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.
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 Soul, The 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?