Photographer Makes Obscene Gesture After Being Called Out for Using Flash

Photographer Makes Obscene Gesture After Being Called Out for Using Flash

From the realm of "how not to be a professional" comes the story of a concert photographer who violated venue rules, put the musician at risk of a medical issue, and did little to help his case after the fact. 

Ryan Adams was headlining the 2017 Gasparilla Music Festival, when Joe Sale, a Tampa photographer, caused him to stop the set. Adams has Meniere's disease, the symptoms of which can be set off by flashing lights; thus, he strictly forbids flash photography at all his concerts. Adams is so adamant about the policy that security guards at the festival patrolled the crowd to remind fans not to use flash. 

Adams noticed Sale using a flash from behind the soundboard and called him out via an improvised song and a request to security to remind the crowd of the policy, at which point, Sale flicked the musician off. Afterward, the feud continued on Twitter, with Sale tweeting (from a now-deleted account): "I used the flash from 2,000 feet away. I shot the 12 other bands over 2 days w/o flash. You lived... write a sob story about it."

Adams minced no words in his reply, unleashing a (justified, in my opinion) tirade on the photographer: "No, a**hole. It says NO FLASH! Because I have MENIERES DISEASE and have SEIZURES!!!! Ok, Ansel Adams?" In speaking to the Tampa Bay Times the next day, Sale said he thought it was unfair to be expected to know of his condition ahead of time and noting that he would never use a flash near the stage and asserting that it had no effect on the musician. Nonetheless, Festival Spokesperson Michelle Gutenstein noted that every photographer was notified of Adams' condition in advance. Furthermore, most anyone in the concert photography industry knows about Ryan Adams and flash photography. 

Sale eventually attributed his behavior to frustration over being forced to shoot from the soundboard instead of a dedicated pit: 

When it comes to trying to photograph somebody and get a decent shot, and then you’re told you can’t do the work you’re there to do, why is it up to him?... I didn’t use flash for all other 12 performances because you don’t use flash when you’re close to the stage.

Sale has shown no remorse for his actions or regret due to the social media backlash he has received. Nonetheless, Gutenstein has noted that Sale will not be invited back, nor will the festival use any of his shots, and has said she will discourage colleagues from issuing him photo passes. 

Personally, I think Sale's is a selfish response. As a musician myself, I know it's important to be respectful of the requests performers make to ensure that they can achieve the level of professionalism and artistry they desire, but when those requests are coupled with a medical issue and are well disseminated by the venue, there's really no excuse. What're your thoughts? Let me know in the comments. 

Lead image by Flickr user Drew de F Fawkes, used under Creative Commons.

[via Tampa Bay Times]

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Stephen Kampff's picture

"Blame it on my own sick pride
Blame it on my ADD baby


-- Awolnation

Rex Jones's picture

Seriously, why go so far to defend yourself when you're obviously in the wrong? It's okay to admit a mistake (even the best people still make mistakes), which he should have done, and just moved on. My bet is if he had, he'd have avoided ruining his own name as well as his chances at future concert photography.

Alex Cooke's picture

Totally agree.

Joe Sale's picture

Rex and Alex, I did issue a statement which included an apology to Mr. Adams. Not only did I apologize for the gesture and how I handled it on twitter, I also clarified that I was NEVER made aware of his condition prior to shooting. I knew there was no flash, I shot 12 other concerts that weekend at the same festival. I was not shooting his performance, had no interest in doing so. I (none of the other photographers there), gained access to the elevated lift which housed the spotlights to capture a wide angle landscape shot including the crowd, the stage (hundreds of feet away), the river and the sunset. The flash was used to fill in the crowd closest to me since the setting sun was backlighting the entire scene. It fired 3 times, from hundreds of feet away, because I was elevated, he noticed it and decided to call me out. What's done is done, people will judge and make their uninformed snarky comments, it doesn't define me. Thanks for further spreading a story with defamatory and untrue statements Alex....great work here.

uh huh. You still don't have the integrity to deal with this honestly? You've been quoted saying you acted the way you did because you were angry for being "kicked out of the pit." Pleez. The other acts were ok with the photogs shooting from the pit. Ryan Adams was the HEADLINER. He's not pit, he's soundboard. So the photogs had to shoot from there. That's not being kicked out, those are his terms. Nothing to be angry about. That's how concert photography works. It's not Adams' fault that you don't know anything about how concert photography works and what is expected. Why you think you are above the rules is beyond anyone really. You're not better than anyone; the rules apply to you too. No Flash means No Flash. Period. So you went with the other photogs from the pit to the soundboard area even though you didn't want to shoot Ryan Adams? Do you expect anyone with a brain to believe that? So the organizers told you not to shoot the headliner? That sure makes perfect sense. Your using flash is more likely to be from not having insufficient gig photography knowledge. I've seen images from the same set from the same location. Flash wasn't necessary. If you worked on your skill set, you wouldn't have to guess that a flash might be helpful. You should be able to shoot a show without flash. Especially when there's still daylight. So you broke the flash rule. Unprofessional. YOU FLIPPED OFF THE HEADLINER. On what planet is that professional? Again, unprofessional. You were an unpaid VOLUNTEER shooting for a 501(c)3 non-profit. You made them look bad. On an international level. Again unprofessional. Then you argued with Mr. Adams publicly, making the organizers look bad. Making concert photographers look bad. You kinda sorta apologize, yet you are bashing the organizers, basically calling them liars. Dissing the people that give you work is not a good thing. And here you are, telling different stories yet again. Do the stories vary upon the audience or can you just not remember what you told the local press? Bottom line: you don't break the rules, you don't use flash, you don't try and antagonize the talent, you shoot where you're told, you don't lie and you do remember that it's not about you.

Casey Roger Bennett's picture

Absolutely. In one of my earliest gigs as a concert photographer, I made the mistake of using flash during an acoustic set. I fired off a shot and literally blinded the singer for a brief second -- he twitched uncomfortably and he dropped the F bomb mid song -- and I felt horrible. I profusely apologized afterwards to him and learned my lesson. It's easy to get carried away to 'get the shot', but never get defensive when you know you're in the wrong.

Rex Jones's picture

If anything, taking responsibility for an honest mistake will likely help you out more anyway. It definitely sets you apart. I don't have a story about using a flash in the wrong place, but I have accidentally shot on a location that ended up being private property(we just didn't see any signs), ended up having a great conversation with the owner who was happy to let us continue.

Alex Cooke's picture

Agreed, I really get the impression that this photographer was not able to understand that the festival is about the music and fans are there to see that; it's not about the photographers, and doing something expressly forbidden that could seriously disturb that experience and potentially cause a medical crisis is a really selfish to do.

Joe Sale's picture

Thanks Rex. I have issued a statement which included an apology to Mr. Adams.

Edward Porter's picture

Much like movie theaters banning cell phones, flash should be banned in venues - regardless of medical conditions. It's incredibly distracting to have your eyeballs pierced a dozen times while trying to watch your favorite band perform.

In the movie theaters I remember people would quickly get kicked out for distracting and disrespectful behavior. I wonder if he was kicked out? Fast forward to today and it seems like people, adults and children, are often allowed to do whatever they want. Now we have dogs being allowed into supermarkets and department stores for people that are not even blind.

Joe Sale's picture

I wasn't kicked out, my flash firing 3 times from a far distance atop an elevated lift just happened to catch his eye from the stage.

Joe I was just generally remarking about how things were based on E Port's comments. I wasn't making a connection to your story. Don't worry, I have no interest in joining the bully pulpit.

wasn't kicked out but is now banned by the organizers from shooting for them again and they won't use his pics from this year

Read my comment above. It wasn't addressing his specific situation.

And don't you think you've made your point against Mr. Sale?

Mateusz Antonowicz's picture

But strobe lights and thousands of flashing LEDs and other light is OK? Ever been to a concert? If a person has seizures from stroboscopic light, I am sure he wouldn't just go on scene, where there is cascade of light. And flash from 2000 feet? Not even worth using, even with High ISO, that's just too far.

Why was he even blasting a flash at 2,000 feet away? Was he hoping to get some fill from that? It just makes no sense.

Alex Cooke's picture

He said he was trying to fill the crowd.

Joe Sale's picture

Had both, wasn't shooting the performer. If people would read the story and my statement (which is conveniently not included in reposts of the story), then they may better understand the situation.

the spokesperson for the event said that's not true and that the photographers were told about Mr. Adams' condition

Ben D's picture

Must suck to be him right about now, reading articles like this and comments siding with Adams. Being on the wrong side of an argument on the Internet these days has pretty much immediate negative consequences.

Ricky Perrone's picture

Well, it must have been a super powerful flash for the photographer to expect any sort of useful effect from 2,000 feet away. Thats Ansel Adams comment was pretty funny.

"Thats Ansel Adams comment was pretty funny."

Not at all. I doubt he would take mockingly being called Caruso as funny. While he was right to be upset at the photographer, that comment was generally disrespectful towards photographers, and even the late Ansel Adams, who wasn't a flash user anyway. It was uncalled for.

Anonymous's picture

It wasn't uncalled for. This Joe Sale asshat was rude to Ryan right off the bat on twitter but he deleted those tweets. Ryan posts signs at his gigs not to use flash. It was funny. Lighten up

How does someone being rude to him give him the right to mock someone's chosen profession and as a consequence others within the same profession?

Just because you found it funny doesn't make it right.

Anonymous's picture

All Ryan saw was the flash, something that can seriously hurt the guy and said something. Joe Sale decided to call him out on twitter and continued to be a dick after Ryan mentioned his condition. Most of us on here are photographers and it sucks to have someone like Sale give us a bad name. You should be angry at him not Ryan Adams. Ryan was just trying to do his damn job. Maybe the joke wasn't funny to you but to take it as an insult to the entire profession is taking it way too far.

I got a chance to work with Ryan a long time ago when he was a guest on The cowboy junkies "Trinity Revisted" dvd. He was one of the nicest guys I've ever had the pleasure of working with and he wouldn't call out someone who didn't deserve it. This idiot clearly deserved to be mocked. Ryan wasn't calling out every photographer.

Joe Sale's picture

Idiot? You're clearly an expert who has never made a mistake or have been accused of something you didn't intentionally do. You resort to calling names...real big of you Todd!

Anonymous's picture

Oh I've made mistakes but I don't turn the blame on someone like you did. I don't care what you think about me you were a complete jerk for no reason to Ryan. Im angry you gave photographers a bad name. Especially your fellow shooters at the show who followed the rules

Joe Sale's picture


on this board you say you weren't shooting Adams. That's not what you've said previously in interviews and twitter. you've changed your story and that's even worse. You admitted you were angry because you had to shoot from the soundboard. But why would you be angry to shoot from there if you weren't shooting Adams? At least one of the other photographers shooting said you were trying to "tease" Adams because you were mad. Obviously the flip off was nothing but intentional. You'd get more respect if you'd take ownership of what you did instead of trying to weasel out of it.

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