March 26, 2012
★ Ultra Music Festival. The War on Photography and The Promotion of Drugs Use to Children

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Taking Ecstasy / MDMA @ Ultra Music Festival 2012

The first time I attended UMF in Miami was in the Spring of 2004. The festival lasted one day and attendee demographic was far different from its 2012 version that comprises of three days with more attendees that I could have ever imagined. Each year, Ultra’s organizers post rules for attendees on their website. Here they are:

Use of the Ticket constitutes agreement to the Terms of Purchase as well as the following terms: The ticket is a revocable license to the specific seat and for the time listed on the front thereof. Management reserves the right, without the refund of any portion of the ticket purchase price, to refuse admission or to eject any person who fails to comply with the rules of the venue. No refunds/exchanges. The ticket user assumes all risks of personal injury incidental to the event, whether occurring prior to, during, or subsequent to the event, and holder voluntarily agrees that the management, venue/facility, league or team, artist(s) performing, participants, participating clubs, UltraMusicFestival, Festival Productions, MXT, LLC., TicketJunkie, LLC., Ultra Enterprises Inc., the Event Promoter, Event Sponsors and all of their respective agents, officers, directors, sub-contractors, owners and employees are expressly released from any claims arising from such causes. Ticket purchaser/user bears all risks of inclement weather. Tickets lost or stolen can not be replaced. Event time and date is subject to change. The resale or attempted resale of a ticket at a price higher than that appearing thereon is prohibited and if discovered will result in the ticket being voided without refund. The ticket may not be used for advertising, promotion (including contests and sweepstakes) or other trade purposes without the express written consent of the artist and promoter (“Artist”). The use of cameras, video, or audio recording equipment is prohibited unless otherwise indicated by the venue, artists, or promoter of the event. If audio recording of the show is permitted, it is only to the extent and for the uses allowed under the Artist’s taping policy. The ticket user consents to Artists and their affiliate use of his or her image or likeness incidental to any video display, transmission or recording of the event. Avoid litter; please respect the venue and the environment.

WARNING: EXCESSIVE EXPOSURE TO LOUD MUSIC WILL DAMAGE YOUR HEARING.

WARNING: The first person to enter the venue with a Print At Home or other hard ticket is the only person admitted by the ticket. Therefore do not share or duplicate the ticket, guard it like cash. Price includes applicable sale and use taxes and any cash discounts.

The camera policy is actually unchanged from the last few years. Simply put, Ultra doesn’t allow any recording devices or cameras. Of course, with Smartphone cameras achieving 8 megapixels and very capable sensors, the rule is nearly impossible to enforce. I still think we’re a decade away from photos worth sharing from a device that also functions as a phone. Still, many attendees did have cameras with them. Thousands of people brought dedicated cameras to Ultra this year with the majority of those being point & shoot models. These are fixed lens pocket cameras  with usually a small aperture, minimal zoom capabilities and nonexistent or impossible to use manual photo modes. However, nearly every camera I saw was fully capable of recording HD video. In the past, attendees tried and failed at taking photos of their favorite acts because both the cameras and the operator of those cameras didn’t have the basic skills to take a great photo. Taking great photos is not easy. Every time I see a camera flash go, I know that photo won’t be as great as it could be. This year, video was the primary capture. YouTube is huge and Facebook supports HD uploads and even $99 cameras record in 720P so it’s a natural choice that video be the preferred capture. I also saw about 1 out of 25 cameras being SLRs with a few cases of individuals with multiple lenses and flash-diffusers despite there being no wrist-band on the person indicating press or an Ultra employee. I have no idea how SLRs made it into Ultra over and over again.

So, what we had at Ultra 2012 is roughly half of the attendees using camera-phones to take photos and videos and another 25% using dedicated cameras with the majority of that quarter opting for video. Now, the landscape for monetizing photos is not simple. I doubt many UMF attendees are going to monetize the photos but video is a different story. If a video at Ultra does well, YouTube will ping the content creator to monetize it and many opt for it. What’s a few extra bucks, right? I believe video recording is the single biggest threat to UMF’s bottom line because I realize that their rules only apply to things they can monetize.

  • No cameras
  • No outside food or beverages
  • No outside merchandise like glow-sticks

My very simplified guess is that if drugs were legalized and Ultra had a way to sell those drugs, then they’d actually care about keeping drugs from getting in. Maybe I should step back a bit.

On Friday, I showed up to Ultra with an Olympus E-PL2. It’s a Micro Four-Thirds camera from early 2011. I had with me a quarter-inch long 20mm non-zoom pancake lens and a 14-42 f/3.5 stock lens in my pocket measuring 1.5 inches in length.. The 20mm was on the camera around my neck. The officer felt my shorts, pulled out the lens and directed me to the exit.

“This lens is too long” he says.

An hour later, I make it back to Ultra with my 20mm still attached and get in. The photos aren’t great given the fixed lens but the f/1.7 aperture does help as it gets dark.

On Saturday, I show up with my friend Ben. He has his Canon 70D and I believe a stock lens with a max focal point of 135mm. He puts both in his pocket detached and gets in fine. I go up next with my 45-200mm attached to my pocketable Four-Thirds camera that looks like a Canon G12 and am directed to the exit.

“No Detachable lenses” he says.

An hour later, I show up with my just my 20mm again and get in fine.

On Sunday, I just gave up. Ben had luck getting in on Saturday but didn’t push his luck again because the walk to and from our hotel is brutal. So, I just did my 20mm and dealt with it.

Camera policies are never simple. Those checking aren’t reading Amazing and DPReview religiously to find out what cameras do what and what you should allow into events like this. I get it that you won’t allow professional cameras. This is for the sole purpose of eliminating the chances of attendees profiting from images captured at Ultra. There is no other reason. Approved media and UMF photo staff are responsible for producing high-quality images. Attendees are not. “let the kids post over-exposed crap to Facebook. Whatever.”

I am not all that bent out of shape about UMF’s constantly changing photo policies that differ by year, day and by who checks your pockets. I’m most annoyed with the fact that illegal drugs are being used by the majority of attendees and Ultra does absolutely nothing to circumvent this use.

I’m not against drugs. I don’t use drugs but I’m not about intruding into someone else’s lifestyle. However, for the sake of this post, the policy on cameras and a guy bringing in a water bottle as being grounds for being shown the door are insane when you consider that thousands of kids from 12 to 25 are getting high out of their minds, often with very negative consequences at an event many parents consider to be safe and with reliable security. UMF is an all ages event.

My sister who turns 16 in July wanted to join me this year. She has a great camera I gave to her used. It has a 24x zoom and a pretty long lens and she can use it pretty well. I told her not to go because I can’t keep an eye on her and I trust she won’t buy drugs from strangers but I am not ready for her to be opened to the world of various drugs uses. Just this year, at age 25, I learned what “Molly” was and why kids wore sunglasses when doing it and what those crazy finger light gloves are for people wear. I’m 25 and she’s 16. I’m not ready for her to learn about those things.

However, I can’t help but laugh because my statement to her should be, “Sorry, you can’t go to Ultra. It’s not because of all of the drugs. UMF doesn’t care about those. It’s just your camera. You see, it’s too big and they don’t like big cameras. Here’s some ecstasy to start you off and $50 to buy some pot when you get through the doors. Have fun little sister.”

This is the issue I have. I have two requests of UMF that I believe will settle this matter once and for all.

  • Be abundantly clear about rules and policies BEFORE Ultra starts as in a few months before. If there’s a camera zoom max, state that. If there’s a maximum lens length, also state this. If you have a megapixel max, please disclose it.
  • Crack down on drugs use. Get rid of drugs to the best of your ability.

I saw a few undercover cops doing busts on guys selling drugs but most uniformed officers just stood around while pot smoke and wobbly legged teens passed right by them. This is absolutely absurd that you allow thousands of kids who can’t even buy cigarettes to trip balls for 3 days straight without their parents knowing. I spoke to a parent on my flight today. She saw me editing photos of UMF and said, “my son just went to that.” I promptly informed her the majority of kids that go do drugs. She was legitimately pissed off. “I paid $300 for a ticket and they allow people to sell drugs inside?” If parents knew how much drugs use happened at Ultra, you’d suffer a major drop in attendance. A large number of attendees are Miami locals and teens that have nothing to do that weekend and decide to go to UMF. You facilitate drug use and sometimes these are first time drug users. I hope you feel proud.

I have the money and resources to buy a camera that fits within Ultra’s specifications and I’ll produce exceptional photos at least considering that I am NOT an expert and am merely a hobbyist when it comes to taking pictures. I do it for fund and would love to show up at the gates each day with a camera that falls within your rules. Limiting us to detachable lens cameras is fine. A Canon G1X and Canon S100 will get me through Ultra and both are fixed lens cameras. Nikon now has a f/1.8 camera that fits in your back pocket. Camera technology is at an all time high if you have the resources to buy new cameras. I do and am sick of being turned away when you never really state what’s allowed and what’s not.

More people attending Ultra are monetizing video shot on their camera phones than photos taken with their friends SLR they borrowed that has flash-enabled and is on the Auto mode all day. Truly define what you want from us and we’ll comply. As for the drug use, I’m ashamed to promote this event every year. Do you realize that March is the largest traffic month all year for me. My page views jump 500% in March with thousands and thousands of Google results coming from this search term and hundreds of variations:

“How to buy drugs at Ultra Music Festival”

I hope you’re proud of your contributions to society. You facilitate drugs to teenagers. Great work.