Hi Kane, for those who may be unaware of you or your work, can you give our readers the low down on how you got started to where you are now? I graduated university with an arts degree in music (which means nothing, ha) and fell into sound engineering, which I did for about 5 years and is where I made a lot of my initial contacts in the music industry. I also had a go at running a little record label, which failed miserably, but I learnt a lot during the process.
I got out of the industry for a few years, worked a corporate job for a tech company and discovered that even though I had a great job with good pay and lots of international travel, I still needed to do something creative. I ended up quitting my job and going to back to studying photography as I had fallen in love with it during all my international work trips.
I didn’t go back to study photography to shoot music, I just sort of fell into it. I needed models for assignments so because my friends were in bands, I would use them and sometimes the shots would then get used for press. I was also pretty bad at shooting things like still life and landscapes, one day my teacher saw some of my live photos and said that I should quit studying, move to America and start shooting music. I didn’t (maybe I should have, ha) but it did put the idea in my head that I could become a music photographer. So I started practicing my technique for portraits, took any opportunity to shoot any gig I could and basically worked my butt off and tried to take the best pictures I possibly could. And that’s still what I’m doing today.
Was there a defining moment or big break for you within the music photography industry? I still don’t think I’ve had that ‘Big Break’ I’ve still got a long way to go to achieve the things I hope to achieve and in the scheme of things on an international scale, I’m still pretty much an unknown.
When I was starting out, I was really conscious of being ‘that guy’ who was once a sound engineer but now was a photographer. So I worked hard at my craft and waited until I felt like I had images that were just as good as the guys who I would be competing for work with before trying to contact those clients. Once I had the folio, I started contacting some of the publications, labels and bands in Australia that I wanted to work with and luckily they liked what I was doing.
I’ve also tried to have regular events and other stories each year, to help push my brand and public profile. These are all little stepping-stones in a hopefully long career. I put on my own exhibition in 2011, I was runner up in the professional category of the first NME photo comp in 2011, in 2009 – 2012 I did sxsw to help with meeting international clients, I’ve had a couple of Rolling Stone covers published, I self published and funded a book on my work with Soundwave Festival, I’ve spoken at a few design conferences and sat on a few music panels.
Soundwave Festival has been a big help and a blessing in pushing my public profile and meeting lots of industry people, but again it’s just a small part of my work as a music photographer.
It was Adam Elmakias who suggested we contact you for an interview. He clearly admires your work and you can tell he has been influenced by you. Adam is a brilliant photographer but just as important, he is a very suave businessman. I learnt early on that to be successful in this industry, it takes a lot more than being able to take great photos.
We asked Adam what would he like us to ask you about. He wanted to know how many shoots you do a year also how much of a fan of music you are. I probably do around 50 portrait shoots are year, which is a lot to try and stay creative. And around 80 gigs a year give or take a few.
I love music, that’s why I got into this industry. I love working with musicians and putting a visual element to the music they make. I find it hard to go to live shows now without shooting. It’s hard to enjoy a gig on a personal level when you’re working it, as it’s a different frame of mind. But if I go to a gig without a camera, I’m always watching it thinking about the photos I could have taken, ha.
The wide-angle shot from overhead the stage is a shot we’ve only seen captured really successfully by Adam and yourself. Who was the first? I had the idea back in 2012, with the 1dx, you can connect the camera to a computer using cat 5 and control it with the canon software. I had the idea to mount it on a lighting truss so you could look directly down on the band and see the band and the crowd. Depending on the venue, it can be a tricky thing to pull off as the camera needs to be mounted on the lighting truss before it’s flown. And once it’s up and doors are open, there’s not really much you can do it if stops communicating. I powered the camera with 240 volts so I didn’t have to worry about the battery running out and triggered it using a mac. That way I can see the image in real time and adjust the camera settings if I need too. I’ve also done it a few times by remotely triggering it with the camera I’m shooting on the ground with, but I find it’s sometimes hard to nail the exact moment.
Adam came to my studio to shoot A Day To Remember in 2014 when he was out on Soundwave and said he really wanted to have a go at trying some shots like that, so I told him how I did mine and he went and figured out a way to do his. They look rad.
Are you generally hired to go on tour with a band or are you hired per show? There are not a lot of touring bands in Australia with the budget for a touring photographer. Australia is a big place and once a band can afford it, they fly between shows. This also adds a huge expense to touring personnel. Flights plus accommodation quickly adds up before they’ve even paid your fee so not a lot of bands can afford it. There also aren’t a lot of places to play in metropolitan cities. A capital city tour can be just five shows.
I did plenty of tours when I was younger with bands that travelled in 12 seater vans overnight between shows and slept on floors which is all part of starting out in a band, but unfortunately as bands get bigger, the costs get bigger quite quickly.
I probably do about 3 Australian tours a year and get O/S about once a year, but most of my gig work is per show.
You control three different photography brands:
www.theartofcapture.com, www.bigcitylights.com and www.kanyelens.com.
Can you give us the background to these sites and what let you to set up these different business models? The Art of Capture is my folio site. Purely a site that I can direct potential clients to, to see my work. This is the name I run my business under and is meant to be more of a professional industry brand.
Kanye Lens was a nickname given to me years ago whilst on a tour and it kind of stuck. I use this pseudonym as my public profile brand, it’s meant to be kind of fun and to give myself, as a photographer, a brand that has value of more than just being a photographer. I also use this name for my social media. In hindsight creating just one brand might have been less confusing but I still don’t really know what I’m trying to achieve, ha.
Big City Lights is the name of the commercial studio I work out of.
How would you describe the way you go about your professional photography set up? I’ve always tried to buy the best equipment I could, even when I couldn’t afford it, (I had a huge credit card debt for years which I don’t recommend.) I don’t want to have to worry about my equipment, I just want it to work, and so the professional bodies, lenses etc are built to take a lot of punishment. I also want the piece of mind that I have the best equipment so that I can purely focus on taking the best images I can for my clients.
When you get commissioned to cover a show do you fly solo or do you now have a team / staff to assist you? I’m always flying solo, I just don’t have the budgets to have people travelling with me. If I’m covering a festival and I need extra shooters, I use local people. I would love to have the same people with me all the time, but it’s just not financially feasible.
What’s your take on what seems to be a very densely crowded industry of music photographers these days? I’m sure it’s a little different in every territory but I feel like new music photographers aren’t setting themselves up with a sustainable business model. I understand everyone has to start somewhere and you need to get experience. I started off working for free sometimes, or for very little but I also had something I wanted to get out of it, be it, making a new contact, the experience or shots for my folio. But it was always with bands that otherwise couldn’t afford a photographer.
I’m starting to see more often that younger photographers seem to spend more time on selling a “smoke and mirrors” dream of being on tour to social media, than figuring out how they are going to make a living and becoming a better photographer. This also perpetuates a really unrealistic dream to up and coming photographers.
I’ve seen photographers paying their own way to go on tour with bands who could afford to pay for them. Once you start selling yourself like this, it’s really hard to start to expect clients to pay for your work. You are also taking paid work away from other photographers.
When you’re younger it’s exciting to be out on the road with friends, seeing new places and meeting new people but if you want to move out of your parents house one day, you need to figure out how you are going to make an income. One day you are going to have bills to pay, a mortgage, buy new equipment, pay insurance and save some money for a rainy day. You need to figure this out early on or one day you’ll have to stop doing it because you will need to “get a real job”.
Photographers have to find a way to differentiate themselves from each other and find a way of selling themselves that is true to themselves and the photos they create. It’s not as easy as it sounds is it?
It’s incredibly hard. What Adam Elmakias has done with his tour prints has spawned so many copycats and while this may work for Adam, will not work for everyone. Adam has been really lucky with his lens bracelet business working for him while he has been busy setting up other parts of his empire.
Great photos will help you cut through the over crowded marketplace but I think it also takes something else to really add value to you which in turn adds value to your clients. One of those things can be creativity. People can imitate you, but you can always be one step ahead in what you’re offering your clients. I’ve got a few new ideas…
How do you see the music photography industry in 2015? I think it’s only going to get harder for the photographers who are working for media. Music based publications are dwindling, the online magazines, still don’t have much in the way of budgets and so many people continue to giveaway their work in order to get a foot in the door.
I think photographers working directly with bands need to come up with some different ways of monetising the content. It’s great to have a photographer on tour catching great moments but what do you do with all the content and how do you make money from it?
I know I seem to speak about money a lot but you have to remember the huge change in the music industry since digital downloads. Like it or not, bands are a business and they need to make money to keep their band alive. I’m sure you’re great fun to have a long for the ride, but if you can also help them make money from the content you create for them, you are going to be a lot more important to them.
How do you see it changing over the next couple of years? Any predictions? I’m not really sure where it’s going to go, but I know that for photographers to make money, the people who are using the content need to make money whether it’s a band or media. As a photographer I would like to see more quality and less quantity.
There’s a lot of coverage these days on blogs and social groups on artists releases and rights grabs for photographers to sign before shooting a show. What’s your take on this widely discussed issue within our industry? How do you go about protecting your photos? I understand why artists have these agreements to protect themselves against mis use of images such as merchandise etc, it’s just a shame that it’s overkill and at the expense of the photographer not being able to do what they should have the rights to do with their images. Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do. If you don’t want to agree to the terms, don’t shoot the artist.
In regards to my own work, I don’t put a lot of stuff online so I don’t see a lot of it being misused in a commercial sense. I do see a lot of it on personal pages, blogs and bands, but there isn’t much you can do about it, for me it’s not worth worrying about. I would only pursue copyright violation if an image is being used for commercial purposes.
What is in your kit bag?
- 2 x Canon 1dx
- 24 -70mm mk 2
- 70 – 200mm mk 2
- 16 – 35mm mk 2
- 50mm 1.2
- 24mm 1.4
- 15mm 2.8
- 2 x 580 ex 2
- Apple laptop
Which music photographers do you most admire? Danny Clinch and Jim Marshall.
Using your experience and knowledge of the industry – what tips do you have for a beginner in music photography? Shoot, shoot, shoot. Practice makes perfect. Start shooting with your local bands, through your local scene you will meet new people and your circle of relationships will keep expanding.
Wait until you have some great images that are just as good as the work you are trying to get commissioned before contacting potential clients.
Learn about the music industry. The better you understand how the industry works and what the current issues are etc, the more likely you will be able to see potential ideas to help you differentiate yourself from your peers.
Look at different visual mediums and see how you can apply it to your work. Look at the masters of music photography, because if they had a career in it, they must have been more than just a great photographer.
Be yourself. There is no room for egos in music photography. That’s what the artists are for. Oh snap!
Just go for it!
And what tips would you give to a music photographer on the verge of going professional? You have to love it! Really love it. There are easier ways to make money from photography such as weddings or commercial work. Music photography won’t pay as well as those other businesses so you need to do it for the love of it. Not the popularity or the money.
Think differently about potential ways you can make money from your music photography business. The more different income streams you have, the less vulnerable you are if one of them changes.
How can we find out more about you and your work?
- Portfolio: www.theartofcapture.com
- Store: www.kanyelens.com
- Twitter: @kanye_lens
- Instagram: @kanye_lens
- Facebook: facebook.com/theartofcapture
Thank you very much Kane for your time and this collection of awesome photos.
Do not use these images without the correct permissions.