Question (Heather B): Could you spare any advice for a wannabe Rock and Roll photographer? How did you get into this line of work? What were your preparations for this type of job? I've always been fascinated with photography, been a hobby for years, almost caught a break once (I was rejected and it crushed my spirit). I'm trying to move forward with this dream and I feel lost. Any words of wisdom?
Reply (Heather H): Please send me at least one photo that you've taken that is applicable to rock photography, like an action shot, portrait or live onstage shot so that I can see where you are in your skills. I don't want to ramble on and on needlessly!
HB: This is one of my most recent favorites, taken at SXSW in Austin a few weeks ago. It is what rock and roll is made of...the masses. The fans that keep the beast alive! I love the fact that with everyone face forward waiting for something to happen (we all piled in to see The Strokes for free!) this girl is engrossed in her own thoughts. I love to think about what's going on in her head.
One thing that does suck about wanting to be a rock photographer, connections. I have none. You know, connections that will put me closer. I'm barely 5 feet tall and at a show of this size, I'm lucky to get a shot of the back of someone's head, much less the band.
HH: First off, that's a very good photo, and the fact that you know it's a good photo reassures me you know what you're aiming for visually. So take that photo or others you think are as good to your local media, print or online, and offer them the use of it free if they'll publish it with your byline and caption. Write a little blurb caption explaining the who, what, where, why to go with it, just as you explained it to me. Then voila! you've got something that's been deemed good enough by someone other than your friends or your school. You'll be able to answer truthfully when someone asks what's the last thing you had published. That'll help you get the next job. And so on. Connections come from working with people more than partying with people, despite cliches to the contrary.
And lucky you to see the Strokes. I'm surprised your camera wasn't confiscated. If you weren't aware, that's the dirty little secret of music photography, the industry considers it damage control rather than publicity as when I started out. Nowadays, the bigger the act, the more arrangements you have to make to photograph them and usually for only two or three songs, then you have to go away (via strongarmed goons.) Hence, there's only two options at that level, work for the band, or work for some media that gets you permission to photograph the band.
The only way to get around this counterproductive nonsense is to find great acts on the way up and photograph them in smaller venues. This is easier than you think. Since you can postulate about what that female fan in your photo is doing at the show, lost in her own head, then you can develop the insight to see who's going to go the distance to be a "lifer" in the biz. I don't know your age nor need to, but I'm sure you can go to clubs before long at least.
And by the way, I'm short too. Before my ankles were wrecked in car crashes, I always wore really tall-heeled boots or shoes to shoot. Now that I can't I try to get close to the stage even with tall folks blocking: people always move around in any audience and you can be ready to get your shots. The photo feature in my previous blog (the Michael Des Barres Band LINK) was one such crowded gig. I just positioned myself as close as I could where I knew I'd get good angles of the musicians (I hate pics of microphones blocking the faces of singers) and waited for the people in front of me to dance around so I could shoot around or betwixt. Obviously, this is a technique more suited to clubs, but it works.
But then again I shoot through the viewfinder because I want to capture every nuance, gesture or fun serendipity of composition that screams what this music was about, unlike most who just hold up the cameras over their heads and look at the screen to compose a shot, which at least is a useful technique for the height-challenged. I am presuming you'll have a good digital camera that can shoot low light without flash, like ISO 3200, since more shows are inside at night than outside during the day. Early on I borrowed cameras from friends. Good equipment to capture action is sort of a given, plus the means to transmit high-res photos to clients.
To answer your first questions, I'm self-taught, but as an art student I read a lot of books with pictures by Irving Penn, Richard Avedon (two fashion photographers with superb photo style) or by David Gahr and David Bailey to learn what high-key photos reproduced best. Then, with digital, I had to become self-taught all over again! And it never occurred to me not to take a camera with me when I first started going to shows in the Pleistocene, even when all I had was a crummy Instamatic snapshot camera (Example: LINK.)
Good luck and enjoy your first published photograph herein.