Who is Dana (distortion) Yavin? One of the most feisty, awesome, fearless and tenacious music photographers around. That’s what we think. But Rolling Stone, Gibson Guitars and brooklynvegan.com all agree.

She is also a talented artist, incessant traveler and Loweprofessional. It gives us a huge thrill to know our bags accompany her to all kinds of venues to capture the essence of live performance.

Dana has a lot of great knowledge to share about the life of a music photographer and she’s letting us post a few of her smart tips here. Lucky us. Lucky you. Enjoy!

P.S. Test your IQ and see if you can name every musician/band from Dana’s cool portfolio here. Names revealed at the end of this post!

Dream Big. Start Small.

“A good friend (a powerful person in the music industry) told me when I just started, “I’m not gonna help you, Dana. You need to start at the bottom and work your own way up.” As much as I hated this answer and rolled my eyes thinking, “Why can’t this bastard help me, dammit?” I now think it’s one of the best pieces of advice I have ever gotten in my life. I’m not a patient person, but now that I have actually accomplished a thing or two with my work, I understand where he was coming from. This advice didn’t make me work hard—it made me work harder. If he had helped me back then I would probably not appreciate where I am now half as much I do.

 

Develop Your Style

After taking photos for a while, you will develop your own style. Don’t try to shoot like your favorite photographer. Unless this person is dead they are probably still shooting, so why would you want to copy their style?

Photo editing is a huge part of a photographer’s style. I spend hours and hours editing my images. I love the contrast between shooting out in the crazy field and then sitting in my studio, relaxing and listening to music while editing my photos.

When using editing software, I don’t recommend using presets and please don’t go crazy with effects. Create your own look and style. Experiment and play with contrast, colors, and brushes. And just like with cameras and lenses, find what editing software works best for you.

I use Lightroom, as it’s easy to be organized (which is not a great quality of mine; I’m pretty messy). I also use Photoshop. These two programs work well together. Many of my fellow photographers use Adobe Bridge and Aperture. Don’t limit yourself. Watch online tutorials, read reviews, and ask yourself what is it that you’re looking for and need.

 

Build a Fantastic Portfolio

The best way to get yourself out there is to have a memorable and outstanding portfolio. Start shooting whatever/whenever you can. Your uncle’s band, that local band that really needs new photos for their Facebook page, a festive parade (it’s not music, but parades are colorful and full of unexpected movement). These are all great places to start building a photography portfolio.

As for bands and artists, buy tickets for the shows you wanna shoot. There are many venues that are not restricted about cameras, and the venues that do restrict them usually have a bag check. So even if you bring your camera and the venue won’t let you shoot, just check your camera and enjoy the show. You will learn which venues you can shoot in as you go.

Go to as many shows as you can. Get there early with all those fanatic fans, stand in line for hours, and get to the first row. I sometimes get better photos standing with the crowd than from the actual photo pit.

The Moment You’ve Been Waiting For

Now that you have decided you are serious and have the talent, you can start asking for “real” photo passes and shoot from the golden photo pit…that magical place all music photographers strive to get to. E-mail the bands and PR companies directly. Introduce yourself and your work and ask kindly to shoot the bands you like. If they don’t respond, don’t be afraid to follow up, but don’t nag. Annoying people are not welcome anywhere.

Usually press credentials are given to photographers shooting for specific outlets, but you never know, and how will you know if you don’t try?

When I first started, I heard Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth was playing a small venue in Brooklyn. I knew that Sonic Youth was playing Terminal 5, a bigger venue in the city, a few weeks later. I went down to the Brooklyn show and when I spotted Moore hanging out in the crowd I went up to him and with no shame introduced myself and said: “Thurston, I’m a huge fan of your band—is there any chance I can photograph your show at Terminal 5?” He said right away, “Of course, contact my manager and I’ll take care of it.” So that’s how one of the very first bands I shot was Sonic Youth. Not only that, but Thurston was kind enough to get me an “All Song” pass, so I shot the whole set AND I got to shoot the opener Dinosaur Jr. Double success! Sometimes you can’t leave things to chance. I say go ahead—get what you want.

A Few Tips

Get a good health insurance! The pit and music venue can be a dangerous jungle.

* Be nice and respectful to your fellow photographers. Be aware if someone is behind you if you lift your camera. Look to both sides before you reposition yourself, as you don’t want to shove your lens in someone else’s frame

Be kind to the fans! I have made quite a few friends and met wonderful people talking to those awesome people in the front rows. Don’t forget—they waited a long time in line and spent good money to see their favorite artists. Introduce yourself, tell them about your website and what you do. They are the ones who are the most interested in your photos. And you never know who you will meet!

Come early and shoot the opening bands. They need your coverage and it’s a great way to get introduced to new music. And it’s more than likely you’ll soon be shooting them as the headliners.

* Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. The photo pit is not a catwalk. You don’t want your hair in your face or sore feet after standing and waiting for the show (which can be hours if you’re shooting Lauryn Hill!)

* Have your business cards handy; you never know who will be standing next to you at a show.

* Don’t rant about the lighting. It is what it is. The show is not for you, it’s for the fans and the music is the most important thing. Some bands prefer red lights or playing in the dark. You can’t change it. Go with it. It is what it is.

WORK OUT on a regular basis. Being a music photographer requires a lot of running around and carrying heavy equipment. Working out sure gets you in shape and keeps you going, especially at festivals where you will be running from stage to stage.

And the last and most important tip: LOVE WHAT YOU DO!

There is not much money in music photography, so if you don’t like music, why on earth are you doing this? Enjoy the music, enjoy the show! At the end of the day, music is the best thing about music photography.”

Our thanks to Dana for the great words and images. Please do yourself a big favor and check out her Instagram, Facebook, YouTube channel, Tumblr and web site.

List of artists shown above: Thomas Mars of Phoenix, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, Reignwolf, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, Andre 3000 of Outkast, Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction and Lenny Kravitz.

Katrina Neill

About Katrina Neill

Katrina was the Senior Editor & Communications Manager for Lowepro.