About The Torch: A monthly series, The Torch aims to help musicians of all ages and talent levels learn more about their respective instruments. Each issue features band members from around the world discussing their craft. They provide our readers with advice and insight towards their person experiences, as well as talking about the tool of their livelihood. Whether you’re an aspiring musician, beginner, fan, or expert, there’s something here for everyone. I truly believe it takes one generation to inspire another. With each issue, I hope we can motivate more and more readers to become the forces they admire.
Written & Produced by Meryl "LJ" DeWitt | Edited by Rachel Rosell | Photos by Jeremy Saffer, Andrew Wendowski, Ryan Richardson/Music Junkie Press, Sedition
So far we’ve forced The Torch on musicians, but the guys on the stage aren’t the only people who make up the rock industry. The ones who have the pleasure of being spit on, kicked, pushed, and terrorized by your favorite artists are the ones in the photo pit; The photographers. Maybe I’m a little bias here, but most people do not understand how hard real concert photographers work. Today we have three sensational photographers to give you a little insight towards their craft.
When it comes to indie press companies, Music Junkie Press is the posterchild for how to do it right. The San Fran based company is one I’m very familiar with and I was happy to include their photographer, Rockin’ Ryan. As far as not-so-indie outlets go, read an article on Alt Press and you might run across some of Andrew Wendowski’s work. This Philly photographer has shot for several publications on top of being an incredible independent photographer. If you’re an avid reader of magazines like Kerrang! and Outburn, you’ve probably seen Jeremy Saffer’s work on the cover. He’s also done album covers for New Years Day, Butcher Babies, In This Moment, and so many more. As a photographer and designer, he produces phenomenal work.
Meryl “LJ” DeWitt: If you can even remember, haha, how old were you when you got your first camera? What type of camera was it?
Rockin’ Ryan: Haha, that was a long time ago. I was about 6 and would always steal my mom’s camera and take some pics around San Francisco. I believe it was an old Fuji point and shoot A FINEPIXZ. I think I still have it too.
Jeremy Saffer: I have no idea, but I don’t remember ever NOT having a camera when I was a kid. Generally, it was some cheap point and shoot, nothing manual or anything. I was never into photography, I just took photos for memories.
Andrew Wendowski: My first camera was probably one of those toy cameras known as a “View Master,” which is featured in the movie Toy Story and was a popular toy when I was growing up. You put slides into the camera to view what was present on the slide and not taking actual photos, but after that moment I probably went through hundreds of disposable cameras that mostly got wasted with awful cut off head photos and such because it was before the digital camera era. I probably went through a few hundred digital cameras after I got my first digital camera at a young age, where I took photos of everyone and everything before getting my DSLR 5 years ago (2011). Learned my camera for a year before launching my career into musician photography in June 2012 with my first artist who gave me a photo pass, which was TRAPT(www.TRAPT.com), and then my second photo pass in October was DANGERKIDS (www.wearedangerkids.com).
LJ: For anyone wanting to delve into the world of concert photography, what do you suggest as a good starter camera?
Jeremy: Any CANON DSLR and a lens that can work well in low light.
Ryan: A good starter camera would be a Canon Rebel T3i or Canon T5i with a 15-55 kit lens. Maybe try a film camera too like a Holga.
Andrew: I would suggest purchasing a Cropped Sensor DSLR kit, which comes with additional lenses from your local electronic retailer (ex. Best Buy, Target, Walmart, etc..), as it is usually the most recent DSLR camera for sale, and not older models as they don’t have a huge selection they usually only keep the newest in stock. I would also recommend saving your money as you’re going to want to keep updating your camera or purchasing/renting new lenses once you launch into concert photography to get the crispest photos possible.
LJ: Through your own trial and error, is there anything specific you would warn young photographers against?
Andrew: Build a portfolio and find a publication who will allow you to photograph for them before contacting touring band’s publicists to cover one of their shows because most bands/artists will not approve a photographer shooting for their own photographer. I would also recommend launching your own publication and building it yourself, as it’s hard to find a publication to shoot for, and if you do shoot for a publication you will have to request to shoot shows, and depending on how many photographers they have contributing or staff, they may not allow you to cover all the shows you want to but if it’s your publication, you decide who shoots what show and you can be the main photographer. Although I will say it’s a lot of work and time, and that if you are not willing to put the work forth, then do not do it.
Jeremy: Jealousy, discouragement, not insuring your gear, and not backing up all of your files...twice.
Ryan: Always double back up your photos/videos and put your film in a safe area.
LJ: What’s the biggest nightmare scenario you’ve had a show?
Andrew: My biggest show nightmare scenario is when I thought I forgot to bring my camera battery or memory card, which I panic about often as it’s a huge fear I have as if I forgot either of them I would not be able to shoot, or bringing a dead battery, which I never have done as of yet, haha.
Honestly though biggest nightmare scenario at a show that actually happened was when I went to shoot Misfits at a venue called TLA in Philadelphia and expected them to come on at 9pm when in fact they didn’t come on till midnight, and then I go in the photo pit to photograph them and it was 100% dark, dark red lights and that’s every photographer's worst nightmare.
Ryan: That would be having my 18-55 lens break on me and having to only use my 55 - 250 lens for the entire festival. There were a lot of close up shots at that show haha. That as also one of my first festivals I photographed.
Jeremy: Too many to name, I’ve forgotten memory cards, had cameras break, been moshed on pretty hard, had a barricade collapse around me and the list goes on. But in general, as long as you’re well prepared, anything that’s out of your hands is out of your hands and there’s not much you can do about it.
LJ: In your opinion, what are the top 3 best live bands in alternative music?
Jeremy: In terms of strictly visuals; Rammstein (by a lot), Slipknot, and KISS.
Andrew: If by alternative music you mean like the Warped Tour music scene, I would say A Day To Remember and Pierce The Veil tie in first place for best live show, then adding in Sleeping With Sirens and Bring Me The Horizon as they all put on an amazing show, as well as Blink-182, who I wanted to add as I just seen them. Sorry that made 5 bands… lol.
Ryan: Well that’s super hard for me, but if I had to pick I would say
1. The Struts - They are just plain badass and the music is impeccable \m/
2. The Karma Killers - Badass style and killer music
3. James Bay - Hats, Rock n Roll, Rad
LJ: What’s your current setup for live shows?
Jeremy: Canon 1dx/6d - 16-35, 15mm Fisheye, 85 1.2, 70-200 2.8.
Andrew: I currently have a Nikon D5300 with several lenses, including a Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8, Nikon Fisheye 10.5 f/2.8, Nikon 15-55mm f/4.5-5.6, Nikon 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6, and a Nikon 50mm f/1.8! I hope to upgrade to a full frame and get some better lenses soon.
Ryan: My current set up for live shows is… Canon 5D MK3, Canon AE-1 with a 50mm f/1.8, Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6, Canon 50mm f/1.4, Tamron 15-30 f/2.8, Rolliecord 3 400 ISO film. And my hats, of course.
LJ: Is your studio setup any different?
Ryan: It’s not too much different, except I will use my flash for my Film and Digital cameras. I try and keep it very simple.
Jeremy: I mostly do studio work. 1dx, 24-70 2.8, and the above, as well as Dynalite and Rimelite lighting.
LJ: What is the best piece of equipment you’ve ever owned?
Jeremy: As of right now the Rimelite Grandbox. That thing is used in every single photo shoot.
Ryan: My Canon 5D MK3; Totally amazing piece of gear.
LJ: Do you have any dream pieces you want someday? (Either pricy stuff, collectors, etc)
Andrew: YES, I’ve always wanted a Nikon D750 and a Nikon 70-200mm lens.
Ryan: Yes, my dream gear would be
1. Leica M3 with a 50mm
2. Hasselblad 503c
3. Canon 70-200 f/2.8
Jeremy: I am an avid collector of many things, but cameras and lenses, for me, are all for practical usage.
LJ: Have any of your cameras met an extreme fate? (Fire, water, theft, smashing, etc…)
Jeremy: In 2004, my studio was robbed and I lost everything. Cameras, lights, lenses, laptop, cash, everything. It sucked.
Ryan: Haha, well…
Andrew: Yes, I had a Nikon D5100, and while I was out on Vans Warped Tour last summer in 2015, the mirror broke in my camera. I do not know how it broke, but it did and it made me go out and buy a new one right away to continue my job. I think it was from extreme heat outside then going into the tour bus in freezing cold air conditioning, and it is crazy cause it broke during the set of the band I was out with (Metro Station).
LJ: What is, in your opinion, the most difficult obstacle in doing concert photography?
Jeremy: Lighting, more specifically poor lighting.
Ryan: I think it would be with how many people are in the pit at times and making sure you can get the most different photos. Also you never really know the kind of lighting you will be working with.
Andrew: The most difficult/frustrating thing in concert photography, in my opinion, would be 3 things; 1 being waiting around for responses to your photo pass requests, 2 is the expenses of equipment versus the money you’re making while doing the career, and 3 is trying to find tours to work on.
LJ: Concert photography is some of the most difficult types of photography to do. You have constantly moving subjects in poorly lit venues while getting shoved around by security and crowd surfers. On top of it, dealing with managers and bands can be beyond a headache. Despite all of the struggle, what is it that keeps you shooting? What is it that makes it all worth it to you?
Jeremy: I don’t shoot many concerts anymore, I’m more of a portrait photographer for musicians. But in terms of shooting live, when I do, I still love it. I guess in all of those issues listed, I don’t really deal with many of them. I don’t think shooting live is particularly difficult to be honest. Especially if you aren’t using light control. If you are shooting without flash or blend, just using no flash shooting of a show. It’s all about timing and framing. You’re capturing what’s in front of you and not really controlling much. If you’re shooting with a flash, you are controlling front or fill lighting and you have to calculate timing and blend the stage lighting with your own lighting which is a bit more difficult. But either way I don’t think it’s as bad or difficult as many say. I love it.
Andrew: Concert photography is difficult at times but very enjoyable. What keeps me shooting, you ask? I would say that I get to watch, and listen, and capture moments of my favorite artists, as well as capture moments for fans who couldn’t make it out to the shows. It makes it all worth it when a fan or band contacts you about the photos you shot, either to use them for something, or share them, or just a fan telling you how thankful they are for you work.
Ryan: What makes it worth it for me would be meeting all the badass fans, getting to work with bands I look up to and seeing them play and capturing memories on and off stage. It’s just something I love to do. FAMILY - ROCK N ROLL - PHOTOGRAPHY