Diary of a Music Photographer

All about music, photography, and the union of the two.

On the Legal Issues of Selling Concert Photography Prints

This isn't the blog post I was planning to publish next.

You see, a few weeks ago I was just about to publish a post announcing to the world that my fine art print store was online and ready to start taking orders.  I had a plan to raise money for charity by selling fine art prints, an effort meant to give greater meaning to the countless hours I'm spending at shows.  I had a few prints ready to sell from some of my favorite shows of the last year or two, including shots of Twenty One Pilots, The Kills, Counting Crows, Switchfoot and more.  I agonized over finding the right photo lab, the right color grading, the right paper.  I wrestled with how much to sell the prints for, knowing that I was going to donate all the profits to charity (and a great one too: Blood:Water Mission) but still wanting to keep the prints affordable for fans.  Finally I was ready; I was all set to press the button and finally launch my store.

And then, on my drive home from work that day I listened to an episode of the excellent Behind the Shot podcast by music photographer Steve Brazill, and suddenly I wasn't so sure about my plans.

This particular episode was an interview with attorney Ed Greenberg and commercial photographer Jack Reznicki, the guys behind a book and website called The Copyright Zone.  I won't bore you with details to convince you, but trust me when I say Ed and Jack have considerable experience litigating copyright issues related to photography with major, well-known clients, and they know their stuff.  They've also spent a lot of time sharing that wealth of knowledge with photographers in various forums over the years, such as Steve's podcast.  And after listening to their interview with Steve and subsequently buying their book, I quickly realized how little I actually knew about copyright, and more importantly, just how much bad information I was relying on from questionable sources on the web.

And so, this blog post.

Let me start by getting one thing clear: I'm not a lawyer.  I don't claim to be anything more than a regurgitator of legal advice given by real lawyers, and I highly recommend that if you want reliable advice, you seek out the counsel of a local, reputable litigator of intellectual property law.  (As Ed would say, local and litigator are the key words there.)  And of course, check out Ed and Jack's web site and book.  Use my feeble interpretations at your own risk - you're better off going straight to the source!  And of course, I live in the United States, so anything said here only applies to the U.S. copyright system.

Ok, now that we've got that out of the way, here's an overview of what I've gathered from Ed and Jack and how it pertains to my little print store, and what I think is important for concert photographers to understand before trying to sell prints online.

What Does Copyright Mean To Photographers?

Let's start with the basics.  If you're a freelance photographer and you take some photos, and you haven't signed anything that gives your copyright for the job to another party (such as with a Work For Hire agreement) and you're not employed by someone primarily to be a photographer, then you own your copyright.  It's yours, period.  And assuming you haven't signed anything that restricts your ability to exercise your copyright or assigns rights to other parties, then you alone control the image, you decide how it can be used and who can use it.  You alone can profit from it.  

So, let's say for the sake of a very simple example, you're a concert photographer and you've requested and been approved to shoot your favorite band's show as a freelancer.  You haven't signed any sort of agreements or releases with a publisher or the band.  You show up at the venue, you take photos for the first three songs, and you go home.  Pretty simple, right?  You own the copyright, the photos are yours, you can do whatever you want with them.  Right?

Ah, but not so fast.

Types of Use and Model Releases

So you've just taken the most amazing shots of your favorite band.  Your shots are the best you've ever taken, you know the band's fans will love them.  You have visions of licensing your images to Rolling Stone, or making t-shirts and prints out of them, and making bank.  Can you do it?  Yes and no.

The fact is, you own the copyright, but you've been taking pictures of people - that is, the band.  And when people are in your photo, things get a little more complicated.  (Same goes for some venues too, though we won't go into that.)  Chances are you haven't requested (and are unlikely to receive) a signed model release from the band members.  So right off the bat, you're limited in what you can do with your photos, because they include someone's likeness, and their right to profit from their own likeness is protected.  You can license your images for editorial use (e.g., publication in newspapers, magazines and other forms of media) because the images are newsworthy and protected by the First Amendment, but you won't be able to use them for commercial use like t-shirts, posters, mugs, etc.  Advertising is considered commercial use too, so you can't license your image to a guitar company who wants to run a magazine ad featuring your shot of the band's guitarist.  To use the shots for commercial use, you're going to have to get the subject of the photo to sign a model release.

Ok, fair enough, so you won't print up t-shirts and try selling them on eBay.  And it turns out nobody, much less Rolling Stone, has interest in your shots, so editorial licensing isn't happening.  You still want to make a few dollars off your shots, however, because you've just got to buy a fancy new Nikon D850 soon.  So what about selling prints directly to fans?

The Gray Area of Fine Art Prints

Here's where things get a little murky.  Most concert photographers understand that they can't print up t-shirts with their shots, but many believe it's perfectly fine to sell prints.  There's a prevailing sense that there's just something intrinsically different about prints, that printing a photo on paper is somehow more moral than printing the exact same image on a t-shirt.  I think it comes down to a feeling that while t-shirts are clearly a product, prints are a work of art.

But what makes a print "art"?  The internet is littered with armchair lawyers offering up advice on what you can and can't sell when it comes to prints, all driven by this question.  Some say there's no restrictions at all if you hold the copyright.  Others say you're fine as long as you produce "fine art", which to them means that you use high quality papers and archival quality pigment-based inks for giclée prints, or other high quality photographic processes.  Some say you have to sign and number your prints to qualify, while others say don't bother.  Most people confidently say you're in the clear only as long as you don't produce more than a magical number of 250 copies.  So what's the truth?

According to Ed and Jack in their book The Copyright Zone:

...the Copyright Law defines a "work of visual art" in part as: "A painting, drawing, print or sculpture, existing in a single copy, in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author..."

So there you go.  200 or less, signed and consecutively numbered, is what the law says qualifies for protection as "visual art", according to Ed and Jack.

So is that it?  As long as you produce less than 200 copies and you sign and number them consecutively, it's fine art and you're in the clear?  Not quite.

In The Copyright Zone, the authors use the example of Nussenzweig v. diCorcia to illustrate just how thorny "fine art" print sales can be.  In this case, photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia captured images of random people on the streets of New York, and the images were displayed in a gallery and sold in limited quantities for upwards of $20,000 each.  One subject, Erno Nussenzweig, had not signed a model release and objected to the exhibition and profiting off of his image.  He sued, and lost.  Why?  According to the Ed and Jack, it's because the court ruled "the photograph of Rabbi Nussenzweig was considered a work of fine art by a recognized artist, printed in a very limited edition, and exhibited in a widely recognized art gallery." (Emphasis mine.)  In her decision that diCorcia's work should be treated as a work of art and not commerce, New York State Supreme Court Justice Judith J. Gische specifically wrote that "Defendant diCorcia has demonstrated his general reputation as a photographic artist in the international artistic community."

The words "recognized" and "reputation" are the key words here.  In a nutshell, who you are known to be matters as much as what you're selling.  diCorcia's work was rightfully considered art and therefore protected speech because of his reputation and the way his prints were exhibited and sold.  

Conversely, it would therefore seem that normal, average photographers can't sell prints of people who haven't signed a release, call it "fine art", and expect to be shielded by the law if the subject complains, at least in New York.  Fine art photography isn't just defined by the quality or quantity of the work you produce.  In a court of law, if you don't have a model release you may have to demonstrate your credentials as a fine art photographer in order to be protected.

This is a big point that I suspect most concert photographers would be surprised by.  If you are sued by a band that objects to you selling prints of them and you don't have a release, your credentials as a fine art photographer could be scrutinized.  You could easily lose your case if you can't convince the court that you deserve artistic protection by demonstrating that you've displayed your work regularly in art galleries, books, exhibitions, etc.  And losing your case could get mighty expensive.

For most concert photographers, I expect this is a pretty tough hurdle to get over, as most photogs in the pit are probably shooting part-time, aren't widely known in the art world, and aren't displaying their work in galleries on a regular basis if at all.  

For me, this point put my print store launch on hold while I considered my next move.

But Really, What Are The Chances You'll Be Sued?

Yeah, we don't know either...

Yeah, we don't know either...

This is a tough question to answer.  I'm not sure anyone can answer it, really.  Ed and Jack acknowledge that willful copyright infringement, including the use of images without model releases, happens all the time, by big corporations and small mom-and-pop businesses alike.  It's often seen as a calculated risk that infringers are willing to take, knowing that the probability of being sued is extremely small, and rarely do such cases go to trial.

So sure, you could go ahead and sell a ton of prints and never be sued by a band.  It's possible a band would even encourage your efforts if they notice you and really like the print - after all, most artists are pretty cool with photographers, from my experience.  But, there's always the chance you could find yourself crossing a particularly prickly artist and their representatives, who take the artist's "brand" very seriously, and you could end up the recipient of a not-so-nice letter from their lawyer.  And the value of that artist's likeness (and thus potential judgements against you) could be substantially more than you'd expect, especially if their career really takes off.

Ultimately it's a roll of the dice, and it comes down to knowing the artist you're shooting, I suppose.  And it's up to you if you're willing to take the chance of selling prints without a release.  To me, it's not worth blindly diving into.

So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, I think a good approach is to always ask permission.  If you want to cover yourself, simply reach out to the artist's representatives and ask nicely.  Explain who you are, show them the image, and tell them your intentions clearly.  Offer to send them a few prints.  You could ask for a signed model release (and probably be ignored), or at the very least seek assurance in writing that they're ok with you selling your prints.  You never know, you may find the artist wants to partner with you and license your image or sell your print through their own channels, which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

This is one of those cases where it's better to ask permission than forgiveness, I think, even though you may find yourself getting the cold shoulder quite often.  Still better to be safe than sorry.

In Conclusion

Selling prints can be a great way to create an additional revenue stream for concert photographers, but it comes with a pretty big caveat.  Decide for yourself what tolerance you have for the risks, but do your homework first.  Ignoring the risks can end very badly if you're not careful.

As for me, I'm not giving up on the idea of selling prints for charity, but I'm going to go about it much more carefully.  Stay tuned for more on this.

Oh, and lastly, did I mention that I'm not a lawyer?  Again, go check out The Copyright Zone web site and book, and decide for yourself.  Better yet, talk to a good, local copyright attorney who understands the unique laws in your jurisdiction.  What applies in one state like New York might not apply in another state like California, so if in doubt, talk to an attorney who is local to you.

Have you come to a different conclusion about all of this based on your experience?  Are you a practicing IP attorney with insights to share?  Share them in the comments below!

David Duchovny at Social Hall SF

As long as there's been rock 'n roll, there've been musicians who have wanted to transcend the limits of radio and recorded medium to achieve another level of fame on the silver screen. (Thank you, Elvis.)  And likewise, many actors have crossed over in the other direction, wanting to leave behind the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to explore the grime and glory of rock stardom (hello, Jared Leto, Billy-Bob Thornton and Keifer Sutherland!)  Add to that long list of crossovers one David Duchovny, star of sci-fi drama The X-Files on Fox, not to mention the Showtime series Californication and a long list of minor movie credits.

With his acting career in a bit of a lull while talk of an X-Files reboot continued to swirl, David jumped into the music world in 2015 with the release of his debut album Hell or Highwater.  It's a bluesy, bar-room style of rock that echoes his New York roots, and while it may not end up on anyone's "best of 2015" lists, it's a respectable first effort for a guy best known for chasing little green men and rambling in a distinct monotone about unimaginable government conspiracies.  And recently he's taken his act on the road, playing a string of club dates along the West and East coasts, supported by a young and very capable five-piece backing band.

David Duchovny and a crowd barrier that requires a lot of trust.

David Duchovny and a crowd barrier that requires a lot of trust.

Duchovny's tour made a stop in San Francisco at the Social Hall SF, a relatively new club-sized venue that opened in late 2015 in the basement of the more well-known Regency Ballroom.  The Social Hall SF is a gorgeous and cavernous space with multiple rooms and a low ceiling that very much reminds you you're in a basement.  Yet it serves its purpose well.  The stage is of ample size and very low to the ground (thanks to the low ceiling, I imagine), making photography relatively easy, though a bit awkward when shooting front and center.  The lights were quite dim, but nothing worse than what you see in other clubs of a similar size.  I was thankful to at least have the benefits of a photo pit in front of the stage, though the crowd barrier was rather flimsy and it inched closer to the stage as the night went on.  And I was given the opportunity to shoot the entire show, rather than just the first three as is more common.  I live for shows with that kind of photo policy!

David Duchovny. I do approve of his sneakers.

David Duchovny. I do approve of his sneakers.

The show featured everything you'd expect, including catcalls from overzealous female fans, lots of classic rock poses performed somewhat convincingly, and numerous X-Files quotes shouted from the crowd between songs ("Get it out of your system", David encouraged with an air of resigned tolerance.)  And there were a few surprises as well.  For one, David was surprisingly willing to interact and connect physically with his adoring fans.  He frequently left the sanctuary of the stage to explore the audience, slapping high fives and posing for photos not just in the front row but all around the circumference of the crowd.  He also pulled out a surprisingly good cover of The Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane" during the encore, a band from his hometown which in retrospect seems like an obvious influence (he's certainly no Lou Reed, but there's moments you can hear his dry, clipped vocalizations paying homage.)

All in all, it was a lot of fun to watch one of my favorite actors branching out and doing something he clearly loves that isn't what people would expect from him. Writing and producing music, and then getting up and performing it on a stage for customers paying between $28 and $150 to see you (the latter getting you the soundcheck meet-and-greet VIP experience) isn't an easy thing to pull off for even the most seasoned of celebrities, so I give Duchovny a lot of credit for taking his second career as seriously as he seems to be tackling it.  

He's working on a second album, apparently, which I'll be looking forward to hearing. It'll be fun to see just how much he's growing as a songwriter and performer, and see if he's able to grow his audience beyond those who know him primarily as Fox Mulder.

2016 In Review

Hard to believe it's that time of year again. Seems like only yesterday I was writing my 2015 "year in retrospect" post (maybe that's because I didn't do any other blogging in the meantime?), but it's already time to look back on another year.

2016 was a fun year for me. I got to shoot a lot of bands I hadn't shot before, and a few that I had already shot once or twice in prior years. There were new favorites to be discovered, unexpected help from unlikely sources, some disappointments and rejections, and a lot of lessons learned along the way. I tried to be a little more selective about the shows I agreed to shoot, and more disciplined about pressing the trigger when I did go and shoot (after all, you've got to sift through all those millions of shots in the hours after the show, and that's not nearly as much fun as it sounds...)

But without further ado, here's a sampling of my favorite moments from the last year. And like last year's review, these may not be what I'd consider my best shots - rather, they might be shots that capture something that reminds me why I love shooting shows, or they may have some other special significance to me.

Here goes.

Troye Sivan

Troye Sivan

In the vein of new artists I shot this year but didn't expect to, here's one of Troye Sivan from his show early this year at the Fox Theater in Oakland, CA.  I hadn't heard of Troye until I went back to Michigan last Christmas and my teenage niece mentioned she was planning to drive 3 hours to see him. Any new artist that gets a teenager to drive that far for a theater-sized concert is probably someone worth paying attention to, because you can bet they're going to be huge soon. I immediately jumped on the chance to shoot his tour stop in the Bay Area, and was not disappointed. Oh, and that thing I said about "going to be huge soon"? After playing the 2,800 seat Fox in February, he came back and sold out the 8,000 seat Bill Graham Civic Auditorium across the bay just 8 months later. Needless to say, I'll be going over my niece's playlist again this Christmas.

Jonathan Richman

Jonathan Richman

If Troye Sivan is the next big thing, then Jonathan Richman might be the exact opposite. Richman has been around since the early 1970's, and is partly known for being in a band that later spun off members to The Cars and Talking Heads. Richman has been tremendously influential in his own right, however - I'll save you the history lesson, as you can learn all about him on Wikipedia - and he's still going strong playing clubs on the west coast. I caught him opening for The Growlers at the Fox, and honestly wasn't prepared for the madness to which I was treated. He has a childlike quality to his performance, wide-eyed and full of enthusiasm and wonder, and you can't help but smile wide and go along for the ride. There's nobody out there quite like him. Jonathan Richman reminded me that night of why I'm addicted to the surprise of live music... and why I always plan to show up for the opener.

Ok, what else?  Well, I was thrilled to have the chance to shoot two supremely talented artists who caused quite a bit of confusion among Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran fans back in 2015 thanks to their uncannily similar names: Foy Vance and Vance Joy.

Vance Joy

Vance Joy

Foy Vance

Foy Vance

You've probably heard Vance Joy's song "Riptide" somewhere in the last year or two - on radio, TV, movies, etc. It's been pretty much everywhere. But Foy Vance remains somewhat under the radar, despite some pretty sweet gigs opening for Ed Sheeran and Elton John, among others. I'd recommend checking out his excellent new record "The Wild Swan" if you get the chance.

The award for my most intense, and perhaps most fun shoot of the year has to go to the band Foals. Their show at the Fox (yeah, I spent a lot of time there this year) was everything I expected and hoped it would be, which was loud, energetic and unpredictable. Foals is one of those bands that truly gets it when it comes to music photography. They want photographers to capture them at the show's peak - when they're sweaty, tired and cranking the energy to 11. So unlike every other band out there, Foals has the photographers shoot their last three songs instead of their first three. 

The results are kind of spectacular. It's the end of the show so they're playing their biggest hits, the crowd is going crazy, there's guys jumping off the stage... it's a photographer's dream (as long as you've got good insurance on your gear, I suppose.) When the chaos was over, I had a stupid smile on my face that wouldn't go away for hours.

With that show, Foals might've entered my top 5 of bands to shoot.

Foals

Foals

One of the most unexpectedly cool shows I shot this year had to be Bon Iver at the Fox.  I knew Bon Iver - aka Justin Vernon - was an impressive talent from listening to his records, but I didn't anticipate how impressive his live show would be. I've never seen so much gear packed onto the Fox's stage - instruments, lights, an imposing array of enormously tall video screens... there was hardly room to walk on the stage! It certainly wasn't at all what I expected from a guy who's known for some fairly melancholy electronic folk. While Justin was fairly reserved and stationary throughout the show (save for an amazing synchronized dance party at the end with his support act Francis and The Lights), the staging made for some incredible photos, even if it was challenging to get a clear shot at times and I wasn't given much time to shoot close-up. But I was the only photographer approved, and best of all I was given permission to shoot the entire show (except for the aforementioned dance party), which is a rarity for artists of his stature. So this one stands out as one of my favorite shows of the past year.

Bon Iver

Bon Iver

Bon Iver

Bon Iver

And finally there was Twenty One Pilots.  

To say they've have a meteoric rise in the last few years is a severe understatement. They went from playing in Yahoo's cafeteria a few years ago to playing Saturday Night Live and selling out arenas around the world on their latest tour. I'd been fortunate enough to shoot these guys twice in the past two years, both times at the Fox in Oakland. I've always been amazed by their showmanship and the passion of their fanbase, known as the "skeleton clique", not to mention their remarkably candid and thought-provoking lyrics and the simple fact that they just seem like real, stand-up guys. So when they came to town yet again, this time playing not one but two sold-out shows at the venerable Greek Theatre in Berkeley, I knew I had to be there. And even better, they brought along one of my all-time favorite bands, MuteMath, as support. This was a must-shoot show for me.

Thanks to unexpected help from a friend of a friend who knows a guy, I was given the chance to shoot the first night. I wish I could say serendipitous opportunities like that come along all the time, but truthfully it doesn't usually work out that way. So I'm beyond grateful when it does. Shooting that show was truly the highlight of my year, and I'm already crossing my fingers that I'll get the chance to shoot them again in 2017.

Twenty One Pilots

Twenty One Pilots

Twenty One Pilots

Twenty One Pilots

And as I mentioned, one of my favorite bands - MuteMath - opened the show. That was a big one to check off my bucket list. I'd narrowly missed shooting those guys a couple of times previously, and wondered if I'd ever get the chance. Thankful to have gotten some really great shots of them this time around.

I've noted in the past that if there's one thing I love to shoot, it's passion. I love artists who lose themselves on stage and give their all to the performance. It makes for great photography, to be sure, but even as just a fan I find it intoxicating. There's nothing quite like being at a show surrounded by people who all feel the same euphoria about what they're experiencing, and the feedback loop generated with the artist in that moment can be incredible. So here's to those fans and the shows this year that brought the passion in spades. It truly is what keeps me coming back for more.

Here's to a great 2016, and much more to come in 2017.

Foals

Want to see a few more? Check out my Flickr album "Favorite Concert Shots of 2016 and the slideshow below!

2015: A few Favorite Shots, with words

At the end of a year, there’s a lot of time spent retrogazing online. Everybody seems to do it - there’s the year's top news stories, top search terms, best-of lists everywhere… And concert photographers are no different. The end of the year brings a (relatively) calm respite to the constant barrage of must-see tours, and it allows us a moment to look back at all the fun shows we’ve shot (and yes, some miserable ones too.) And many photographers take a moment to pick our their best images from the year and post them in galleries online.

And music photographers aren’t alone - this year, a tool came along that helped Instagram users identify their “nine best” images from 2015, as ranked by total “likes”. So naturally, I ran my Instagram account through the wringer and, well… I wasn’t totally impressed. It seems that the photos that got the most likes in 2015 were often not my favorite images, but were popular more because of who was in them. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

So like many photographers, I took a few minutes and gathered up a few of my favorite 2015 images from my Flickr feed. I quickly came up with 22 images, each of which was special to me for some reason. Perhaps there are more I could’ve included, had they been uploaded to Flickr, or perhaps 22 was already more than enough - there’s something to be said for editing oneself, after all. At any rate, it was good enough and I posted a link to my gallery and moved on.

After returning from holiday travel, I felt that I needed to do something more. It isn’t enough to name your favorites if there’s no context given as to why they’re your favorites, especially since in my case my favorites aren’t necessarily the most unusual, or the most technically excellent exposures that I’ve taken - sometimes they’re my favorites simply because they speak to me in some way, or carry some special memory from the show. 

So here goes nothing - a small sampling of my favorite photos from the year, with words.

Lecrae and Stephen Curry

First off, here's my most viewed photo of 2015: rapper Lecrae with 2015 NBA MVP Stephen Curry of the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. After shooting the usual three songs from the pit, which was unusually empty this night, I moved to the back of the room to watch the show. And almost immediately I noticed the MVP standing by the soundboard, as is typical for VIPs. I kept an eye on Steph through the show, not wanting to bother him but dying for a photo op. And to my relief, midway though the show he was whisked backstage and soon after appeared on stage to accompany Lecrae for the song "I'm Turnt". And thankfully I had my long lens ready for the moment! This image was originally posted to Instagram during the show with a very rough edit, and afterwards it was re-grammed by Steph himself to his 7 million followers. My post got 57 "likes" - his post got just shy of 300,000. That's gonna be hard to top in 2016.

Gregory Alan Isakov

Sometimes shows don't go as planned. This is one of those shots I look back at and cringe a little. It's a shot of Gregory Alan Isakov performing at the venerable Fillmore in San Francisco. It's pretty much the only usable shot I got that night. I arrived at the venue late, had problems picking up my photo pass, and then got in only to find there wasn't a photo pit that night. Worse, there aren't many spots at the Fillmore that allow you to shoot over the audience's heads, and I didn't bring a step-stool this night - big mistake. And the balconies were either off-limits or packed full. I took this picture standing on my tiptoes while leaning up against the bar that runs along the side of the venue, tucked inside an arcade of sorts. It was a miserable night, but I was glad to get such a cool image given the circumstances. 

Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens on the Carrie & Lowell tour in Oakland, CA.  This show meant a lot to me, as I detailed in a previous blog post.  This shot gives me goosebumps because it comes at a moment in the show when Sufjan is left alone on the stage, surrounded by the mess of instruments and tools of his genius, working out his grief as only he can. Goosebumps.

Bleachers
Switchfoot

I love capturing passion in a performance, and these two images do it in spades. Above, Mikey Hart and Jack Antonoff of Bleachers, and below, Jon Foreman of Switchfoot. Amazing performances from both of those bands this year. I'd gladly shoot nothing but those two bands all year if I could, they make my job so incredibly easy.

World Enders

Here's a shot that wasn't actually taken during a show - instead, it was taken just before Lord Huron took the stage in Oakland, CA on their Strange Trails tour.  I love those moments before and after the show when there's often a nice, soft stage light and a sense of calm on the stage. Having grown up in Michigan, I was admiring the Michigan state flag draped over Miguel Briseno's bass rig - when suddenly a roadie walked over and posed like this for no apparent reason. The roadie made the image so much better, I think!

Finish Ticket

Drummers are incredibly hard to shoot well much of the time. When I get a good one of the drummer, it can feel like winning the lottery. I love this picture of Finish Ticket's drummer in particular because of the intensity with which he plays. You can see the tendons popping out of his neck!

Widespread Panic

Lastly, here's another black and white that I'm still enamored with. Such a simple portrait of John Bell of Widespread Panic, but I love the pained expression and furled brow, and the asymmetrical lighting across his face. Sometimes passion can be expressed quietly, too.

It's been a good 2015, and here's to many more great shows in 2016!

That Time I Shot Taylor Swift

This Friday and Saturday, quite possibly the most popular female singer in the world at the moment, Taylor Swift, is going to bring her ridiculously over-the-top 1989 World Tour to the home of the San Francisco 49ers, Levi's Stadium, only a short distance away from my office.  She's probably going to pack 70,000 people into the stadium each night, some paying hundreds of dollars per ticket to see her belt out those songs you couldn't avoid on the radio and TV if you tried.  You simply can't avoid her in the media.  She's huge.

And to think, she was one of the first artists I ever shot. 

Now mind you, I didn't shoot her in a stadium with 70,000 screaming fans behind me.  I didn't have to sign an overly-restrictive photography release that threatened to destroy my camera gear if I didn't obey her management's rules.  Instead, I was sitting on the lawn at Yahoo HQ back in 2007 with probably no more than a couple hundred fellow employees (and more than a few of their teenage kids) around me eating their lunches.

I brought my trusty little Nikon D70S to work that day, since I had heard a little of Taylor's music and figured it'd be worth getting a few shots.  I wasn't even dreaming of doing concert photography at that point, and I was still just learning the basics of using my DSLR.  Some of my coworkers made fun of me for even going to the show - a teenage country singer?  Really?

Taylor was just a seventeen year old kid with big dreams and a debut record under her belt - a newly certified gold record, to be fair - and some pretty kickin' cowboy boots.  She was every bit the teenager you can imagine, introducing nearly every song as being about some boy who had broken her heart, even warning us that writing songs when boys do such things is how she gets revenge (little did we know what was to come in future albums!)  

I took a few photos and posted them to my Flickr page, and then moved on.  

They're not my best photos.  The poses aren't anything special, the compositions somewhat boring.  They're all taken from the same spot in the grass where I was sitting because I was too shy to get up and move around during a performance in those days.  Frankly, they're not photos I'd put in my portfolio, not even close.  They're snapshots taken with a consumer-grade SLR and lens, shot by someone who hardly knew how to properly use his camera on anything but 'Auto' mode.  It's a miracle any of the photos were in focus.

Taylor Swift

But you know what?  To this day, those photos are my most viewed photos on Flickr, by far.  Eight years later they still get views every day from people searching for "Taylor Swift".

So what's the moral of this story?  

First, bring your camera with you whenever you get a chance to shoot an artist.  You really never know who's going to be the next Taylor Swift, and there's something pretty awesome about shooting a future star when you have absolutely no restrictions. But you'll only know they're a star in retrospect, and by then it's too late.  So bring your camera, and get those pictures.

Second, the thrill of shooting those little shows on the lawn at my office were what got me into music photography.  Having access to Taylor and countless others like Collective SoulThe Band Perry, Capital Cities and Taylor Hicks is what got me interested in learning my camera and learning the art of music photography.  They formed the beginnings of a very rough portfolio, though I didn't know it at the time.  So when you've got an opportunity to practice and get better, take it.  These opportunities are stepping stones to bigger and better if you want them to be.

Who would guess that some of those stepping stones would turn out to be the biggest stars in the world one day?