The Beginning – Part 1: A Favor for a Friend

One of the most common questions that I’m asked is how I became, or more to the point, how does someone become a concert photographer. My typical answer, there are as many ways to get into photographing in the music world as there are roads to Rome. However, be prepared to pay a few tolls along the way and pray for some type of roadside assistance. Funny as I’m trying to be, there’s definitely some truth in those words.

My way in. Doing a favor.

Yup. A good friend of mine was managing a band and needed some promo and CD photos done of the group. I had recently started my photo business after studying at the Art Institute of Seattle in the early 90’s and although I had the idea in my head to become a portrait/fashion photographer, I was also just starting out, so getting any type of photographic work was a blessing. Plus I had a little bit of a background in the music biz as both a musician (not a good one) and a roadie (a little bit better) in my pre-college days, so it was somewhat familiar territory. Different perspective for sure, but again, a common ground.

Funny though, as I look back on everything. During my teen/early 20’s years, when I thought I was going to be a rockstar, my bedroom was covered floor to ceiling with pictures that I’d cut out of magazines of different bands who were musical influences. Images made by photographers like, Mark Weiss, Ross Halfin and Neil Zlowzer. I don’t think I ever really even thought about it until after I’d been shooting in the industry for awhile, but unknowingly, I had been grooming myself for this type of photography all along. I hadn’t been idolizing the rockstars. I had been immersing myself in the imagery.

But that’s for another blog. The one that covers the why’s, what’s and where’s of how my photographic journey began. Soon.

For now, back to the beginning and that favor.

The band that my buddy managed at the time was an act that was starting to gain some momentum beyond the local scene and he needed some solid photos of the band to include in the promo packages being prepared to be sent out to record labels. A pretty cool, but pretty standard kind of a shoot. However, along the course of photographing those group shots, I did some individual photos of the members as well. One of them was so well received that it literally became the image printed on the new CD that they were recording. This then quickly turned into all of us (me and the band) wanting to get some concert and documentary type shots to include in the promo packs as well. Initially, I was going to photograph a few of the shows they were doing as the recording/production of the CD was wrapping up and that was pretty much going to be it.

How easily plans can be changed.

Like I said, it was the local music scene, so word travels fast. Before I knew it, I was receiving requests from other bands to shoot promos and live shots for them and their next CD as well. A change in original photographic direction for sure, but a very cool one to say the least. So for the next year and a half, I immersed myself in the local music scene and began to re-examine my photographic path as well. It was also during this time that I cut my chops on everything from really learning about low-light photography, and in some of the clubs I shot, I mean “low light”, to understanding angles and the timing of the stage. Then, everything changed in the beginning of ’97. That was the year that my continuous balancing act with the universe really began.

Rick DeJesus of the band Adelitas Way performs in concert at the Ogden Theater April 21, 2011

By June of that year I had gotten the opportunity to photograph some of the “up and coming” bands of the time such as Sevendust and Creed. While still working my way through the local scene, plus taking my first trip to LA to cover the “F Music Fest” for a local magazine. However, to be quite candid, I really received my Golden Ticket at the end of January in ’97. As that’s when I got the pass to shoot this band that you may have heard of named, Metallica. Now I must admit, to have perspective clients start reviewing my portfolio beginning with an image of, James Hetfield, slammed open more doors for me than I’d probably like to admit, but I also readily took hold any invitation that was offered to me at the time because of it, and oh did the offers and invites did start to roll in.

Come to find out, even in the larger scale scenario of the music business world, it’s as close knit of a community as a local scene is. So once you’re invited into the house, many rooms become instantly open. Others might take time to get through, but the access to them becomes much more obtainable and realistic.

However, 1997 was also the year that I buried my big brother.

But that’s the yin and yang of life. A circle that has been prevalent throughout it all. But that’s something that can be said for everyone. However, as these blogs continue, this reoccurring theme will unfold even more when some highs and lows are brought to light, but again, that’s for another time.

For now, it’s time to wrap up this intro about the beginning of my journey into the music world and what the effects of doing a favor can have. Truly, you’ll never know what or where it can lead to. But more to the point of this in particular blog, and concert photography in general, the best beginning advice I can offer is to become involved in what’s happening at a local level. Not only is it a great place to gain easier access and learn, but you don’t know when the next Pantera will be playing their first gig in front of a crowd of 10 people, and possibly, somebody with a camera just might be there…

Until next time. Much love and anything for the shot!

Part 2 (Teaser) – Establishing viability, contacts, equipment and direction in the concert photography world.