Everyone at the Photoletariat was amazed by the response we got from last month’s post ‘Everything You Know About Concert Photography is Wrong’. Special thanks to A Photo Editor for sharing it with his audience and everyone who joined the dialogue.
In response to the post, I received a couple emails with great questions, I thought I would answer one of them:
“It’s kinda depressing at these big shows. But in a way it’s made me start to learn how to be more creative. So can I ask you, how do you go about getting in w/ bands/publicists to be able to shoot sound checks, in green rooms, backstage, etc? Is it all just working connections? Or do you have any tricks you’ve gained over the years?”
Looking back, I realized I’ve been the most productive, the most successful and the most personally rewarded by creating my own opportunities through self-initiated projects. This realization was reinforced again and again by presentations by established and emerging photographers (like the PDN 30) that I attended while I was figuring things out. I saw consistently and clearly that their growth came out of the courage to pursue personal work.
After years of trial and error, these are my core principles for getting a self-initiated project off the ground -
Think it Through:
You need an idea and be able to communicate it- You can’t just say, “Hey, let me backstage.” There needs to be a reason, for example:
“I’d like backstage access so I can make candid portraits on a film camera.”
“I’d like backstage access so I can make meaningful documentary images about the band and publish a great photo essay.”
“I’d like backstage access because I am working on a book about Norwegian Black Metal and need this material to tell the story.”
Many times I will write up a brief proposal describing what I want to do, why I want to do it and how I’m going to do it.
Presenting your ideas clearly will help you and help your subjects understand your intentions.
Access can seem difficult to get because the system is set up to weed out the crazies and psycho fans (many of whom slip past the radar anyway). The system is also set up to run along at the dull hum of the status quo, dealing with the same old requests for 2-song press access.
There is really no magic trick to getting beyond it. Most people you will deal with – the artist, the publicist, the venue contact or the festival director – are just fellow ‘normal’ people. Be yourself and deal with them directly. It’s amazing how much you can get done by asking politely and clearly for what you need. Be yourself, deal patiently with the inevitable misunderstandings and rejections.
In the end, smart creative people naturally want to work with other smart creative people, so keep asking until somebody finally ‘gets it’.
Where does the idea come from? What is motivating you? Is there a story that you feel needs to be told? or do you just want to inflate your ego by brushing elbows with celebrities?
My inspiration comes directly off the turntable and through my ears. But I also fell in love with music by reading great books on the subject, performing music and absorbing other photographer’s music photography and film documentaries. And although my business card may say ‘music photographer’ I strive to be a good photographer, period, who happens to shoot music most of the time. What moves me in Walker Evans’ and Irving Penn’s work is something I want to bring into my approach.
Great music draws from influences beyond music. Great music photography should also.
Open Doors with Great Work:
Having concisely edited, well presented work speaks of your vision, talents and ability to follow through on a project.
Showing why you are unique is always a helpful crowbar when trying to get in the door. Some of the best words you can hear are: “your stuff is amazing and we would love to work with you.” If you don’t feel your work is where you want it to be, then maybe you set your sights on projects that you can do without special access, or do on an experimental basis until you build up a strong body of images.
Good work leads to more opportunities to make good work.
Win-Win is the Way In:
This might mean that you have to cover your own costs to get a project started. However, the benefit to you is that you get to be in full control of a project that could result in new, amazing work. When that work is made public, it goes right back into promoting yourself in the way you want to be seen. And when you are sitting on great photos, you have a good chance generating income through editorial licensing or promotional licensing to the artist, venue, organization, etc. that you originally approached.
The win for the other party may be exposure through a unique media placement, or permission to use some images for their own promotion. And even this is win-win: say you shoot for a festival, give them your best images to use on their website with credit and a link and wham-o, you have each raised your profile through good photos and creative partnership. At a fundamental level, the reward for the subject is being seen, appreciated and documented in a heartfelt way.
When a project benefits everybody, there is really no good excuse for it not to happen.
Easy Does It:
Don’t be Annie Leibovitz (ca. 1985 – present), the age of the pushy ego-mad photographer is over. Once you have the trust and permission to move ahead, don’t become a pain in the butt by disrupting the very thing that you are there to capture. I’ve discovered that in creating projects involving musicians, backstage environments, festivals, etc. that hanging back, remaining observant and making things easy for everyone involved will put everyone at ease and actually allow you to create better work.
If you are a nuisance, it may come back to haunt you.
Talk is cheap in both the photo and music business. Once your project is underway, it’s important to include and thank the people who’ve helped you. Send prints to the artists, send galleries to the publicists and organizers, put the work together in a timely manner and be accommodating with requests to use images when its reasonable. This is your network, these are the people who will help you down the road and vouch for your talents and sincerity.
With each gesture you are building your most valuable asset: your reputation.
So, the question is now- what do you really want to do? and what’s holding you back?
Guest Blogger Jacob Blickenstaff is a music photographer who blogs and tweets. His last post was ‘How Poor Editing is Ruining Concert Photography.’