to your portfolio. I’ve had multiple PR agents tell me this is the most common way to get yourself automatically eliminated.

Over to you

Have you had experience applying for a media pass? If so, did you find the process easy or difficult? Let me know in the comments below!

Learn how to start a successful photography business
Subscribe to get my latest exclusive content on how to build and sustain a photography business and make money from your photos. You'll also get a free download of "10 Ways to Make Money from Photography."
Opt-out at any time.
By | 2016-12-21T17:57:21+00:00 December 19th, 2016|46 Comments

About the Author:

Suzi Pratt is an event and food photographer based in Seattle. She is also a web designer and blogger who aims to inspire and teach others how to start a photography business. View her at photography portfolio, or her web design portfolio.
  • Pretty good tips. I’ve written an article for how to get press passes for music concerts here:
    http://www.justingillphoto.com/blog/how-to-get-concert-photo-pass

    • Will

      question please, how many people does a press pass accomodate? example, if you are going to be the interviewer and coming along with a photographer, would they issue two press passes?

      • Great question, Will! The answer is it depends on the PR agent or whoever is issuing the press credentials, but in my experience it usually works like this: the photographer will receive a photo pass to shoot the first 3 songs (or first 5-10 minutes) of the event, and the interviewer/reviewer will receive their own seated ticket to the event. Interviewers/reviewers typically do not accompany the photographer. Bottom line: photo/press pass is for one person only.

        If you’re looking for a scenario in which one conducts an interview and the photographer snaps a portrait, this is usually arranged privately with the PR agent and will usually take place backstage or off site before or after the ticketed event.

        I hope this helps! Let me know if you have further questions or need clarification.

  • Hey Suzi! During my press credential application they constantly ask for pre and post coverage plans. What should this entail? … well what does this mean?

    • Hi West!

      Great question. This is actually a common request for press credential application to bigger events like festivals. Basically, your response should be an honest answer of any preview and post-event coverage you plan to make on your blog or website. This is very important because it basically details how your presence at the event will help out the promoters or marketers, in other words the decision makers that decide if they should give you a media pass or not. As a result, it’s important to plan on pre and post event coverage, or work with your blog editor/publisher to do this. For pre-coverage, you’ll want at least one blog or news posts announcing and promoting the event to your readers, and post event coverage should include at least one, perhaps several, recap posts with photo galleries. Generally I’ll say this in the application, along with my intended publish dates (ie. one week before and a day after the event). You shouldn’t need more than a couple sentences to explain, but again, the more you prove you’ll make the most out of the photo/media pass, the more likely you’ll receive one. I hope this helps!

  • Jarrad Williams

    Hello, I just starting blogging so I have my own blog. I’m not a photographer but I would like to interview the artists before or after the concerts. Would I still go about it the same way through the email example?

    • Hi Jared!
      Yes, I’d say it’s about the same process. Just be sure to specify the publication or outlet you’re doing the interview for, and maybe a quick sentence or two on what the interview’s focus would be.

    • Chris Hayworth

      Hi Jarrad where are you based, I could do photos for you in and around Pittsburgh PA if you wanted.

      • Jarrad Williams

        Thanks Chris, but I’m located in Charlotte unfortunately. Thanks anyway though.

        • Justin Dunaway

          Jarrad, depending on event times and such, I may be able to assist you with photos occasionally. I’m based in Greenville, SC but travel to Charlotte frequently. If you’d like to view my work or contact me here’s a link to my page!
          Facebook.com/sundownphoto

          • Jarrad Williams

            Thanks Justin. Sounds good. I will keep you in mind when an event comes up. I just liked your Facebook page too.

  • Jalen Martin

    I requested a media for a Donald Trump rally using just my company’s name as the outlet and it was accepted. But I requested a media to a concert for next month and I don’t think they’ll accept it. What should I do?

    • Jalen Martin

      *media pass

      • Hey Jalen! It’s a little tough for me to offer advice without knowing the outcome of your current media request. I’d say your odds are 50/50 for any concert, regardless of the outlet you are representing.

  • Bryce Sadler

    Hey Suzi. I don’t have a blog but I attend a university and help with the school paper and we are wanting to cover a pro football game and have some pictures and interviews of players for a piece we are putting together in our next issue. We are trying to start sending kids each weekend to these games to add to the sport page. What are the chances of getting a media pass to a game such as the Cleveland Browns next home game?

    • Hi Bryce,
      I admit that I don’t know the first thing about sports photography and how they handle photo passes, but my assumption is that it would be pretty difficult to get photo passes to a professional sporting event. With that said, it never hurts to ask!

  • The Midcoastgroup

    Hello Suzi,
    We have our company blog but we dont have an outlet yet and I really find it hard to obtain a press pass? Most of the outlets that I emailed dont accept freelance correspondents, It is for IDA documentary and 22nd critics choice awards, need help pls?

    • Hi there!
      I’m not entirely sure about your exact scenario–can you send me an email with details? Maybe a link to your site and the event page? Email: suziratt@gmail.com

  • Pingback: How to Build a Photography Website - Intrepid Freelancer Photographer Blog()

  • Pam

    Suzi, when you reach out to media outlets, where and when does the discussion of compensation fit into this scenario?

    • That is an excellent question. Sometimes, media outlets will respond to your pitch with an offer of compensation. But more often than not, you’ll need to ask them directly. I would avoid bringing up compensation in your initial email pitch and only bring it up once you’ve gotten at least one response from the outlet. When you do ask, keep it short: “Do you offer any compensation?” If they say no, it’s up to you whether to accept or not. The pros and cons of doing work for free or for exposure is an interesting topic…I’ll write a follow-up post on it soon.

  • Amy Burridge

    Hi Suzi, at my school, I am involved in a blog that is based entirely on the music industry and local concerts/festivals/events. If I were to reach out for a media pass for a concert, what do you think the chances of getting the pass would be. Thanks, Amy

    • If your blog is related to the music industry, I think you have good chances. Doesn’t hurt to try!

  • itzchak maghen

    Hi Suzi,

    Since I have a couple of large questions, is there any way I can contact you?

    Thanks.

  • Grace Johnson

    Hi Suzi!
    I am just starting out in concert photography, and only have 3 pictures in my portfolio (the rest are all portraits or travel photos). They are from when I snuck my dslr into a festival several years ago, and are great photos, but I never intended on using them for anything, so I ended up losing the files and only have low-quality screen shots. Here is my website so you can see for yourself (gracemadelinephoto.com). Anyways, how would I go about building up my portfolio to send to online publications? Would it be possible to do promotional work (handing out and putting up flyers/posting to social media at my college) in exchange for a press pass? Specifically, I am wanting to contact the Boston House of Blues, which is 5 min from my dorm, but a rather well-known venue. I don’t know if I’ll sound dumb by proposing that to them and ruin my chances of applying for shows later when I am with a magazine… my boyfriend who is an EDM producer promotes at a venue where he lives gets to open for artists in turn for promoting, so that gives me some hope. Or do you think that I should go ahead and apply for a magazine internship now with the 3 photos I have? Sorry for the long message, but I have a lot of questions!
    Thanks and love your articles!

    • Hi Grace,
      I think your photography portfolio looks great! In all honesty, I don’t think you need more than 15-20 images in your portfolio, as long as they are really solid images that convey your best work. I’d perhaps try to fill your concert section with a few more images – try to get slightly more varied shots from different angles and perspectives and some wide shots or crowd shots to show variation and flexibility. Note that your concert portfolio doesn’t need to have popular, recognizable artists in it. You just need to have quality, dynamic photos that demonstrate your ability to shoot good concert photos, no matter who the photo subject is.

      When looking for events to photograph, consider smaller events with lesser known artists in your area. Many of these artists would love to have photo coverage and they can be great to work with to build up your skills and portfolio. I also think it’s worth reaching out to local venues (both large and small) to see if they would be open to the promotional work exchange you mentioned above. Also, take advantage of your boyfriend’s connection to the music industry! As a performing artist, he can likely get you an all access pass that lets you roam around with a camera. You may not have an official press pass, but you can use your backstage pass to get your camera in and take some photos of him performing, and any behind the scenes photos.

      Hope this helps!

    • RamblerSteve

      Hi Grace. I retired from a non-journalism job about 13 years ago. During that job I
      gained some photographic skills and found I enjoyed it and decided to
      go into photojournalism. I signed up for classes at a local college to
      get a photojournalism degree. While there I worked on the school
      newspaper. This gave me my first press pass. I learned how to write news
      stories but I also tried to expand into areas I was interested in like
      concerts. I covered a few local ones but when Charlie Daniels came to
      town I pitched covering it to my editor. She agreed so I called Daniels’
      press people and pitched covering it for the college and they not only
      sent me press credentials for the event, a book and a pass for a meet
      and greet before the concert, they also set up a phone interview with him as well.
      During the time I was in college I also participated in doing a book for
      the college with my photos in it. What I found was that I volunteered
      for everything I could, whether it was a music artist, sporting events
      actor, politician, school department head or instructor or even the
      construction of new buildings, I did everything I could just for the
      experience. I didn’t just wait for assignments, I pitched new ideas all
      the time and some saw print. I was even lucky enough to become a
      stringer for the Associated Press, which I still do. I learned a lot
      there and received a lot of opportunities that started me down the road.
      I currently freelance for a motorcycle magazine but during that time I
      have covered groups like ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Heart, Joan Jett, Mary
      McCaslin, Big and Rich and many others. I’ve even done some fashion and
      lifestyle stories. What gets me in there is the motorcycle gig and I
      love that too, but I love covering concerts as well. It also enables me
      to tell the stories of the people I meet whether they’re attendees,
      promoters or industry leaders. For me there’s nothing quite like seeing
      my stories, photos and name on the byline in print. Don’t be afraid to
      stretch your talents. Do whatever you can to get your photos published
      and contact the media people of the people you want to cover but have a
      medium to publish your photos whether its for a college paper, monthly
      or weekly supermarket/community paper, the local newspaper. traffic
      accidents, or police stories or even an internet news site. They are
      always looking for contributors. Then when you apply for that press pass
      for a big name and one of the questions they ask on the form will be
      what publications have you been in and when was the last time? You can
      answer them with something awesome, even if it took you awhile to get
      that answer. Have fun along the way and don’t be afraid to tackle assignments and take
      as many classes to learn your craft as possible and have fun.

      • I agree 100% Steve! Never be afraid to convey your excitement and passion for what you’re photographing and introduce yourself to every single person you meet while on assignment. You never know which connections will lead to big opportunities down the road.

  • Paul Dionne

    Hi Suzi!
    I’m the editor of an online veteran centric news outlet, Veterans News Today, located on Facebook. I’ve only has the page in operation for six months, but already have a large following. My issue deals with getting permission to film on and conduct interviews with VA government, upper level management. Recently I was doing an expose on the VA facility located in West LA, CA, where there is a horrible homeless veterans issue. I contacted the Director of Communications for the facility and was prohibited from filming on the VA property. No specific reason, just the denial. The same individual then denied my request to cover a meeting that should be open to the public.

    My question is, how do you get the government to follow their own rules and allow the public officials to be photographed and interviewed in public?

    Sorry about going so long.

    Paul

    • Hi Paul,
      Thanks for reaching out, and apologies for my delayed response. I’m sorry to hear about your press access problems. As the daughter of a veteran, I thank you for your efforts and hope you’re able to continue your work. Regarding enforcing photographer rights, this is a tricky issue, especially if the people in charge aren’t following their own rules. I would collect as much info as possible (email communications with these officials, recorded conversations, etc) that clearly demonstrates these people not abiding by their own rules. I’d then consult with an attorney or legal professional for advice. Perhaps there’s an exception to the rule where they are permitted to restrict you from filming/photographing. If not, the legal professional should be able to suggest next steps. Alternatively, you could also take the emails/recorded conversations and publish them online or take them to your local newspaper/TV station to bring more public attention to the matter. It seems this is what the VA does not want happening, so you can expedite the process a bit.

      This isn’t quite my area of expertise, but I hope this helps! Please keep me posted and let me know how it turns out.

      Thanks again,
      Suzi

      • Paul Dionne

        No problem about the delay. I have a paralegal degree, otherwise I would not have known they were breaking the law. The facility in question bows to the locals and ignored the veterans and I have been reporting about that. I plan to contact the Director of Public Affairs, at the VA in DC and am going to address it that way. I go to DC often, and I think the only way things are going to change is to get a top down order to cease. If that doesn’t work, I’ll be filing a court order telliing them to allow the recording. I thought at first, it may be a Hippa issue, and offered to blur out the patients faces, and even their plate numbers, but that wasn’t the issue. The real issue is the director of the facility thinks she is above the law and when I put everything out there, I think she will be looking for a new job, or she and the VA will find themselves in court.

        Please thank you dad for his service and thank you for the input.

  • James Johnson

    As a publisher and journalist, my experience has varied. Ironically, I have found it rather easy to get approved for some of the largest events and activities, and more difficult to get approved for some of the smaller things. It becomes increasingly difficult now because so many people call themselves journalists, and perhaps are not, or are not perceived to be. Whether you’re trying to be approved for an event, or trying to gain access to a celebrity for interview, there is someone handling the request who is tasked with doing the research as to who you are and who you represent. You must do you best to prove your legitimacy, or you will likely be turned down. You also run into those who realize you’re legit, but you’re just not “big enough” for them, and they feel like you don’t necessarily have a large enough audience. Luckily, for the cases of rejection, I’ve seen many of those who rejected come back to us in the end requesting coverage or interview. All in all, we’ve had a pretty healthy experience.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, James! I agree that getting a press pass is sometimes a totally unpredictable situation. Sometimes larger events are more accommodating than smaller events, or vice-versa. I’m of the opinion that it’s largely about being consistent and developing rapport and lasting relationships over time. But above all, you absolutely need to be representing a real publication as the publicist will certainly do their research before issuing a press pass. Thanks again for sharing!

  • Shaistha

    Thanks for the insightful article Suzi, it answers a lot of questions I had.
    I’d like to hear your thoughts on a particular situation. Can I email my question to you? (at suzipratt@gmail.com)
    Thanks!

  • Felecia Bearden

    Hi

    I’m a multimedia journalist that just started a new online magazine. And I’m starting to venture out to gain more access to events. But I noticed you said that it’s best to be on assignment for there publications. But I wanted to know would I have to go through a well known publication in order to gain access coverage for my own site?

    • Hi Felecia,
      If your own site is an online magazine, then that site would be considered the publication that you apply for a press pass under. Typically you wouldn’t go through another publication to get credentialed for your own.

  • Toni P. Rose

    Hi Suzi,

    I have my own radio show on a popular internet radio station here in NYC. We’ve been on Air now 2 months. We’ve covered a few well Known local event. Would we go about press passes the same way?

    • Are you planning to send a photographer? If so, then yes, the same process would apply.

  • RamblerSteve

    I retired from a non-journalism job about 13 years ago. During that job I gained some photographic skills and found I enjoyed it and decided to go into photojournalism. I signed up for classes at a local college to get a photojournalism degree. While there I worked on the school newspaper. This gave me my first press pass. I learned how to write news stories but I also tried to expand into areas I was interested in like concerts. I covered a few local ones but when Charlie Daniels came to town I pitched covering it to my editor. She agreed so I called Daniels’ press people and pitched covering it for the college and they not only sent me press credentials for the event, a book and a pass for a meet and greet before, they also set up a phone interview with him as well. During the time I was in college I also participated in doing a book for the college with my photos in it. What I found was that I volunteered for everything I could, whether it was a music artist, sporting events actor, politician, school department head or instructor or even the construction of new buildings, I did everything I could just for the experience. I didn’t just wait for assignments, I pitched new ideas all the time and some saw print. I was even lucky enough to become a stringer for the Associated Press, which I still do. I learned a lot there and received a lot of opportunities that started me down the road. I currently freelance for a motorcycle magazine but during that time I have covered groups like ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Heart, Joan Jett, Mary McCaslin, Big and Rich and many others. I’ve even done some fashion and lifestyle stories. What gets me in there is the motorcycle gig and I love that too, but I love covering concerts as well. It also enables me to tell the stories of the people I meet whether they’re attendees, promoters or industry leaders. For me there’s nothing quite like seeing my stories, photos and name on the byline in print. Don’t be afraid to stretch your talents. Do whatever you can to get your photos published and contact the media people of the people you want to cover but have a medium to publish your photos whether its for a college paper, monthly or weekly supermarket/community paper, the local newspaper. traffic accidents, or police stories or even an internet news site. They are always looking for contributors. Then when you apply for that press pass for a big name and one of the questions they ask on the form will be what publications have you been in and when was the last time? You can answer them with something awesome, even if it took you awhile to get that answer. Have fun and don’t be afraid to tackle assignments and take as many classes to learn your craft as possible and have fun.

  • Ryan May

    What if I need the pass for a personal project..like a book.
    Specifically I’m doing a photo-journalistic book so I’m only on assignment for myself technically. How would I obtain event credentials for that, if I can at all?

    • Hi Ryan,

      Typically shooting for yourself for a personal project won’t qualify for a press pass for most events. Instead, pitch your project idea to some publications and see if they would run with the story. This way, you’d have better odds of applying for and scoring a press pass. You can (and should) always shoot extra “personal project” shots while on assignment.

Learn how to make money from photography
Subscribe now for a free download of "10 Ways to Make Money from Photography." You'll also get exclusive content on how to build and sustain a photography business.
I'm learning a lot, and so will you.
No spam, ever.
%d bloggers like this: