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.
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.
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.
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.
Media pass inquiry sample email
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.
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).
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 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!