Ask Me Anything #3: So you want to be a music photographer…..

Recently I’ve been receiving e-mails from people asking me about music photography….which is super rad!! Even though I feel I’m still learning, making mistakes, and finding my place…..a while back I did two posts with FAQs people at shows tend to ask me ……you can check them out here and here……

A lot of people ask me how and why I got into this….

First I think it’s really important to understand that music has always been a huge part of my life. My earliest memories are all deeply connected to it. I have my parents to thank for that. I grew up listening to music, playing music, watching family friends play music, etc. Photography has also equally been a huge part of my life. My Dad was a brilliant photographer, and my first inspiration and teacher. I picked up his one of his cameras in jr. high and it was instant love. I took photography classes all throughout high school. A bunch of my friends were musicians and needed photos. So I started taking them. Simple as that. From there I continued to meet more people in the local music scene. I feel fortunate to still be very close to many of them today. I went to the Maryland Institute College of Art for a bit. During this time I also lived in a recording studio in Baltimore. One piece of advice- start small…..everyone has to begin somewhere.  The earliest shows I shot were not at huge venues.. They were at tiny, hole-in-the-wall-bars and clubs with non-existent lighting and no photo pit. Every single show you shoot, no matter how “big” or “small”, is an opportunity to learn and grow. Never forget that.

The first time I shot a festival, I was about sixteen. It was one of the HFStivals. I remember standing in front of the main stage beside all the other photographers with huge cameras and lenses. I was chatting with one of them and asked who he was working for. He said, “Rolling Stone…….what about you?” I said, “Ummm……I go to high school……”. He laughed and said it was awesome that I was getting such an early start. Don’t worry about being a- “too young” or b- “not living in a big city”. I grew up in a very small town, and started very young as you can also see.  Again, start small.

Another important thing, perhaps the MOST important thing, actually!!! Aside from anything photo, technical or gear related…..let’s talk PEOPLE. It’s a small world. There are a lot of us in it. Bottom line- don’t be a jerk. Treat others how you want to be treated. Be genuine. Be yourself. Be professioinal. Be polite. Remember: We’re all just people, yo.

On being “professional”…….remember that you are here to work. In this industry it can be really easy to get caught up with having too much “fun”. Don’t get me wrong, it is a fun job! But that doesn’t mean you’re here to just party. Focus first. A lot of people also ask me why I don’t have more pictures of myself with people I’ve photographed. Or autographs. Well, first of all I suppose I’m too busy taking pictures of other people to even think about it. I also don’t like to bug people about stuff like that when I’m working.

I know I mention this a lot, but- be aware of and respect the other people that are working around you. This includes but is not limited to security, venue staff, all crew, patrons, other photographers, etc etc etc….. stay out of the way, don’t touch other people’s shit, follow the rules, and don’t go places you know you’re not supposed to.   

There is no photoshop in the pit. …or flash……Pretty much everything has shifted to digital, which is cool in a lot of ways. However, even with all of the insta-speedy-auto-settings, gear, programs and apps that have come out, the way I see things and work really hasn’t changed too much. I am thankful to have certain tools and equipment that make shooting concerts easier now than back in the film days…..but really – learn how to use your camera…..practice, practice, practice!  Learn about aperture and shutter speed and iso and metering. There’s so much during a live concert that you can’t control. You and your camera are pretty much the only things. There’s also not a lot of time to mess around. Most shows have a three song limit to shoot. There is no one magic setting I can tell you to use, it’s always going to be something different. I try to keep my images as pure and natural as possible. I think of photoshop and digital editing as a secondary tool.

Learn from your mistakes. More than any class I’ve taken or book I’ve read, the biggest learning experiences in my life have come from completely f*#$ing up / failing…….and then trying to figure out how to not do it again. As human beings and creative individuals, we are constantly changing and evolving, life is not static. There are always going to be steps back and steps forward.

Make the best of the situation. Sometimes there is no photo pit. Sometimes the lights are non-existent or don’t go where you want them to. Sometimes you only get one song to shoot. You can complain and moan all you want, but it’s not going to change anything. I know it can be frustrating, but try to look at these experiences as an opportunity to learn. In a perfect world I suppose everything would be bright and shiny and exactly how you want it when you want it.  But honestly, that is neither realistic or sustainable.  How you react when things are not easy or ideal, can say more about your character and inner world.

Good luck everyone! Get out there and shoot! Please let me know if you have any more specific questions……Ask Me Anything Yoga edition coming next…..