Now We Here
This is a question that I’ve been getting quite a bit for the last little while, so I figured I’d put a pen to paper for my first post of 2018 (oops how is it almost May already) and tell you a bit about my journey from first picking up a camera and walking into a show until now. Receiving these kinds of questions is so amazing because it forces me to take a step back, to stop focusing all my energy on where I’m going, and sit for a minute reflecting on how far I’ve come. Which, to be honest, doesn’t feel like THAT far until I take these moments – I can only imagine what the Maggz of two years ago would have given to be covering the shows and festivals I’m covering now, and working for the outlets I’m working for now.
I feel like I just need to throw out a small (probably obvious) caveat before I start – this was MY path. This is not me suggesting anyone needs to do the same. It’s not a step by step list that you should be setting out to accomplish. And I also don’t want this to come across preachy or boastful – I’m just telling my (fairly unglamorous) story because for some incredible reason it seems to be something that people, particularly aspiring young photogs, are interested in.
I never started out with an ultimate goal in mind, it all happened super organically. I’ve been going to shows for as long as I can remember, several a week for literally years – it’s always been a passion of mine. It’s where I’m happiest. So, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that my next thought was how great it would be to document these – not so much for anyone else, but just for me. I was saving ticket stubs from all the shows I hit but these were dwindling as they slowly started phasing physical tickets out (yes, I paid that extra $3 mailing fee for years just to have a hard copy, and I do not regret it). When those tickets weren’t there anymore to serve as my memory for a particular show, I wanted to find another way. Thankfully, I have a crazy talented videographer brother who would lend me his old camera when I wanted to start experimenting – and the stars aligned for me one night when I managed to get in to Post Malone’s first Canadian show at the Mod Club thanks to a very supportive friend I had met through hitting up so many shows on the regular (s/o Brenden & SmashMouth Ent!!). And yes, this was when Post Malone basically only had White Iverson out and was bookending his very short show with that song – to date I’ve shot Post Malone more than any other artist and accidentally seem to have captured his entire come up but that’s besides the point. Anyways, Brenden not only gave me the opportunity to get into the show with my camera but also to get on stage with it. I was hooked immediately, and weirdly I actually still like some (key word *some*) of those photos I took even 3 years later – beginners luck 100%.
I’ll save you the boring show by show details or we’ll be here forever, but from there as I was attending my regular, stacked schedule of concerts I started taking note of the venues that didn’t check bags (i.e. I could sneak my camera in without a media pass) and taking those opportunities to work on my skills. At this time I was working a fairly demanding corporate job by day so it was a lot of late nights and early mornings, but that really didn’t matter because I loved it. These were definitely not very glamorous days – I was going to a lot of shows solo (which to be honest I love but anyways) and fighting through mobs of fans to get a decent spot to shoot. I had to get insurance for my camera as I kept going to these shows for trap elbow protection – it wasn’t/still isn’t pretty. From there, through going to these shows and events and meeting people in the industry, investing time in learning new editing tricks, posting my work on Instagram, reaching out to blogs and having blogs reach out to me – I was able to secure a media pass for the odd show and begin covering them not just for myself but for other outlets too. Then came graduating to the bigger shows with the protection of a photo pit, which was probably my favourite leap in this entire journey tbh. And really, the rest has kind of naturally fallen into place. I stay putting in the work, offering up my services to initiatives I believe in, meeting and reaching out to people I want to work with – some of whom have become my closest homies in the process – and stay doing what I love.
Some advice if this might be a path you’re interested in, as that’s another question I get a lot: put in the work, get your hustle on. Go to the smaller, local shows and learn which venues will let you in with your camera. Go to every show you can at those venues and play around – with your vantage point, with your camera settings, with your editing afterwards. Find your style. Build a portfolio, make a simple website, reach out to the blogs you love or the artists you admire. Be genuine, be patient. As far as equipment goes, use what you have or have access to. Don’t get hung up if you don’t have the latest and greatest. I used to get so in my head when I’m surrounded by photographers with these massive lenses and multi-camera holsters, but honestly I find that it’s those times when you’re more limited with gear that you’re more creative. Mess around with composition and angles, and spend some time on your editing skills. Having the best gear does NOT equal having “the best” photos. I shot with manual focus for the first year when I started, and I promise you that is not easy when you have rappers sprinting around the stage in damn near pitch black, but it forced me to really learn my way around the camera and how to handle extremely low light situations. If you are in a position to invest in a lens – again this is just my two cents and it was some advice I was grateful to get when I started out – I’d recommend a 50mm f/1.4. It’s a great starter lens that I still use it on a regular basis – it’s super versatile, great for low light shooting and for portraits. And last bit of advice, I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of networking. As much as I hate that term, it’s crucial. Go out to shows and local events and be visible. You never know who might be looking at your work, who can lend a hand in helping you get to your next goal, or who might just be a super amazing human that turns into a new inspiration for you.
Finally, you might be wondering why I chose these photos of dvsn and Majid Jordan for this post. A very rare opportunity that I have dreamed about for years is to shoot back to back shows from the same artist – I’ve always had a dream to follow an artist on tour – because it gives me the opportunity to study their set and mannerisms, and to come back with a shot list the second night (or third, fourth, and fifth, in the case of Daniel Caesar’s blessed 5 night Danforth run). It’s a new challenge. These particular shows were also special nights to me because I’m able to continue shooting past the 3 song limit, outside of the pit. These are privileges I’ve dreamed about for YEARS, and even though it seems to be a more regular occurrence for me these days, I’m still so grateful every single time.
OKAAAY wow if you’ve made it this far, I really appreciate it. I hope I’ve been a little bit helpful or inspiring. Like I’ve said, I got a waaaaays to go – but everything I do stems out of a real, authentic passion for music and I honestly believe that’s responsible for getting me where I am and will continue to push me forward. Find and do what you love, always.