Interview by Yising Kao, Photos by Guadalupe Bustos
View/Grab a copy of our Music Photography Issue!: https://www.galaxy-mag.com/product-page/music-photography-issue
What inspired you to start doing photography?
Growing up, I bought Alternative Press magazines, and I’d see photographers like Ryan Russell and all these other people. I’d look at their pictures and be like, “Whoa this is awesome.” I’ve always had a passion for photo and music, so I combined them. Since 8th or 9th grade, it was like a pipe dream and I guess it just happened.
Can you describe what your editing workflow is like?
I keep my originals files and use Lightroom while listening to music. I should probably get Photo Mechanic, but I'm lazy. You should try it because it lets you go to your raw files super fast and my friends save so much time. Pat handles The Maine’s social media and he’s just like, “Give me everything,” so I’ll airdrop him like 60 photos per night and he gets to choose from them, and he trusts my judgement.
In addition to shooting digitally, you also shoot on film, so how do you usually decide what moments to capture through each style?
It depends, I usually have both on me. Back in the day, when people had film cameras, they couldn’t be picky, and they’d just shoot everything. I can’t imagine doing that now just because it costs so much more now to buy film and develop it. I’m kind of careful with it, but it’s awesome to have a digital camera because I’m like, “Whoa this picture’s going to look awesome on film and I also want it in digital so the guys could post it.” You take a film photo and you’re like, “I’ll show you what it looks like in a month.” I usually carry both around or unless I'm carrying a big film camera, I’ll just take my film camera. Unless I know it’s something important, even though obviously every moment’s important, but if it’s something I know that I can’t risk, like I wouldn’t shoot a whole promo shoot for a magazine on film, then I won’t use my film camera.
As The Maine’s photographer and videographer, you truly capture their natural essence through portraits. Do you have any tips on how to pose people for portraits?
I’ve known the Maine for like 3 years now, so in the beginning, it was nerve-wracking. Now, we know each other well and I just know what they like and what face they wouldn’t like, so it’s about having them be comfortable with you. With new people like other artists I’ll meet on the road, I’ll just be like, “Hey, can I take your portrait?” I usually tell people to breathe in and out, and be calm. It’s good to get a good genuine smile, but people go into an awkward mode and don’t know what to do. People take selfies so they know their best face, so they’ll give you what they like best. A lot of it is making them feel comfortable and letting them know that you’re going to try to get the best pictures.
Will you do any videos like the Miserable Youth series again?
We did some stuff but not like the series, and The Maine like to switch it up, so that’s what I love about them. The Miserable Youth series is awesome, but it’s so much work. My favorite part of working with them on videos is that they let me be a creative director, which is so awesome. When we were on Warped Tour, Pat told me he wanted to talk about what they were doing in the Fall, so I thought they were going on tour. But they threw me a curveball and Pat said, “We’re going to Northern California to write a record for 2 months. How do you feel about being in an Airbnb for 2 months to film us?” In my head I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to do this.” But if I’m going to be 100% real with you, I knew some video, but I didn’t know how to document something like that. So, I went home after Warped Tour and just studied music documentaries. When it came out, people were asking me questions like, “Where’d you go to school for documentaries?” And I’m like, “Nowhere!”
What advice do you want to give to aspiring tour photographers?
Some of it is luck. you gotta go out there and shoot your local shows. I know a lot of people say that but it’s so true. That’s the only way you're going to learn. If you tell a local band,” Hey I’ll shoot your band. Just give me credit or buy me lunch,” then that’s the best way to learn, to go out there and do it. That’s how I learned, and I looked at other people’s work like, “Ok, they brought a flash to a show.” At the bigger venues, you can’t use flash, but at local shows, you can go for it. Also, a lot of ppl are scared of a saturated market and think there’s so much competition out there. I was in the same shoes like, “Damn it, there are so many photographers out there. Do I really want to pursue this?” But that was for everything, like any other career I had in mind. Everything is competitive but you just have to stand out and stick to it. Keep going for it because it’s going to pay off. Goals or dreams, if you work hard enough, it’ll happen. You gotta have an end goal in sight or else you’re just aiming wanderlessly.
That’s really inspiring because sometimes I feel like I’m never going to get hired, but if you’re really passionate about it, then it’ll happen if you work hard and stick through it.
100% true. I used to be like, “Wow I’m never going to be as good as this person.” If you compare yourself to people, you're not going to get anywhere. You gotta find your own little thing.
I read in an interview that you started off doing merch for Warped Tour and someone referred you to The Maine, so networking is really important.
Yeah, it’s like a snowball effect. once you get in and do one job, I can’t tell you how many people I dreamt of working with. It’s surreal. I started by doing merch, not because I wanted to, but because I had a friend who I met from collecting vinyl records. He said, “You’re a really good photographer and I know you don’t want to do merch, but this is a good foot in the door to this realm.” So, during Warped tour 2016, I just brought my camera and did merch, and anytime I wasn’t at the merch booth, I would shoot. I only shot a few bands like Issues, Sleeping With Sirens, the band I was touring with, Mayday Parade. I only shot them like once or twice. Then I took a picture of The Maine because I’m not just being biased, but they were one of my favorite bands on that Warped Tour. I told their merch guy that I was going to shoot pictures of them in New York, and he was like, “Yeah, go for it.” I didn’t even give them to Pat, but I knew Pat because I’d see him in the mornings setting up their merch tent. Then the next morning, Pat was like, “Yo, I saw the pictures you posted last night! I want to post them so do you think you can send me the good quality ones?” And I was like, “Oh my god, are you serious?” It’s funny because we have a joke now and he’s like, “Mayday Parade didn’t know who they had.” They told me I could be their photo guy and not a merch guy anymore, so I’m so happy and thankful. Another piece of advice I’d give is that you have to be a nice person. People are not going to want to tour with you if you’re too cocky. Obviously, people don’t like mean people, so if you’re a nice person, it goes a long way. Just be a nice person and stick to your craft, and your work will show through.
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness