How my perennial affection for music led me to pursue the path of concert photography
THE VISIT THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
I was born in Havana, Cuba, 40-some years ago. When I was a toddler my family moved from Havana (the country’s capital) to a countryside town called Artemisa, where I lived for the rest of my time in the country. For some strange reason my hometown popular and folkloric music never clicked on me. I can’t explain why, maybe it was not stamped in my DNA, or simply it wasn’t meant to be. When I was 13 years old my mom decided to visit the house of a man who made a living by duplicating cassette tapes, she wanted to buy some music tapes of popular artists at the time (Probably Julio Iglesias, her all-time favorite singer). While being there waiting for my mom to finish her conversation with the guy I felt somewhat flabbergasted by the imposing presence of all the cassette decks, amplifiers and speakers around me: the place looked to my eyes like a recording studio. We were already leaving when I suddenly turned back on my feet, and gathering some courage I asked him point-blank what rock music he had in his collection. He looked at me like if I was a Martian or a freak, and after some seconds of silence (that seemed eternal to me), he said he only had TWO cassettes with “such music”. Needless to say, my mom had to pay for him to record those two for me. And that was the moment where my journey began.
I wore out those cassettes until the moment they became ragged and couldn’t be played anymore. I remember one had a side of Led Zeppelin and the other side of Queen, without song titles or album names. The other one was an Air Supply collection of hits. It took me years to find out I had been listening to the first 30 minutes of Led Zeppelin’s “IV” and Queen’s “A King of Magic”. Throughout the years I mistreated my mom’s ears with as many rock music I could get my hands on. Slowly I began to build up a collection, which evolved from tapes to vinyl and CDs. Eventually I started my own business doing kind of the same thing that guy who recorded the tapes for me many years ago used to do, but “burning” CDs instead or recording tapes, and exclusively targeting rock and fusion artists. Many will find that odd, but in Cuba there’s no stores where anyone can go and buy a CD or a vinyl, and the copyright laws for unauthorized music duplication mean nothing. The only way music lovers can have the albums they love is to buy them on CD-Rs. Being at that time one of the very few peoples in the country boasting a huge collection of rock music from every genre even made me sort of famous, and metal-heads used to travel miles and miles to come to my place: I vividly remember seeing their faces of joy when they asked for an unknown record of a certain underground band and I confirmed I had it on my collection.
THE SAGA OF A LONG-DREAMED CONCERT
While I lived in my homeland one of my never fulfilled dreams was to be able to attend a concert of my musical idols, something which was entirely out of reach. However, after immigrating with my wife to the United States our lives changed 180 degrees, and what before was an unreachable, wild dream turned into something tangible. My first ever concert was the last show of the Iron Maiden “Somewhere Back in Time” tour, the 22nd of April, 2009, at the Fort Lauderdale’s BankAtlantic Center. I couldn’t believe I was going to see one of my all-time favorite bands, and I brought my Panasonic point-and-shoot camera with me. How did my pictures come out? I’d rather to skip describing that… horrid is the first adjective that comes to mind, just imagine a smaller than one inch sensor, in the poor lighting conditions of a big venue, zoomed it to the max the lenses can handle, and in Auto mode. Could the condition have been worst? I don’t think so.
That night, while looking through the pics in dismay I decided that I need to find the right camera to be able to take pictures like the ones I used to see in the pages of Metal Hammer or Classic Rock. I decided that concert photography was a venture I wanted to follow, as it encompassed my increasing passion for photography with my lifelong addiction to music. I’ve never been a person who stop in front of obstacles, so I began to read and read. Soon I realized big DSLR cameras provided the best picture quality, but almost all the venues banned concert-goers from taking them inside. So that couldn’t be the path to take. Boy, was I wrong. I tried dozens of cameras through the next 5 years, buying them, not getting the results I wanted and either returning them or selling them later on eBay. The perfect solution to reach my initial objective seemed to elude me.
THE BIG CAMERA DECISION
On 2014 I took part of the Progressive Nation at Sea cruise (you can read an extraordinary and comprehensive review of that event by my great friend Kris McKoy here), a prog-rock celebration aboard a ship, put together by famed and worldwide acclaimed drummer Mike Portnoy. I didn’t have a camera at that point, I had just returned the SONY A6000 and a couple of lenses (My first ever foray into the world of interchangeable lens cameras, which didn’t go as planned by any stretch), so I bought a SONY RX-100 II and I took it with me, complying with the published cruise rules of not bringing professional cameras onboard. Anyways I didn’t know how to use a professional camera, so what was the point of even thinking of one? I remember that rule was completely ignored and I saw fans standing by my side with big Nikon and Canon DSLR. The SONY did as good as it could, given the type of camera it is, but when days later I saw pictures posted on Facebook by the same guys I had been talking to in the front rows while they were holding their big badass photo gear, the truth stroke me, like a lightning. I had been chasing a ghost, there was no way I could get the results I was longing for with point and shoot or small mirrorless cameras. I had to take the plunge and buy a DSLR.
When I had enough money saved I bought a Nikon D750 and a Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM prime lens, after reading for days about what camera to buy. I can’t explain why I decided towards Nikon instead of Canon, I simply liked a lot what I read in hundreds or articles around. Well, mission accomplished, now I had what I needed! “But wait a minute, what about all these setting and buttons and combinations?” Well, more homework was on the horizon.
I started reading about ISO, shutter speed, aperture, exposure and all the terms. I managed to go to some concerts in open venues where the camera policy wasn’t so strict and the pictures started to come out close to what I wanted for so many years. I had a previous knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and decided that I have to get familiar with Adobe Lightroom as well. The concepts had cleared up a lot, and many clouds were lifted, however knowing all of that didn’t solve a big problem. I had now the gear and some initial knowledge, but how the heck could I get into the venues with all of that equipment? I knew I wouldn’t have the slightest chance. It was a moment of disbelief. “What to do?” I was sure I had an increasing passion for concert photography and I wasn’t willing to give up after all I had progressed. But the fact remained I didn’t have a way to get a press pass or whatever else was needed to do what I had been wanting to do for so long. I felt stalled.
WHO THE HECK IS MATTHIAS HOMBAUER?
Then I got lucky, I must say very lucky. One of many Google searches returned a result mentioning Matthias Hombauer. Who was that guy? I began reading about him, and it was an inspirational story. He had thrown prolific career to a recycle bin just to follow his dreams and his passion for photography and music. “Damn, that guy had balls! I wish I could do something like that or at least learn how to”. And then I saw he had put together some sort of an online academy for concert photography. “That sounds amazing!” I remember I thought. And kept on reading and watching the promo videos. When I was done, I knew without any doubts that I should buy the course. Maybe my wife would kill me if I told her I was about to pay that money for an online course, but I had this hunch that Matthias had the answers to many of my unsolved questions. Being father of four is not an easy task money-wise; and even less if you are an immigrant, but fortunately for me my wife agreed, and I took the plunge in a heartbeat, before she could change her mind… 🙂
Going through Matthias’ course was eye-opening and revealing. The guy simply knew one and every single aspect of the business and explained it in such a simple and well laid-out way that I was in awe. I even liked his accent, I could relate myself being Spanish my native tongue. “Why on Earth I haven’t discovered him before?” Well, I couldn’t be happier that at least I did.
The first thing that happens to you when you go through that course is that it changes your mindset. You learn a bunch of things and you perfect some other you might already know, but the whole vibe underlying the whole 5 modules is simple: “You can do it, don’t even think for a second you can’t”. There’s so much advice and so much motivation like you – future concert photographer reading this – have never imagined. It is well thought-out and instructive, but above everything else it is encouraging. When you finish the last module, you feel like some super-powers have been infused into you, and you are ready to rumble and prove the world there’s a real badass concert photographer in you. You realize that nothing is impossible.
IS IT WORTH YOUR MONEY?
Definitely Matthias’ course had an impact in me becoming a better event photographer. There’s so many things you would learn – or perfect – while going through all the videos: how to see things differently while in the photo-pit, how to take different approaches at composition and workflow, how to use poor lighting conditions to your advantage, how no longer struggle about getting your gear into the venues, and most importantly: how to make your pictures to look better and better. You will learn and many doors will open and reveal themselves. Not to mention you’ll be able to get the best tips to showcase your work, understand much better how to build up a following over social media, and much more.
Last but not least, you’ll gain lots of confidence about a very important side of being a concert photographer: the business part. From bands to managers, venues, agents, publicists and promoters, there’s a huge amount of information on Matthias’ course regarding how to approach them, and how to make them understand how important the photographer work is. So, if you are passionate about music and photography, there’s no reason for you to struggle and waste as much time as I wasted. Shooting the Rockstars will give you every single bit of information and knowledge you need to success in this business, and then some, ultimately providing you with the right utensils to sell yourself and your work as a professional; and most importantly: not to work for free!
Even if you only envision yourself doing concert photography as a hobby, even if you haven’t bought your first professional camera equipment yet, do not hesitate: Matthias’ course will change the way you look at the entire subject, and will impel your passion in an accurate direction. The only additional ingredient needed for the perfect recipe are hard work and perseverance, if you have them in you, you just found the concert photography’s Holy Grail.