Madison Square Garden: NYC Venues Broken Down

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As a part of our Concert Photography series, we’ve previously listed all the New York City concert venues categorizing them based on whether or not those venues had photo pits. Now for this next installment, we’ll be breaking down specific venues and including our personal experiences.

 Photo by Emily Korn

“The world’s most famous arena.” If you’re lucky enough to get credentialed to shoot at Madison Square Garden, and haven’t had a moment to absorb what that truly means, remind yourself of their prided motto, “The world’s most famous arena.” Before you get prepared to photograph at the base of nearly 20,000 concert goers, make sure you note whether you’re shooting in the actual arena (where the sporting events are held) or in the theater.

Regardless of which locale you end up shooting, you’ll need to start the evening by checking in at 8 Penn Plaza (floating near 8th Avenue and 33rd Street). Checking in will entail having your bag searched and meeting with a press liaison who will escort you inside the arena. A quick note about checking in with MSG’s liaison: you or your editor may want to get credentials for the openers, as well as the headliner, if you want to guarantee that you’re shooting the entire show (it’s not improbable, at these larger shows, that the openers have their own allotment which is not shared with the other acts).

Once you’ve gone through all the technicalities of actually stepping foot inside the venue, you will be escorted through grand, and seemingly endless, hallways blanketed in white. One freight elevator, and some waiting backstage, gives way to a small side entrance at the base of the stage. The pit is generally large enough to allow room to walk from stage left to stage right at any given moment (but stages, as performers come and go, morph to the set designs and theatrics of an artist/concert—in other words, the pit’s shape and depth is subject to change). You’ll follow the standard three song limit in the venue, and then escorted out of the arena between shoots.

“Take a minute to look back on the audience and remind yourself that it’s not everyday you get to see a venue that has the power to outshine the talent it houses.”

Lighting, as the stage has already shown us, is subject to change based on the artist’s aesthetics—but it’s fairly safe to say lower ISOs and higher f-stops or shutter speeds are the norm (most of the stage will be heavily blanketed in lights at higher warmths/kelvins). MSG offers a fairly straightforward and stress-free shoot. If you make it to the pit here, take a minute to look back on the audience and remind yourself that it’s not everyday you get to see a venue that has the power to outshine the talent it houses.

Note: If you’re not shooting from the pit, you will be shooting from the soundboard, in a stagnant position. No movement means you probably want, what we photographers often refer to as, a turtle. A turtle, or stool, could help give you that little bit of edge when you’re literally caught in between a rock and a hard place. Always, for these larger venues, come prepared with a telephoto lens! I can’t stress that enough. Even if you have to rent one, it will be worth the cost and your time (I recommend a minimum of 200mm).

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Emily Korn is a photographer based in New York City and Colorado, specializing in concert photography and celebrity portraiture. Her work has been published in CMJ, QRO, SPIN, SuperGlued, Teen Vogue, VIBE, The Waster, XXL, and more.