Hello, everyone! After an extended break we have returned with the latest installment in our ongoing series aimed at informing aspiring music photographers about the realities of life in the industry. If you missed one of the previous columns, you can catch up using this link. If not, welcome back! We’re happy you stuck around.
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The best camera you have is the one on you. For years I’ve thought that saying was the biggest cliche in the history of photography. I’ve debated and fought this countless times. My iPhone isn’t nearly as good as the guy with a Canon 5D MKIII. I’d even take a Rebel series camera of my that. I’m here to say that I was wrong.
On December 30th, I was privileged enough to see Patti Smith in concert at Webster Hall. I tried to apply for press countless times for the show, but was met with rejection each time. Patti Smith does not allow photographers; something that I think is very hypocritical as Patti Smith is a photographer herself and even had a relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, an incredible photographer.
The day prior, Patti Smith also performed at Webster Hall, and a had surprise opener in Michael Stipe of R.E.M. It was his first public performance in years. With the idea that he would perform again the next day, I immediately looked up the guidelines for the venue and found out they did not have a camera policy, so I brought in a Fuji mirrorless camera, a camera which most would not even fathom calling optimal gear for a show. I wasn’t shooting for anyone, but just myself because of my love for R.E.M. Don’t get me wrong, I got the ticket for Patti Smith, but I LOVE R.E.M.
I got to the venue early and was about 6 rows back. I snapped less than 150 shots the entire show and thought nothing of it. I had a few shots I liked, but nothing that I would even consider my best work. Just shots to say, “Hey, I saw Michael Stipe and Patti Smith!”
I posted one photo on a message board and got an email later that night from Rolling Stone Magazine asking for images from the show. Why would they want a shot from a little Fuji. I sent them 15 of my best shots of the show and they bought the usage for them. What? Why? … I didn’t even use my gear.
Maybe it’s because I’m thick skulled, but I couldn’t imagine not published anywhere without my pro-gear. Maybe I’m spoiled in that thought, but regardless if a magazine like Rolling Stone took a photo that wasn’t on quality equipment then anyone really would. This was a point and shoot camera after all.
In the past, I’ve been guilty of judging people by equipment. I’m here to say that I was wrong.
James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.