Rihanna in Macau

I’m now going to be writing and photographing for Music Weekly Asia, a web site out of Singapore. My first assignment was Rihanna’s opening night at the Cotai Arena at the Venetian in Macau.

I was really excited about this because, let’s face it, most of the “star” acts I’ve photographed have been ones who were heroes to my generation. This would be my first chance to shoot a current super star and I knew that under normal circumstances, I’d come away with great photos.  But these were not normal circumstances.

So I get to the Venetian (they comped me for the ferry tickets, too) and find my way to the media registration desk. I’m one of ten photographers there. We’re all given these over-sized blue vests with “Cotai Arena” written really big across the back. Our media passes are then pasted onto the vests – and we’re told we have to return the media passes as well as the vests. Normally you receive a laminated pass on a lanyard and it makes a nice souvenir of the gig, but not this time. Okay.

Then the PR lady leads us inside and takes us to the back, next to the control desk, on the floor, and we’re told this is where we will be shooting from. WTF? The opening act, a pair of DJs from Miami called We Are GTA, are midway through their set so it’s too loud in there to make any attempt to rationalize this with the staff.  So sure enough, once Rihanna hits the stage, we are behind the thousand or so people on the floor, all of whom are waving their hands – and their mobile phone cameras – in the air. And the longest lens I had with me was my 70-200mm F2.8 zoom.

You want to know how far away I was from the stage? Here’s a shot I took with my 50mm lens to illustrate:


Does this make any sense at all? Does it allow the media to present the artist and the venue in the best possible fashion?

(By the way, I stand just under 6 feet tall. Many of the other photographers were definitely under 5 foot 6; I have no idea what kind of shots they got.)

I later heard from two friends who have shot shows there in the past saying this is always how they do it at the Venetian. One claimed that by protesting loudly and arguing with a manager that he was allowed to shoot by the stage. In my case, every time I tried inching forward, there was a tap on my shoulder telling me to move back again.

Well, when you are that far back from the stage, you can’t see expressions on the artists’ faces, you can’t try to time your shots at all. Holding the camera way above my head and using LiveView meant that I couldn’t shoot in burst mode – and LiveView on the Nikon means click, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, click ….

Most attempts to use the viewfinder resulted in shots like this


or like this


Fortunately, the Nikon D800 allows you to crop the hell out of shots and still have something usable. Right now, this is my favorite photo from the night:


Not awful, but certainly nothing that will go in my portfolio.

You can click on over to my review at Music Weekly Asia,  where you’ll find my review as well as 20 photos from the evening.

I was asked if I wanted to shoot the upcoming Justin Bieber show. Actually, I would do it. I’ll shoot anyone. And even if they make me stay in the back, it’s a free ride to and from Macau and a free show. But I’ll be in the U.S. when he’s in Macau. I’ve written to the staff at Cotai to explain why how they’re managing this is a very bad idea, and I received a very polite note saying they would pass my message on to “the relevant people.”

I suppose that the next time I get to shoot at Cotai Arena I will try to rent a 500mm or 600mm lens and bring along a tall monopod!



  1. Scott September 17, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

    Rihanna, your Friday night performance in Macau absolutely sucked, I’m sorry to say.

    75% of the time you weren’t singing…..there wasn’t a single costume change throughout the show……although you disappeared off stage for several minutes at a time on several occasions and the entire crowd assumed that you would come back wearing something else…..you were 2 hours late for your performance, but at least the DJ’s from 8pm to 9pm were awesome. Then from 9pm to 10pm there was F$%k all going on…..lights were up, no music, nothing to entertain a FULL arena. Absolutely the WORST concert I have ever attended. I want my money back, and I bet there’s quite a few thousand more people that feel the same way. REPOST if you agree peeps !!!

    • spike September 17, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

      I understand that on Saturday night, it started just as late, or possibly even later. On the other hand, I asked a lot of people if they liked the show and the unanimous response was, “well, YEAH”, as if I was crazy for even needing to ask.

  2. davethevet September 18, 2013 at 1:52 am #

    Get a nikon one!!!

  3. Scott September 18, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Well yeah, I get that – I’m not suggesting that everyone didn’t enjoy her show. I imagine that her die hard fans would still have been happy if she showed up 3 hours late, sat on a chair in the center of the stage, sung her biggest hits for an hour, and then buggered off.

    But a large proportion of the crowd that bought tickets for a relatively expensive show by international standards, are well traveled and have high expectations. I like Rihanna as an artist – she has produced some great music – but I’m not a huge fan, and I’m not someone that is awed in any way by celebrity.

    As such, I’m being objective and simply commenting on the quality of the event, and the quality of her performance in relation to the basic expectations of a concert goer that has seen his fair share of live performances. In short, what one expects at ANY concert;

    – A good opening act (PASS. the DJ’s definitely had the crowd fired up)
    – Swift changeover between the opening act and the headlining act. (FAIL. An hour to dismantle a DJ booth and set up the stage. Lights are on, and no decent music to entertain the crowd during the intermission. DOUBLE FAIL.)
    – Headliner shows up on time. (FAIL. Showing up an hour after the opening act is just disrespectful and is totally Diva ish)
    – Sing for the crowd. (FAIL. She sung maybe 30% of the time at best. The rest of the time we were listening to back up singers and her recorded voice. Granted, when she did sing a few lines, she does have a great voice)
    – Perform. (FAIL. Choreography was average. If you’re not going to sing, the least you can do is put on a good performance.)
    – Wardrobe change. (FAIL. She didn’t change once, although she disappeared off stage for god knows what on several occasions for several minutes. With performers out there like J Lo, Lady Gaga, Kylie, Katy Perry, etc, all making the effort to give their fans their moneys worth at their concerts, Rihanna was woeful in comparison.)
    – Identify with the crowd. (FAIL. When she talked to the crowd, it was inauthentic and occurred as though she was just going through the motions. ‘Macau’ she yelled. ‘This is my first time here’. Blah blah. ‘Macau!’ she shouts time and time again. More than half of the bloody audience was from Hong Kong. How about shouting ‘Hong Kong!’ once? Know your audience. DOUBLE FAIL.)

    • spike September 19, 2013 at 1:03 am #

      I agree with >some< of what you've got to say. I think she sang a lot more than you've suggested. I thought she danced a lot less than I expected her to and missed the costume changes. I think her "this has been one of my favorite shows because of you" was generic. My expectations are different for a pop concert from a rock concert. That being said, she did not fulfill all my expectations. My editor read my review and asked, "so it was a good show but not great?" One thing your comments made me think of - that I wish I'd included in my review but obviously didn't - there are zillions of iphone videos of her Diamonds tour on Youtube - some are even entire shows. So the fans see the videos and then go to the show and expect to see live what they saw on Youtube. So an artist can no longer get away with short-changing the audience with a budget presentation. Except, as I said, I did ask quite a few people what they thought of the show. And they were unanimous in telling me they loved it.

  4. Expat Photographer September 24, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    That sucks – having to shoot from so far away. Every show I’ve shot in the west has had “the pit” for photographers for the first three songs. I can’t see the point of giving photographers access and expecting them to shoot from that far away?

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