Category Archives Guest Blogger

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“Lend me your eyes and I’ll show you what I see.” – Hybrid Dave, 2013 (fact). I’m Dave Williams and I’m a photographer from London, England. I shoot travel and people (which I realise is very broad!) I scour the world for photographic opportunities which will inspire, evoke memories, and make money!

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Telling an accomplished, professional photographer that their photographs look good based on the camera they use or the natural beauty of the subject they’re shooting is akin to telling a painter that their canvasses look good based on the skill of their brush. You just wouldn’t. A photographer who is successful puts a lot of work into their images, but what is that work in my mind? What’s my thought process? That’s what I’ve decided to write about for Scott’s blog the week.

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What I see in my minds eye will end up on the screen or the wall in front of you, no two ways about it. It’s those photos on that screen, or those photos in the dusty photo album you’ve pulled out of the attic in 50 years time to blow the dust off and show the grandkids which will evoke the memory of that one moment. Long after the dance has been had, the champagne has been drunk, the glacier has melted, the sun has long since set over the horizon, that memory will come to the forefront of your mind and you’ll be taken back to it in time, along with the sudden recollection of a lost memory of the 2 minutes either side of that photo being taken. The sights, sounds and smells, the emotions, they’ll all come back to life.

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I’ll make it happen over and over again, and you won’t remember it unless I take that photo in such a way that the composition, timing, lighting and all other elements are skillful, creative and artistic enough to capture that moment precisely. You may not remember it unless I take the photo. The snapshots of time I can make happen through skilled consideration of angle, composition, exposure, lighting, aperture, timing, they are memories. My job is to take all those elements, package them up carefully, and then put them into the shot for everyone to see and it’s something that’s been tried and perfected over years.

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Forget composition, that’s been overcooked now. Let’s look at what happens inside us. Why do photos work? How do they release the chemicals in our mind that makes us feel a certain way? I’ve been working on this piece for a while now, and a fair chunk of research has gone into figuring out the link between photographic art and human emotion. Photography is powerful. It captures a real life event, as opposed to an imagined or otherwise represented painting.

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It allows us, as photographers, to put people into our eye and our mind. It allows people to see the world from our perspective. One of my favourite photographic lines is, ‘lend me your eyes and I’ll show you what I see.’ More than this though, we use photography to understand ourselves in relation to everything and everyone around us. We can place ourselves into the perspective of those we see in the image.

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Our ability to identify with someone else’s point of view is deeply ingrained in the architecture of our brain. We can imagine what they are seeing. Photography plays a unique role in triggering the region of the brain that controls empathy. To understand how photographs activate this brain network, it’s first necessary to deconstruct emotional processing into simpler components. One of the most fundamental social skills that humans have, that of imitation, is key here. Imitation is automatic and a basic requirement for developing practical social skills, like empathy.

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When we see the expression of other peoples faces there is an unconscious activation of the same muscles. We’ve all heard of this, it’s been studied time and time again and comes into play daily on conscious and sub-conscious levels and in all our interactions. It’s the key player in the dating game. If you like someone you’ll copy them, and similarly they’ll copy you if they like you back. Imitation is a result of visual information combining with muscle activation, which in turn facilitates empathy.

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Our capacity to imitate is thought to rely upon a specialised network of brain regions called the human mirror neutron system. With a simple photograph our brain will unconsciously processes biological motion, attend to where emotions are being directed, activate muscles of those we are observing, and transmits this information to language processing centres where we can consciously express our own emotional reaction.

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Imitation is a basic social skill that often occurs unconsciously due to the learning we’ve been doing all our life. However, as we age we become much more aware of someone’s emotions not by direct observation by rather by judging their intent. Intent requires us to place ourselves into someone else’s perspective and to hold the belief that other people have minds that are distinct from our own. The mind is something we cannot see and thus we must believe that it exists in theory.

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Photography is important because it can influence our capacity to empathise, it affects our motivation to help others, and help us connect with people through imitation. Seeing children at war, viewing a familiar scene we’ve never actually seen in real life, watching the total destruction of cities undoubtedly appeal to our emotions and our yearning to interact and feel we have an involvement in the image. The very survival of our species has and still relies on understanding how other feel, attending to the needs of those around us, and working with one another to construct a better society.

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Photography is more important than ever because we need visual imagery that reflects our connectedness, especially in a world that is as dynamic as ours with a constant daily bombardment of visual stimulus in the digital world. The way we see is unique to each and every one of us, but the common theme is empathy and this can be generated in the capture of a good photograph. Not just through composition, but in content. The capture of the emotion in front of the lens. In terms of my specialist field, travel photography, I want each and every person to feel the love that goes into my photos.

To see more of Dave’s work, check out HybridDave.com, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr.

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Throughout my journey to impoverished countries all over the world, one trait has reigned true: warmth. No matter what stressful situation or unknown location we find ourselves, there is always good people we meet among the madness. The old saying goes “A few bad apples spoil the bunch” and I find that to be very true, especially in places that have been riddled with war for decades. Good people are everywhere, even in the darkest of corners of the earth. These good people are responsible for uplifting others and guaranteeing awareness of the problems that many face, every day.

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When I was first offered the opportunity to travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I was really unaware of the problems and issues that plague the city and the country as a whole. On the minimal available information I had been given, it was tough to surround my brain around our mission. There is so little knowledge, I was forced to dive deeper and I only scratched the surface of what I would eventually come to find.

It all started with my friends at Nadus Films and their “Give A Story” grant project. We give a grant to those world-wide foundations that need it most. The grant provides the opportunity to document, capture and provide the right tools, so these initiatives can raise awareness and gain traction for further funding. Our project in Ethiopia focused on a foundation titled “Youth Impact” which provides shelter, food and a solid path for homeless children located in the city of Addis Ababa.

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Due to famine and communist civil war, nearly 60% of Ethiopia, Africa is under the age of 18 and of that demographic nearly 100,000 children are completely homeless and suffer from tremendous injustice. Poverty, addiction, prostitution and disease. Some children, just 6 years of age roaming the streets of the city. There is an extreme lack of leadership, parents and grandparents. It is a country of youth.

I knew the project would involve children who have struggled. Children who have stories and I wanted to tell their story the only way I know how, through imagery. I decided to form a portrait series of homeless street children as well as people that have grown through the Impact program. I wanted to bring the aesthetic of my portrait work blended with a journalistic mood. That style involved creating a custom 3×4 canvas solely designed from the ground up for this series.

Upon arrival at the Youth Impact shelter the initial mood wasn’t shock, but difficulty. The shelter was small, similar to a one floor ranch-style two bedroom home. The front yard was piled with random rusted debris and the back porch was a concrete dorm with open doors and ropes covered in wet clothing. The shelter is completely surrounded by a 10-foot concrete wall which was embedded with shards of glass; an inferior barbwire.

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We didn’t have a system to rig the beautiful 3×4 canvas, so we grabbed what we could from the pile of wreckage on the alley-way next to the Youth Impact shelter, a cracked wooden ladder and trashed twin bed frame. Using a Manfrotto 035 Super Clamp, attached to the backdrop draped over Manfrotto 2983 Adjustable Background Holder Crossbar, we linked the clamp to another Manfrotto 035 Super Clamp and attached it to the debris. Using a combination of Gaff Tape and Zip Ties we secured the bottom of the backdrop to avoid kick up from wind.

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The light setup was simple; a Profoto B2 Location Kit attached to a Manfrotto 026 Swivel Umbrella Adapter which we attached to a Manfrotto 680B Compact Monopod for complete mobility. The Profoto B2 head is modified with a 46” Photo Softlighter II, the softest source of modification I’ve ever used. Luckily, I had two trusted assistants who spoke enough broken English to understand my instructions of feathering the light and keeping the strobe consistently directional opposite the sun.

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Youth Impact has blazed a trail for dozens of successful business men, architects, carpenters and artists. Once homeless, now-adults had been saved through the Youth Impact initiative. I wanted to capture not only the current children living through the shelter, but also these blossoming people who had so much to owe to their mentors. It was a humbling experience to photograph this community that has so much to say, but no voice. Hopefully, this series provides that voice that they so yearn to have.

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Behailu Kassanhun – Orphan, joined Youth Impact, he has since graduated with a College degree and teaches Architecture.

 

 

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Amanual Haile – Orphan, joined Youth Impact at the age of 12, he has since graduated College.
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Genet Fantanhun – Orphan, joined Youth Impact at the age of 14, she has since graduated College and is currently a Elementary School Teacher.

 

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Kidist Tesfaye – Orphan, joined Youth Impact, she has since graduated College and is currently serving at a local hospital as a nurse.

 

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Yemisrach Tesfaye – Orphan, joined Youth Impact at the age of 12, she has since graduated College and is currently serving at a local hospital as a nurse.
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Dawet Daneyl – Runaway, joined Youth Impact from the streets of Addis Ababa, he left his home in Ghana to find work in Addis Ababa.

 

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Mubarek Abedela – Runaway, joined Youth Impact at the age of 16 from the streets of Addis Ababa, he left his home to find better work.

 

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Sebesebea Akalu – Runaway, joined Youth Impact from the streets of Addis Ababa, he left his farm in Ghana to find a better life in Addis Ababa, which resulted in homelessness for over 4 years.

 

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Habetamu Fentetahun – Runaway, joined Youth Impact from the streets of Addis Ababa, he left his farm in Dessie to find a work in Addis Ababa, which resulted in homelessness for 2 years.
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Alem Kere Tiehay – Runaway, joined Youth Impact from a tough life on the streets of Addis Ababa. He has been jailed 8 times for alcohol related crimes. He left his farm in Ghana for Addis Ababa.

 

 

 

It was a true honor to hear the stories behind these young adults, who have so much to offer but, nearly had zero foundation to create a life. Fortunately, Youth Impact has provided a reachable dream and given the ladder of victory. Built upon a dark past, they are the future of Ethiopia.

You can see more of Clay’s work at ClayCookPhotography.com, and follow him on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

Photographer Jeff Lombardo photograph's Dubai Marina from the Princess Tower in Dubai, the Tallest Residential Building in the World.
Photographer Jeff Lombardo photographs Dubai Marina from the Princess Tower in Dubai, the Tallest Residential Building in the World.

How did you get your start in photography? Have you always done what you’re doing now, or did you start with one or many genres of work and then gravitate to your current style?
Well, I’m not the photographer that was given a camera at a young age or the photographer that followed in his father’s footsteps. I’m also not the photographer with a darkroom and film background. I actually never had any desire to become a photographer at all. I was a freelance graphic designer for NBC, Universal Studios, MGM, A&E, FOX, Disney, and many others — who one day decided to put everything he owned in a storage unit and follow his dream of world travel.

A helicopter view of downtown Vancouver
A helicopter view of downtown Vancouver.
A view of Brooklyn and Manhattan (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
A view of Brooklyn from Manhattan.

I know it sounds like I had everything figured out but I had no idea how I was going to make it work. I had the confidence that it would work itself out, but a lot of the time it was hope. I decided to come up with a monthly figure that I needed each month to travel and live on, then I divided that number by 3 and pitched my top 3 clients an all you can eat package and suggested a 6 month retainer. Between the 3 clients I reached the figure I needed each month and I was able to lock in paychecks for the next 6 months.

Model on a gondola in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
Model on a gondola in Venice, Italy.
Jessica Burciaga on a beach in Honolulu. (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
Jessica Burciaga on a beach in Honolulu.

That idea landed me on 62 flights in 10 months and provided me with 2 ½ years of world travel while living out of a suitcase. I was living a life worth documenting so I documented it just like anyone else would. Photography itself started to become appealing when all the iPhone photo editing apps started to emerge.

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Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia.
People vacationing on holiday in Positano, Italy (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
Crowd of people vacationing on holiday in Positano, Italy.

Having a mini Photoshop in my pocket appealed to my graphic design background and when Instagram came out, it was icing on the cake. Photo editing apps and Instagram gave me a greater purpose to share my photos in real time with those I was out of touch with, rather than having them just sit on my phone. That’s when I went from taking point and shoot vacation photos to putting thought, effort and creativity into each photo. I became passionate about it and I wanted to become better. The study and learning process is what got me into photography.

Sunset in Brooklyn, New York overlooking Manhattan (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
Sunset in Brooklyn, New York overlooking Manhattan.
Horseshoe bend in Page, Arizona (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
Horseshoe bend in Page, Arizona.

As time went on and I felt like I was getting to a place that I was comfortable with in my photography. I knew I had another talent to offer my network of friends so I began putting the word out and swinging for the fences when looking for new opportunities.

The Empire State Building through the legs of the Manhatttan Bridge (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
The Empire State Building through the legs of the Manhattan Bridge.

Prior to photography I worked on some big projects as a graphic designer and I definitely had to pay my my dues. I went from being a starving artist all the way to working on the Dark Knight, Twilight, New Moon, WATCHMEN and countless other great projects. But once I decided to take the leap into becoming a professional photographer I realized I was a starving artist all over again — and I hated it.

Yachting through the Mediterranean Sea with a view of an active volcano in Stromboli. (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
Yachting through the Mediterranean Sea with a view of an active volcano in Stromboli.
Overlooking Positano from a balcony in the mountainside (Photo by Jeff Lombardo
Overlooking Positano from a balcony in the mountainside.

I hit the reset button on my career at midlife. I went from the peak of my design career and having 15+ years experience under my belt to being an amateur without any experience under my belt and a world full of competition all over again. I did my best to leverage both backgrounds in my pitches while I continued to aim for gigs out of my ballpark. I had nothing to lose.

On the roof of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in Rome, Italy (Photo by Jeff Lombardo
On the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Rome, Italy.
Emirates plane flyover. (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
Emirates plane flyover.

Because I was traveling, I had a lot of travel photos. I decided to make a website with my photo work and it was all travel work and I labeled myself a Travel Photographer. Once I had some decent landscape and cityscape shots, my friends in the music industry started to notice and opportunities in music started to land. I used each one as a launchpad to get me to the next level.

Ne-Yo being interviewed at his "Forever Now" music video shoot. (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
Ne-Yo being interviewed at his “Forever Now” music video shoot.
Ne-Yo in the studio writing a song. (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
Ne-Yo in the studio writing a song.
Ne-Yo Performs in Manchester on the 2013 UK R.E.D. Tour. (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
Ne-Yo performs in Manchester on the 2013 UK R.E.D. Tour.

I ended up going on tour with Ne-Yo, shooting the top 5 EDM DJs on 5 different continents and winning a photography award all in my first 2 years. A lot of you may ask how? Hustle and persistence is all I can say to that. I believe you have to align yourself with the opportunities you want and you have to be strategic and persistent. Find the gatekeepers that hold the power to what you want and beat down doors until someone lets you in. Everyone has something they need and something they can offer; it’s up to you to connect those dots.

Sebastian Ingrosso performs under fire at Stereosonic 2013 in Sydney, Australia (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
Sebastian Ingrosso performs under fire at Stereosonic 2013 in Sydney, Australia
Hardwell spinning at EDC London 2013 at Queen Elizabeth Park (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
Hardwell spinning at EDC London 2013 at Queen Elizabeth Park
Carl Cox spinning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway during EDC Las Vegas 2013 (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
Carl Cox spinning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway during EDC Las Vegas 2013

Being a great photographer in 2016 isn’t enough. You have to be a great marketer. An ‘ok’ photographer who is great at marketing can make it further than a great photographer who is terrible at marketing. I don’t think that’s fair but that’s the game and sometimes you can’t change the game, all you can do is play it.

In the studio with Kendrick Lamar as he records To Pimp a Butterfly in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jeff Lombardo)
In the studio with Kendrick Lamar as he records To Pimp A Butterfly in Los Angeles.

What led to you getting such intimate access with Kendrick Lamar?
I believe it’s a combination of trust, respect for my work and knowing the right people. Growing up we all used to hear the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” — but I disagree. It’s definitely both.

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My name is Brian Podnos and my wife Donna and I run an architectural and interiors photography company based in NYC called Donna Dotan Photography. I wanted to share the interesting process by which we recently created a 60 foot photo for a client.

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(Click here for a MUCH higher resolution view)

Before I get into the making of this photo, here is a bit of context surrounding the job:

  • While doing a photoshoot of model units for a new development, the client asked Donna and I to photograph the view from on top of the construction site for a print. We happily obliged and got a great shot at sunset. The view was NYC with Citi Field in the foreground.
  • For the shot, we used a Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-70 zoom lens.
  • After delivering the image, the client told us the resolution wasn’t high enough. They wanted the image to be printed as wallpaper to cover their sales gallery wall of 60 ft by 9 ft.
  • They asked us to redo the shot. However, in order for everything to be ready for an upcoming event in the sales gallery the following week, we only had three days to deliver the image.

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Okay, so lots of pressure, not a lot of time to figure out the best way to approach the project. One thing we knew was that we wanted a medium format camera system in order to get that kind of image quality. People were going to be looking at this photo from less than a foot away, so we wanted to make sure we had the best resolution possible. Going medium format would be a risk because we only had one opportunity to do it right, it’s a very expensive system to rent, and it was something we had never done before! However, Donna and I felt that the reward outweighed the risk, and this way we would ensure that the resolution was the best it could possibly be.

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The Phase One IQ3 100MP system had just been released, and we really wanted to utilize the latest and greatest sensor on the market (100MP!). After some adversity (you’ll see in the video) we were able to rent the camera. At this point we were left with only one day to get the shot, edit the file and deliver it to the printers!

Everything had to go according to plan. The weather had to cooperate, we had to learn the mechanics behind the camera system the day of the project, and we had to figure out exactly by what method we would create the photo. Since the wall was 60 feet wide, we figured we would have to shoot multiple panels and stitch them together in post (even with a medium format system and 100MP sensor, a single shot wouldn’t be sufficient), but we weren’t sure if we should use a rail or a tripod. We also didn’t know if we should photograph in the horizontal or vertical orientation, or if we should capture the panels top-down or left-right (or both!). Lastly, we weren’t sure which lens would be most appropriate. Lots of questions, not a lot of time to spare.

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After much deliberation, we decided to take multiple lenses and figure the rest out on site. Thankfully, the weather was on our side that day. We rented the camera from Digital Transitions in NYC and they were amazing in teaching us how to operate it. They also assured us they would always be around should something arise on site. That comforted us to say the least.

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Sunset was around 5:15, so we arrived at 4 and made our way up the construction site to the 15th floor. It was already so beautiful as the sun was setting behind the Manhattan skyline. Quickly, we were able to eliminate the rail system we had brought. Our photo subject was so far away that we could easily photograph the needed panels using our Arca-Swiss D4 tripod head. Next, we decided that the Schneider 150mm was the lens to use. It gave us exactly the frame we were hoping to get with minimal cropping needed in post. We elected to orient the camera vertically and shoot 7 panels from left to right.

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One additional element we worried over was the fear that the construction site would be too active. Any camera shake would cause our long exposure capture to be blurry. Luckily we were able to select a floor where no construction workers were working and thus were free to begin.

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Once the camera was set up, we ran a test by tethering to a computer and taking a look at how the panels stacked up next to each other. The raw files looked really good. We were zooming in and able to read traffic signs that were miles away!

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Finally, we were confident that we would be able to create the image the way we wanted to. Now we just had to wait for the buildings to light up during twilight…

The next day we imported all the files to our office computers and spent the rest of the day editing the shot. It literally took all day to stitch the panels seamlessly, get the color correction on point, and pull out all the details we wanted to showcase. Each shot was a 15 second exposure, and since the sky gets dark so quickly there was a noticeable gradient in color with each panel. Smoothing out the sky was quite a challenge!

We finally submitted the panoramic photo and shortly after heard from the printer that the file was going to work. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

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Donna and I got to see the photo in person a week later, and it was incredible. Inspecting the wall up close we really got to see how sharp every detail was. Considering this was our first time using a medium format system, and considering all the external pressures to get the job done right, I feel like we really succeeded in what we set out to do.

Reflecting on the experience, the whole process was pretty wild. There were so many question marks in the air, but it all worked out in the end. We created an amazing final product and made an important client very happy.

-Brian Podnos
Donna Dotan Photography

Special thanks to Onex Real Estate Partners, Modern Spaces, Digital Transitions, Ken Jones, and Pitra Media!

You can see more of Donna and Brian’s work at DonnaDotan.com, and follow them on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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Brad pulls up a photo on his phone from the previous night’s secret show to show Chris Dudley during tech rehearsal. Photo by Chris Dudley

The Rebirth of Underoath
A few years ago, the band Underoath played what was then to be their final tour ever as a band. They did their farewell tour, made a documentary about the whole thing, and then each of the members moved on to the next phase in their lives, but they all remained friends after this.

Christopher Dudley, Timothy McTague, Spencer Chamberlain, Grant Brandell, and James Smith of Underoath perform their final show on January 26, 2013 at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, Florida

Fast forward to late last year, and they’re all on a group text joking about what it would be like to tour again. Then the joking turned serious and, after much discussion and figuring out logistics, they decided to reunite to tour once again and play their two most popular albums, They’re Only Chasing Safety and Define The Great Line, back to back on the Underoath Rebirth Tour.

The first official show of the tour is tonight in St. Petersburg, Florida at Jannus Live, the same venue where they played the final show of their last tour. And the band has allowed me to document some behind the scenes images of the events leading up to this show.

Last week, they invited me to come out to their practice space and document one of their final practices before taking the stage once again. The space is a storage unit, lit solely by one fluorescent light inside, and some typical parking lot lights outside. Thankfully, I had two Canon 1DX bodies at my side, coupled with the 70-200mm f/2.8 and 16-35mm f/2.8 lenses, to handle the high ISO situation.

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perform on at in

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As the band practiced, I tried to cover them from every angle I could think of while staying out of their way as best as possible. During this time, they’re focused on making sure they remember how to play the songs and are all on the same page with everything rather than performing. So while they’re into it, it’s definitely a lower energy situation than a live performance.

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perform on at in

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perform on at in

For post processing, I prefer converting behind the scenes/documentary images to black and white. I just think it gives them a more timeless feel, and helps differentiate the images from my live concert work. In this particular case, I used Macphun’s Tonality Pro plug-in to do the black and white conversions. I started with the software’s Bold Contrast preset, then tweaked it to best fit these images and created my own preset. Once I had that in place, I did a batch process of the images and ran my preset at 50% so the images didn’t look over-processed. This gave the shots a nice but gritty look that almost made them feel like they were shot on film.

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perform on at in

While many of the band’s shows on the tour are already sold out, including their first show tonight at an approximately 2,000-person capacity venue, they announced a “secret show” at a 400-person capacity venue in Tampa on Sunday night. This show was $10 at the door on a first come, first serve basis; and once it was full, it was full.

The venues they normally play at have big stages and a barricade/photo pit between the crowd and the band. Not so at this one, as you can see in the video below:

This crowd is INSANE!! No fans like @underoathband fans! #underoath #uorebirth #UØ

A video posted by Brad Moore (@bmoorevisuals) on

This time I was armed with the same Canon 1DX bodies and 70-200mm f/2.8, but this time I had the 11-24mm f/4 and 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses as well. The latter two ended up being the only ones I used during Underoath’s set since it was such a small venue. I started off right in front of the stage in the crowd during the opening bands and was fine. But once Underoath took the stage, I only lasted for two songs before I escaped the flying bodies and pummeling from the fans to try to catch my breath and make my torso cease feeling pain.

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Photo by Matt Vogel

My name is Amy Willard and I am a music photographer based out of New York City. I am very excited to share my story on how I got to photograph some of the top artists in music, get published, and go on tour.

Probably the biggest myth about working in the music industry is that you have to know someone in order to get in. When I was 18 years old, I moved to Washington DC to study architecture and could count the number of concerts I had attended on one hand. I hardly knew anyone, I certainly didn’t know anyone who worked in the music industry, and yet somehow I would end up spending the next 10 years photographing some of the most recognized names in music.

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My career didn’t begin with befriending a local band and hopping into the back of a tour van. I guess if anything, my journey was similar to that of the kid in Almost Famous. Instead of a tape recorder, I had a camera and my synopsis would be something more like:

Small town girl, deterred from going to concerts in her youth, suddenly falls in love with live music after seeing a Fall Out Boy show at the 9:30 Club. This inspires her to be part of that world and to one day photograph bands for Rolling Stone. She reaches out to a photographer on MySpace, buys a point and shoot camera, makes a portfolio, gets her first credentialed assignment and goes on to photograph bands for years in hopes to finally get published.
Fade to black.  Roll credits.

The day everything changed was when I discovered some photos online from an All-American Rejects show that I went to. The photographer, Stacy McCarthy, signed her name to the edge of the photo. I looked her up on the internet and eventually found her MySpace page. Curious about how she got to take those photos, and pretty much deciding right there that I wanted to be like her, I sent her a message.

She was kind enough to respond and encouraged me to start shooting from the crowd in order to make a portfolio. When I had enough shots, she would offer to let me shoot for her site. I picked up a FujiFilm FinePix, a pocket camera designed for low light, and tried my luck at a few shows.

I think the first lesson I ever learned from photographing live concerts was to accept defeat. Having always been the type of person who needed to succeed at everything, this was the hardest lesson and it usually came in the form of very blurry or underexposed photos.

My first few shows shot from the crowd were terrible. At the end of the night, I would have nothing to make a portfolio and I continually felt defeated. I didn’t give up, however, I kept shooting and eventually learned the second lesson in music photography: patience.

It’s important to note that when you’re photographing a concert, everything that happens is out of your control. Unlike a photoshoot, you can’t direct your subjects and you can’t position the lights to your liking. You have to work with pre-existing conditions and wait for the shot. I began paying closer attention to the elements of the show: the music’s rhythm and the lights. I learned to anticipate the next bright moment on stage and strategically time when I clicked the shutter.

My own tips came in handy when I was close to the stage for The Fray, a piano-rock band. Everything about that night was ideal: a lead singer seated at a piano was less likely to be moving about and there was way better lighting.

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My first concert photo – The Fray, 2006

I stood in the crowd, anchoring my arms to my body to stabilize my camera as I snapped away. I took over 300 shots, most unusable, but enough decent ones to make my first portfolio and finally get an approval for a photo pass. This would lead to another hard lesson in music photography: overcome the unexpected.

My first credentialed show was Matt Nathanson at the 9:30 Club on October 20, 2006 that I shot with a used Nikon D70 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.8. The shorter focal length shouldn’t have been an issue since a photo pass allows you access to area between the barricade and the stage, better known as a photo pit. Unfortunately for this show, there was no barricade setup close to the stage and what was even more unexpected was that 50 frames into the headliner’s set, my camera shutter locked up. Suddenly my first crack at being a pro was over.

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My first photopass – Matt Nathanson, 2006

I had to swallow the immense feeling of pride I had just hours prior when I picked up my photopass, and figure out how to apologize to both my editor and the band’s publicist.

Although my first show did not go as planned, I pressed on. I wanted to shoot more and more shows, but my editor couldn’t keep up with my requests, so a year and half later I launched my own music blog called Barricade Buzz. At first, many artist managers and publicists declined my requests. Thankfully one approval turned into many, and suddenly I was covering shows all around D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

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Fall Out Boy, 2007 // MUTEMATH, 2007

As I began to cover more and more artists on a regular basis, publicists and venues began approaching me to cover their shows. With my work in music photography beginning to get noticed, I developed three goals: cover festivals, get published in a physical magazine, and go on tour.

I did a lot of cold-emailing to bands, festivals, print magazines and the like. No one responded.  It became clear that I needed to get my foot in the door some other way. I decided to apply for an internship with Outerloop Management, a small artist management company just outside of D.C.. While the bands they managed weren’t exactly my style, my internship created many new opportunities and helped me achieve two of my goals simultaneously.

One of the artists I worked with through my internship was a metalcore band called We Came As Romans. They were asked to play The Bamboozle Festival in New Jersey in 2010. The whole company drove up from DC to support them. I was given a laminate for the festival and allowed to photograph the band’s whole set. I also had the opportunity to shoot both from the stage and the pit. At one point, lead singer Kyle Pavone hopped off the stage and began climbing the barricade. I followed him with my camera. I hopped up on the barricade and  snapped away, trying to get a decent angle for the shot. This was an experience I had dreamed of having for so long.

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We Came As Romans published in Alternative Press, 2010

Months after the festival, I got an email from Alternative Press magazine. They had checked out my site and were interested in the photos of We Came As Romans, specifically my photo of Kyle in the crowd. That shot would eventually be selected to run in their August 2010 issue. I was going to be published in print!

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Paramore published in Alternative Press, 2015

After my first run in the magazine, work started to pick up. I was hired to photograph a few of the major music festivals like Shamrock Fest and Virgin Mobile FreeFest. With two out of three of my goals achieved in just a few short years, all I had left to do was get on tour.

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The Alabama Shakes at Virgin Mobile Freefest, 2012

In 2011, the Vans Warped Tour, one of the largest touring music festivals in the world, held an open application to be the Monster Energy Pit Reporter. While the title is a bit goofy, the job itself was everything I wanted: spend an entire summer on tour shooting videos and taking photos of bands. I filmed a video of myself rambling about all of my experience and how I wanted to be on tour. It was a real disappointment to not get selected that year, but looking back, my application video was painfully boring.

Refusing to let that year’s defeat get the best of me, I had my second chance in 2012 and came up with an idea to finally get noticed. I channeled my inner Natalie Portman (http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/natalie-raps/n12021) and put together a satirical rap video about Warped Tour.  A few months later, I was packing my gear and headed to Salt Lake City to be the 2012 Vans Warped Tour as the Monster Energy Pit Reporter.

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Video still from my 2012 Warped Tour application

I spent 8 weeks traveling the country with over 100 bands, many of which were favorites from my youth like Yellowcard and Taking Back Sunday. It was hard work, but by far the best experience of my life. I met so many people in music and became friends with other up and coming music photographers like Adam Elmakias, Josiah Van Dien, Ashley Osborne, and Matt Vogel. I even got to meet Todd Owyoung, a music photographer whose work I had been admiring for many years.

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Polaroid with Adam Elmakias, Tom Falcone and Matt Vogel taken by Josiah Van Dien, 2012 // Rise Against at Warped Tour, 2012
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Yellowcard at Warped Tour, 2012

I’ll be honest, I wish I could have stayed on tour forever. I had never felt like there was some place where I really belonged more than on the road, but unfortunately, life had other plans and priorities.

Touring through the summer, spending 12 hours in the heat daily for weeks on end took its toll on my health and I was hospitalized upon my return home. Something most people don’t know about me is that I have an auto-immune disease called lupus. While I took every precaution to stay healthy on the road, the heat and exhaustion inevitably won and I found myself facing severe health complications months later. Although being hospitalized was a setback, I refused to let it be the end of my dream of touring and working with bands.

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Fun., 2012

After accepting that being on tour was too hard on my body and knowing a connection with the music world was far too important to me, I took a job in New York City at a record label called Fueled By Ramen. As part of the label, I am able to continue to work with some of my favorite bands and maintain the medical care I need.

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Paramore, 2014 // twenty one pilots, 2015

While I am no longer hopping on tour buses across the country with my camera, I am grateful to be in a city where I still have the opportunity to photograph bands like Paramore, Panic! At The Disco, twenty one pilots through Fueled By Ramen. I hope maybe one day I can get back on the road– even if only temporarily– and that I’ll land a shot in the pages of Rolling Stone. Until then, I’ll keep shooting!

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Yellowcard, 2014

You can see more of Amy’s work at AmyWillard.com, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. If you’d like to learn more about lupus, visit Lupus.org.

 

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