Interview: Music Photographer Pooneh Ghana

selfieHow did you get started in Music Photography? I started getting interested in photography around the age of 17. I was a bit of a loner in high school so engulfed myself in the world of live music and photography. I took photos of everything, researched whatever I could about cameras, lenses, developing film, etc. I also started traveling a lot around then, in the US and overseas, going to festivals, driving up to Austin from San Antonio every weekend for a show. Traveling has really helped me develop skills for shooting things outside of music and concerts, as well as trying to bring a new perspective into my music photography.

Was there a big break in your career? It was all very gradual. I really just started off going to lots of shows and posting my photos on flickr, that’s how Gorilla Vs. Bear found me. Then through my work with Gorilla Vs. Bear, Austinist found me. And it all just kind of grew from there. At the beginning though, it was definitely the band polaroids I was shooting a lot of that got me ‘noticed’. I just fell in love with the idea of capturing some of my favorite musicians, or anyone that I admired, candidly in that manner. Then from there I started doing more live music and other portrait work from there. I’d say what really took things to the next level though was when I started with bands. Portugal. The Man was a big one, then Foals last year and the tour zine I did with them. And of course Cage The Elephant.

Arctic Monkeys. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Arctic Monkeys. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

How did you find the experience of that first tour on the road? The first tour I ever did was with JEFF The Brotherhood back in 2012, and absolutely fell in love with live on the road. I’d known the guys for a while just from shooting them so many times and becoming pals, and I remember being really grateful that they brought me onboard. I’d never really had that sort of access to a band before and was excited to capture another aspect of their lives on tour and offstage. I couldn’t wait to get back on the road again when it finished. In a strange way I love the unpredictability of touring, seeing friends and meeting new people, the gas station cappuccinos, the 3am tour bus jam sessions, waking up in a new city everyday. I’m definitely not jaded by it yet.

Arctic Monkeys. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Arctic Monkeys. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

The Horrors. Photo by  Pooneh Ghana

The Horrors. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Would you say you have a particular style? I would say so, people tell me I do. I’m not very ‘technically accurate’ in my photography. I like to be a bit weirder with my shooting style. I’ve been told by peers that they can always point out my photos from a batch just by the colors, so there’s that.

How do you go about achieving it? Do you have any particular routines, techniques or viewpoints that you always like to cross off – like a shot from behind the artist in front of the crowd? Sometimes I’ve shot a band before and know what perspective works best for them. Other than that, I have to be on my toes and attentive when I’m shooting, and just work with my environment and the access I’m given – whether it’s onstage, in the pit, in the crowd… I don’t like firing off my camera, I’d rather wait for the moment and come out with 50 shots I like rather than 500 shots what i’ll trash a majority of.

Cage The Elephant. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Cage The Elephant. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Trust. Photo by  Pooneh Ghana

Trust. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

What do you think makes a great live music photo? Capturing raw emotion and a moment where you feel like you’re peering into the soul of the band, or a moment that makes someone who wasn’t at the show wish they were.

How much freedom do you have when you are doing a shoot with a band or an artist? How does the creative process between you and the artist usually work? The artists/clients that hire me to shoot for them do so because they like my style, so when it comes to creative freedom they usually trust that I know what i’m doing. Which is great. In terms of finding a general concept for a shoot or locations, sometimes we go over ideas beforehand and think of a setup that we both like together. And sometimes they just leave it all in my hands.

Cage The Elephant. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Cage The Elephant. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Are you a fan of post processing? You’ve seen my photos right? Haha. It’s one of the biggest ways you can put your fingerprint on your work.

What’s your typical workflow after a gig? I upload all of my photos, go through every single one and rate the ones I like the most. I keep doing that over and over again until I have a relatively small, solid selection of photos from the event. Then I begin retouching in Lightroom, and occasionally bounce into photoshop if needed.

The Foals. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

The Foals. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

When you are on the road with a band or artist how do you keep the photos fresh and new when it’s the same show and the same artist every night? The great thing about touring is that you’re in a new location everyday, new venue everyday, and the band’s themselves are in a different mood everyday. That itself keeps the photos fresh. With shooting their live sets, I like the challenge of finding a new perspective to the shoot a band that i’m shooting over and over again. And if you miss a jump shot or feel like you didn’t nail a certain moment in the set one night, now you know and have the opportunity to nail it the next night. Though the motions might be the same with the tour schedule, there’s never been a lack of photo opportunities for me.

Jagwar Ma. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Jagwar Ma. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

What’s involved on a typical day on the road? It varies from band to band. But there’s always a venue call, soundcheck, press if there’s anything lined up in that city, a solid period of raiding the rider alcohol, a bus call after the show, and whatever hour or two sleep you can manage to fit in that night.

It’s clearly a tough job and not as glamorous as all of us may think. It definitely has it’s unglamorous moments. There’s a lot of waiting around everyday. No sleep as I mentioned (or sleeping on floors). Unhealthy eating. And you can just forget about doing laundry. But saying all this, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had a blast on every tour i’ve been on. I go into every tour with no expectations or high demands, I’m there to have the true experience of what’s it’s like to be in or work with that particular band on the road. So it can vary from sleeping in a fancy tour bus and nice hotels every night, to being crammed with 7 other dudes in a sprinter and sleeping in dirty punk houses. But I love touring in all it’s forms.

Julian Casablancas. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Julian Casablancas. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Twin Peaks. Photo by  Pooneh Ghana

Twin Peaks. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

What’s in the kit bag for a show? If it’s a smaller club show I just take my 5DMKIII with a standard lens (like a 24-­70mm). If I know it’s going to be really dark i’ll take my 35/1.4. If it’s an arena show or a festival, I’ll have that setup as well as a telephoto lens (70­-200mm). I always have my polaroid on me and at least one other film camera.

Teleman. Photo by  Pooneh Ghana

Teleman. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Which music photographers do you admire? Andy Whitton (who you just interviewed!) is an absolute gem and I love working with him. Not only is he a great music photographer but a great person and very humble.

There’s also Neil Krug. He work mainly with polaroids and film, and takes these stunning photos of bands/models out in the desert, on the beach, or wherever. He does more portrait/album work as opposed to live music, but his work is spectacular.

One other photographer is Maclay Heriot out of Australia, who shoots a lot on film too. Him and I have worked (even toured) with many of the same bands at different periods, which is how we first crossed paths. His tour photography stuff is just excellent.

Maccabees. Photo by  Pooneh Ghana

Maccabees. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Do you have any tips for new music photographers? Always carry a camera with you. Take photos constantly, not just in a studio or at a gig. It’s huge in building your own photographic eye and style. Of course, separate your work from other music photographers. There are a lot (no really, A LOT) of music photographers out in the world wanting to do exactly the same thing you do. You need to stick out.

The Garden. Photo by  Pooneh Ghana

The Garden. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Ty Segall. Photo by  Pooneh Ghana

Ty Segall. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

What advice would you give to professional photographers just starting out in their career Don’t be a dick. Don’t let the lifestyle get to your head. Don’t act entitled. Don’t get jealous or malicious. Focus on your own work and constantly growing/getting better at your own craft. You can be an amazing photographer but if you have a bad attitude or are disrespectful to your peers, no one will want to work with you. And especially with shooting events, sometimes you’ll get approved for a photo pass, sometimes you won’t. Most of the time it’s not personal, so don’t go in attack mode towards the band or the PR if you didn’t get into one show. You don’t want to develop a reputation that’ll hurt you down the line.

Wild Nothing. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Wild Nothing. Photo by Pooneh Ghana

How can we find out more about you and see more of your work?

Thank you very much for your time and sharing your photos with us.

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