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3 Intangible Things I Need As a Music Photographer

Photo by Gerard Del Mundo

A little over a week ago, I spoke at the 5th DLSU Young Multimedia and Graphic Designers summit. I don’t tknow why I was invited, but I just thought it would be a good way to explain to some people what music photography is and why it’s important to me. True enough, I got responses afterwards from graphic designers saying that they never knew that the field existed here, or that there was such a thing as a music photographer. Some even left a message on my facebook saying that they want to become one.

I say go!

Anyway, while I was preparing for this talk, I couldn’t use the ones that I’ve used before. The last university talk I had was at Ateneo’s AMP and that was two years ago. A lot has happened in two years and there are things you learn along the way. Experience is still the best teacher.

I was rereading the materials I used and there were some tweaking I needed to do. It’s very different from the one on one workshop that I do, but there are just some things that those who might be interested, need to know about this field before they get into it.

When I started it was just about being able to do something, these days a lot of photographers try and race to the top, completely disregarding the steps that they take or at least knowing that they have to focus more on building a stronghold of a reputation by letting the work speak for itself rather than the number of mentions or credit that people quickly forget anyway.

Opportunities always come. There is no use in regretting having to miss a few. I said before and I’ll say it over and over, when your job is to capture moments, there are and always will be moments that you miss.  These moments may have been captured by someone else, but that doesn’t mean you’re a lesser photographer then they are. I’m sure you were able to capture a moment that they weren’t able to. It’s just the way it works.

I know that when one is young, the older people say, “Don’t be in a hurry.” I’ve been there and I’ve disregarded that saying many times thinking that none of those who are older than us know what we’re going through and what we’re feeling. Well, it depends actually on who’s saying it, but I think the “hurry” bit, is applicable to everything, since we tend to not ‘savour the moments’ of our lives, which is ironic, because we’re actually taking photos of moments for that very reason.

Since there have been a ton of music photographers that have recenly blazed into the local scene the past year or so, I noticed that some may be looking at success the wrong way. Especially the part where the point when ‘shooting for free’ is taken out of context (that deserves an entirely different post altogether). This particular field is a service to the music industry and is never about you, but about your subjects, your responsibility to deliver a message. It is never ever about you, your rank, your age, how early you started, if you started earlier than others. You are simply a vessel, that’s why you’re position in a concert oftentimes is in between the artist and the audience, you are a conduit, a mere messenger.

But I realized, before you get there, the reason why taking time was so important to me was that there were things I needed to develop before I can fully do my job and they’re not material things, but they are very useful to keep in mind.

 

Trust, with humans, is a two-way street. When there's too much bullshit already, that's when you should know it's time to move on.

 TRUST

I don’t even think I can explain enough in this post how important this is. Basically this is the most important thing when working. It applies to any kind of work. People need to know what you can produce and deliver when they hire you. When it comes to photographing musicians though, being inside a circle of trust is important, especially when they’re on a creative setting, like songwriting or recording. Like how most photojournalists do it, you have to be there long enough to make yourself invisible, otherwise you run the risk of producing photos that feel like the subject is conscious of your presence.

Of course there are the kind of pictures where they’re deliberately aware of the camera, but trust is still needed to let you in and up close to let them take photos of you.

How do you get this? It’s like asking one how you earn the trust of a new friend. Musicians are still celebrities, you have to know that in no way you will compromise their reputation. However, if you’re a photographer who always want to reveal the truth, you have to have a solid set of principles to know where your loyalties lie. Remember that you want to show some form of truth to your photos, unless you’re really just hired to do ‘puff pieces’, then you just do whatever you’re asked to do then.

The artists should know by now that showing a moment of weakness or a not so ‘posed’ photo of themselves are the best ones, but rarely do we get that access because of the moulded perception of what a rockstar should look like. I think the artists are represented by their work, not their faces (thus my constant rallying not to put faces of musicians in album covers). I think I’m here because I’m curious about the process of creating and delivering it to the audience.

Sometimes though, to get that trust you have to do what you’re asked to do, but you have to have your own voice as an artist to find out if this is in line with, not just how the subject is portrayed, how you want to portray yourself, too as a kind of messenger. No matter how close friends they become to you, you will always be an outsider because you need that in order to objectively take a photo. You are an observer and nothing more.

You need energy from within you and those from your subjects

Energy

Ah yes, energy. The core of how we will be able to function on a basic level. The spirit may be willing, but without this you will not be able to keep up with the long hours, late nights, touring. You have to be on the same energy level as the musicians while they’re performing otherwise you’ll have a difficult time anticipating what’s going to happen next. I’m not saying you have to jump around and party as well. I think it’s all about the vibe, the energy when you are exposed to your subjects, you have to feed off it to know what kind of photos you need to produce.

On the basic level of course, being fit is important. It would be difficult to do events when you’re not healthy. I do drink, but not when I’m working. I drink after work or on a free day because you don’t want to be those photographers who headbang with beer in one hand and a camera on the other. What’s the point of being a photographer when you’re not using really well the one thing that makes you such?

You have to be fit. When you’re not flexible and you can’t move much. Sometimes you’re put in a cramped studio with no idea where to stand. You have to walk carefully because you might step on instruments, effect and wires. You have to make sure to steer clear of stepping on these or else run the risk of being branded as clumsy. Then you won’t be trusted to do these things anymore. Cutting off musicians performances or rehearsals mid-way by someone who is initially not supposed to be there is like signing your own death sentence.

You can do whatever you want to do and be anything you want to be if you just look at things differently

Imagination

Sometimes when you keep taking photos of the same scene and the same musicians over and over again, in order for you not to stagnate as an artist you have to always look at things in a fresh perspective. Take photos of things you haven’t taken photos before. If you already have a photograph of a particular musician up-close from a previous event and you have a new one with the same, the look or the story isn’t any different, then you must look for a different approach to it.

I guess if you do portraits, you have to use your imagination as well. Some musicians can be asked to pose in a certain manner, which still goes back to the most important, which is trust. If they don’t know you well, they may refuse, or even if they agree they may be uncomfortable with it and you will feel it in the photograph.

Imagination is important to me because I don’t want to limit myself with just documentary photography. This is how I started, but surely I don’t think this is just the only thing I’ll be doing. It’s good to branch out, but at least I chose to branch out the kind of work I produce and still use it for the music industry since they’re all the people I know. I’m not closing any doors but right now I now that I’m going to be within this sphere, until another door opens. Hey, I started out in fashion, who knew I’d end up with this job? If you’re in an entirely different field, there’s no excuse not to do whatever you want. Just make sure you prepare yourself well before you start anything.

If you have any questions, message me on facebook.

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  • http://twitter.com/kjms0811 Kristel

    It was a pleasure hearing your talk last 5th YMGDS. :)