What it’s like to be a music photographer Powered By Zenfolio

July 14th, 2014

Much like breaking into the music industry as a recording artist, most music photographers aren’t going to make millions. “There isn’t much money in photographing live music, unless you are working for a larger magazine,” says UK-based music and event photographer Martin Hobby. But like any true artist, be it musical, performance or photographic, they do it for the love of it. “Even if it’s just for a free ticket and beer!” Jokes Hobby.

We talked to three professional photographers who decided to add music to their resume—from country enthusiasts to metal heads—to marry their two greatest passions: music and photography.

Martin Hobby, Kent/London, England

Also shoots: weddings, commercial

What got you interested in music photography?

I have always been a music fan, and I’ve always been a photographer (21 years this year). But it was relatively recently, in 2010, that I decided to combine the two—I think I just wanted to take my work in a different direction, and there is a healthy live music scene in the town I live in, so I started covering local shows.

How can one get into the music photography business?

Getting into it is quite easy; just turn up at a local show with a camera and shoot the bands. Like with anything, it’s about networking and getting out there—go chat with the bands after their set, build rapport and trust, if your work is good enough and you are a cool person to be around, things will happen.

Where does the majority of your income come from with this type of work?

Either being commissioned by a magazine to cover a band, or by bands and their management companies if they need to get photos for PR or artwork.

What is your dream shoot?

Tom Waits. I would love to make a portrait of him.

What are the challenges you face when shooting a concert?

Smaller venues can have really crappy lighting or no lighting, but they may allow you to use flash, which the larger venues often don’t, so you are at the mercy of the lighting guy. Also, at most larger shows you are only allowed to shoot for the first three songs (with no flash), so you may only have ten minutes to get your shots! I actually quite like this, as it gives me a definite time in which to nail it, and then I get to watch the band.

Do you aim to photograph a specific genre, or all kinds?

I started off covering a lot of heavy metal shows as that was mainly what the local bands played, and I went to Bloodstock Festival a few times, and they used some of my shots for their advertising. Now I mainly shoot for indie magazines, so I cover a real variety, which is great as I love hearing new music—especially if it’s a style I’m not really aware of. The most recent band that blew me away was tUnE-yArDs. It was definitely not my usual cup of tea but was amazing to see live.

You work for several music magazines. How were you able to get your foot in the door?

My first big break came through meeting an old friend at a party—he was then the picture editor for one of the UK’s biggest music magazines. It still took me two years from the initial conversation before he felt I was good enough to work for him.

What is your favorite part about the music industry?

Giving something back to the bands that have inspired and shaped my life. I remember as a kid looking at album covers and pictures of bands in magazines. It’s something to look up to. If I can do the same and inspire the next generations to pick up cameras and follow in my footsteps, that would be the best thing in the world.

Sara Kauss, Jupiter, FL

Also shoots: weddings


How did you get into the music photography business?

I’ve photographed weddings for almost nine years now, and about four years ago, I went to Nashville for an event and literally ran into a country music artist whose music I knew from growing up. Talking with him, I learned a little bit about the music industry today, and I set forth networking and meeting more people after that.

What’s your tip for aspiring music photographers?

You have to be passionate about it. A lot of photographers I’ve met are just in the business to make a living, and they truly don’t care, or sometimes even know, about the artist they are shooting. And it shows—their images are lacking passion. If you like a band, connect with them on social media and see if they need a photographer for their next event.

What is your concert shoot gear?

Two Canon bodies, one with a 135mm or 2.0 (or 300mm 2.8, if farther from the stage), and a wide angle, 24mm 1.4 and/or 14mm 2.8) and my Shootsac bag for switching lenses. At a concert, you’re moving quickly and need to not have luggage!

What genre do you primarily shoot?

Country! I’m a cowboy-boot wearing, outdoor, deep sea fishing, woods hunting with my husband kind of girl. But I appreciate all kinds of music. So if I shoot an artist from a genre I don’t know, I get to know their music first and find a groove.

Tell us about an unforgettable moment backstage.

Running into Kenny Chesney and being able to tell him that my husband and I just named our new South Florida property after his song “Lucky Old Sun” was neat. It was a brief, but meaningful, conversation.

What is the most surprising thing about the music industry you’ve learned throughout the years?

There are a hundred people involved in one singer’s career. Success isn’t an overnight thing. Being an artist is one of the hardest jobs anyone could have. Just like us photographers, the perception is we show up and shoot, without realizing all the back end work that goes into what we do, from editing to taxes. Just like us, musicians are running a business, and it takes a lot of people to help them succeed. It’s a career of love, for sure!

What are some of your favorite shows you’ve shot?

Because I genuinely love music, my favorite shows are songwriters singing in a round at The Bluebird Café or The Listening Room in Nashville. Big lights and lots of stage are amazing and cool to photograph! But to me, it’s all about capturing something unique about an artist that not many people get to see, and sharing those moments to tell the story of the artist.

Amiee Stubbs, Nashville, TN

Shoots: animal portraits


What got you interested in music photography?

In high school I used to come up with clever ways to sneak my camera into shows. I’ve actually been photographing concerts since I was shooting film back in the early ‘90s. Those photos weren’t good by any stretch, but I still cherish them. Music has always been my biggest passion, and I wanted a personal way to remember all the shows I’d seen.

How did you get into the music photography business?

I was determined to get my foot in the door, so over the years I built up a decent portfolio with images I’d taken while I was sitting in paid seats. Once I felt comfortable with my body of work, I started reaching out to anyone with an address on Music Row asking them to give me a chance. National Shows 2 said yes, and I’ve been working for them ever since.

Tell us about an unforgettable show moment.

Nashville was home to Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Festival back in May, and the cast of Impractical Jokers, my favorite TV show, was doing a show at The Ryman. I was photographing the show for them, and at the end of the night I walked on stage to get a photo of the guys with the entire crowd behind them. It was pretty amazing to be standing on such a historic stage, looking out at the crowd, with some of my favorite comedians posing for my camera.

What is your dream shoot?

I’d love to be photographing U2, for U2. I’ve seen U2 in concert 37 times over the years. I’ve loved all the shows equally, but if I had to pick a favorite, there was a show in Chicago in 2009 that had the perfect set list.

Are there times when you want to put down the camera and just enjoy the show?

I’ve actually noticed that it’s hard for me to enjoy a show without my camera now. I think combining my love of music and photography just heightens the experience.

What is the first step of getting into music photography?

It’s really not too hard to bring a camera into a show now. A lot of my early work was done on different Lumix point-and-shoot cameras, because I was too scared to risk bringing in my DSLR. And the ISO technology is a million times better now than it was back then. Take the opportunities you can to get some practice!

What is your favorite part about music photography?

Trying to capture the sound, the emotion and the experience in a single moment. Even if that band on that stage isn’t one of my favorites, I know there’s someone in that crowd who loves them more than anything.

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