Tell us about yourself (Please mention where you are from)
Hey there! My name is Steve Brazill. I’m a Southern California based live music photographer, but usually when people ask what I do I tell them it depends on what day it is – I do way too many things. I have been in radio for about 40 years, and I mostly photograph for 96.7 KCAL Rocks, where I have also been on the air for about 30 years. I’m a past house photographer for a venue here in So Cal, the host of the Behind the Shot podcast at BehindTheShot.tv, an emcee – mostly for concerts, I do some voice over work, and for my “day job” I am a network consultant – for the geeks reading this I got my first MCSE way back on NT 3.51.
Where did your journey with gig photography start?
Being in radio was the key for me. While it’s not as common anymore, being in radio we used to get backstage at concerts for Meet & Greets all the time. Once I started getting into photography I asked my boss at the radio station if we could get photo passes and he said he didn’t know but that I could try. I suggested I might need a station business card saying I did photography for them, and he emailed me the station logo and told me to make my own. Two weeks later I was in the pit at Heart & Def Leppard.
In a world of ever changing technology, do you think it is important that gig photographers still shoot gigs?
Technology has changed every aspect of our lives, and it is changing photography at a faster pace than many other careers. Smart phones are often marketed, and bought by the end user, based solely on the camera performance. That change alone has brought photography, or at least the ability to take a reasonably useable snapshot, to the masses. That’s both good and bad of course, but I would argue it has flooded the world with technically good photos from people that just don’t have the “eye” for creating professional shots. We’ve all heard it before, cameras don’t take photos, photographers do. You could stick a top of the line Canon / Nikon / NameYourBrandHere DSLR in the hands of someone that understands exposure and still end up with a boring – but technically correct – image.
I know of great photographers in other genres that simply can’t get a great gig photo – good maybe, but not great. People who practice music photography, study music photography, and work at improving at music photography also develop an “eye” for it. They “see” the stage differently than others. They see the distractions, the clutter, the lights, the performers as a whole and individually, and in some ways it’s like we start to see the music itself. So again, yes. In general someone who actually does gig photography will produce a better product for media outlets, labels, artists, etc. That doesn’t mean that some clients won’t want or need the real pro photos for every use, but there will be the continued need for them.
How long have you been shooting gigs and what has it been like?
I think that first gig, the one I mentioned above, was back in 2008 or 2009. So far, this ride has been fantastic. It’s hard to quantify the wonderful things I have had happen because I do this type of photography. What started out as me just wanting to challenge myself, to expand my photography and learn more, has turned into so many things.
I’ve been interviewed by a number of outlets, like this one here. I’ve been able to be a contributor to blogs for people I’ve looked up to, like Scott Kelby or Rick Sammon. I’ve been able to start my Behind the Shot podcast, and have had so many other opportunities come my way. When I was asked to be the House Photographer for a local So Cal venue I felt I had made it to something that was only a dream. Still, with all of that said, I have to answer the “what has it been like” part of this question by talking about the friendships. I have made so many friends in the pit. People that are amazing photographers, mentors, artists etc. My fave story of what most music photographers are like is from a show at the Honda Center in So Cal – where the Anaheim Ducks hockey team plays.
I went to photograph Van Halen (with Kool & The Gang opening – WTF?) and found out once I got there that it was a sound board shoot. All I had with me was a 70-200 and I had to stand over half way back a major arena! A photographer I had never met offered to lend me his Canon teleconverter. Wow. I got usable images and made a friend that day. Paul Hebert saved that day for me and I am forever grateful. That is what it’s like with almost every person I have met in the pit. Just awesome.
What do you get asked most as a photographer?
Wow, that’s a tough one. I’d say I get asked these about the same amount:
How do you get into concert photography?
Will you give me some feedback on some of my photos?
Can I get a full resolution un-watermarked copy of that?
What photographer/s do you look up to?
This one is so easy, but you don’t have enough webpage for the answer. I am afraid I will leave out an important name, but here we go, and this question does not specifically ask for music photographers, it just says “photographers”, so I may stray a bit to other areas.
In music photography there are a few people, and I am so honoured to say that many of these people have become friends of mine:
There are many others, but if you follow those people on social media your feed will improve almost instantly. Here’s the thing though, music photographers can get so much from looking at other genres. What we do is low light action photography, but portraits, both regular and environmental, are part of it. We have a ton in common with other non-music photographers. So, outside of our world I have to name:
Trust me, this list could be longer, and if I left out someone sorry, but these people…. You should look them all up.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting as a gig photographer?
First of all I tell people to learn their gear. Read the freakin manual. Understand the exposure triangle. Let me say that one again: Understand. The. Exposure. Triangle.
Knowing your gear and how to get a good exposure makes everything else possible.
Next up, forget the noise. Stop worrying about the noise. Shoot wide open, unless your lens isn’t great and isn’t sharp wide open. Set the shutter based on the subject – if it’s a singer song writer standing at a mic then you don’t need to be as fast as you do if you are in the pit for Rob Zombie or Slipknot. Set the shutter to get a sharp image. Now, and this is key here…. Set the ISO at whatever you need to get the exposure correct. Read that again, I’ll wait…
Set your ISO so you get a proper exposure based on the required shutter for your subject and the widest aperture you can use. I don’t care if it’s 3200, or 6400, or 10,000, just do it. If you try to cheat technology you will lose every time. Given the choice of a clean shot that’s soft (because you keep the ISO lower but can’t get a fast enough shutter) and a sharp shot with noise, I will take the sharp one everyday. Plus, if you do the aperture and shutter right, but keep the ISO too low because you are worried about it, you will have a sharp underexposed shot. Boosting the exposure in post will make the noise worse. Proper exposure will actually minimize the noise, and enable better highlight and shadow recovery in post, so just set what you need and go for it. Are there times to throw this advice out? Sure, like when you want to see a drummer’s sticks blur so you drag the shutter a bit, but get comfy shooting first.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
It actually relates to a few quotes I have heard over the years. The first I heard from Adam (Elmakias) but I don’t know the origin:
“The reason why we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
Yeah, don’t do that.
The second I think is from David duChemin:
“Art made in submission to the rules of others is not art. It’s bondage”
I love these quotes. The first one is a huge issue with a lot of music photographers. I see people dump 20, 30, 50 images from a show. Why? The odds of you getting 50 great images is very slim. If you are that good then I apologize if you are insulted. For most people though we need to be more selective in what we show people. There are people (my mom being one) that think I am good at photography. I’m not in my eyes, but I only show images that will cause others to see me the way I wish to be seen. If you want to be seen as a good photographer then only show great shots! Note my word choice there. Showing only GREAT images will cause people to see you as GOOD. So what does it take to be seen as great? Doing that first part consistently for years – or decades. Dumping 50 images on Facebook will cause me to think you are only as good as the worst image in the batch.
The second quote is so cool. Be your own vision. Make your own art. Be your own fan. Stop posting for Likes, or “Great shot” comments. There are many bad images that have comments saying “Great Shot” or “I Love This”. If you post your image asking for feedback then you should actually want real honest feedback. Opinions from people that photograph what you do (a bird photographer critiquing an image from a Korn show – oh yeah, that makes sense). Opinions from others you respect and care about are what you should give weight to. If the comments hurt your feelings, that’s ok. Disagree with them all you want, but hear them. Understand how differently others see your work and you will get better faster.
What do you enjoy about gig photography?
I think everyone thinks their genre is the hardest, I know Wedding photographers do, and they may be right. To me music photography is at the top of that list. I love the challenge of it. I see music photography as low light action photography, and trying to tell the story of so much energy as a moment frozen in time is fun to me.
What inspires you?
Great photography. Any and all great photography. I don’t care what genre it is, I can get something from it that will help me with my music images. I think that is one area many music photographers miss. Look at photography – all photography. Dissect it, reverse engineer it, love it or hate it. We all work with light and shadows, we just tend to have more of the shadows and less of the light in our world.
Podcast: Behind the Shot
facebook.stevebrazill.com (@Steve Brazill Photography)