Lately, I’ve noticed a trend of stories popping up about a lucky break from a friend, a relative, a previous connection, and those lucky breaks launching a career. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that (I am kind of jealous!), but I also notice how people keep asking for a story of how work and perseverance paid off instead. As a shy introvert with cheap gear, I thought my story might be something worth sharing with other Photography Life readers – I’ve relied entirely on my work to get where I am today.
I consider myself successful. I’m a concert photographer that’s shot my favorite musicians, multiple times, all with my own outlet I created back in high school (I’m a college sophomore now). If you consider cash to be how you measure success, I’m a failure. Shooting for my own outlet doesn’t pay for … anything. But in terms of being able to do what I love, I’m successful. As a former musician, and someone that lives and breaths music, this is success. I get to see rock stars up close, capturing the moments that makes them famous. It’s awesome.
I started with no connections and no idea of how to approach this venture. Being in a high school band in a small mountain town opened zero doors. So I relied heavily on Social Media and great pictures; social media to contact bands, and great pictures to prove myself and get contacts. As I mentioned, I’m a shy introvert, so I preferred to shoot and send over the images. That’s horrible networking, I know, but I just thought if I was good enough, it wouldn’t matter in the end. And it worked.
After my first show, I knew I wanted to pursue this. I had a Canon T2i and a nifty fifty lens, but I didn’t care. I started my own outlet, Bluestribute.net, to give me an excuse to shoot local bands. And I did all of this using online networking and good enough pictures (“good enough” compared to what I know I can take now). I did this for a while, always shooting a band 2-3 times before actually approaching them, telling them I was the guy taking those “cool, sick” photos. I was content hiding behind a computer: it was easy and I still got to go take pictures.
Doing any sort of networking this way makes it a slow process, and I knew that. But it was a comfortable way for me to do my business, and that’s what mattered. It did take a while of shooting local bands, multiple times, until I got local connections, but it was worth it. I got lots of practice in very harsh conditions, and I got lots of confidence in my abilities.
Now, I use my website to shoot and interview some of the biggest bands in rock and metal, from Papa Roach to Rob Zombie. I used only my portfolio to land a spot shooting concerts for my local radio stations, from Journey to Skrillex to Cage The Elephant. My website, and photography, didn’t grow because I shared it; in fact, it grew because other people shared it; other people impressed with the product it was delivering. As someone that prefers to do things quickly, cleanly, and anonymously, I knew my strength had to be in quality photos. At 19, I’ve been shooting for around a year or two, always using my trusty Canon T2i. I can’t boost my ISO to compensate for low lighting, my best lens is a worn Sigma 17-70, yet use this gear to capture all my work. And I love it.
If someone using an outdated camera and a hundred dollar lens could become successful based solely on their work, there’s no excuse to not try. Being a photographer that’s always willing to learn and improve will come with success eventually, one way or another.
P.S. Sharif previously wrote a great piece called “Which to Upgrade? Gear or Skill?“, which I highly recommend to read. It touches on the same topic and highlights the importance of developing your skill as a photographer, rather than concentrating on buying more gear.
This guest post has been contributed by Curt Dennis. Been awarded the prestigious E-Days Scholarship, Curt currently studies mechanical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Curt began his journey by trying to make it as a musician, but after realizing that being on stage playing wasn’t going to work, he went towards being on stage filming instead. Using his passion for cinema and photography to capture perfect moments, he eventually used his learned skills to move into other fields of photography, including portrait photography, action sports, advertising and more. You can find more of his work at his website and his Facebook page.
I know I am pretty late, but sharing the same approach and situation, I found the article inspiring enough to write:
well done man, keep it up!
I meant keep on inspiring ppl :)
Terrific shots and a great story as well. This should be posted on DPReview, (of course it would be quickly dismissed by the minions that can only rely on test shots of brick walls as validation of the art) Cheers to you and keep up the good work. Tom
There’s a saying that “we (all in a company, organization, etc.) are in Sales”. Your fans, of which i have now become truly fit that and more likely to send people to the site, follow on Facebook, etc. People buy ideas, products, photos and people (never underestimate the power of LinkedIn) because they think it will give them something special or an edge. I shoot with two enthusiast cameras -a new Sony A6000 with Fotodiox converter to shoot with my old Canon Lensesand my backup, the venerated 60d for when i manage to destroy my Sony.
I really appreciate what you have shared here. In the end, the gear doesnt make the photographer. But, the move forward can certainly help. Shooting film was a pain in the old days. I enoy digital much more than playing around with film and chemicals. And i can reach for more light, grab faster focus than ever with the a6000 which went for a thir of the price of the much slower shooting 6d i was considering. Bonus, it always goes with me. The 60d doesn’t fit quite so well in my work backpack. In a surprise to myself i have become a mirrorless convert.
All being said, if I dont share my good photos with others, as I would like to make this a more fiscally reaponsible business, then its just for my own enjoyment. I believe art is to share no just to go “hah, i did it!” And then stick it in a box or hard drive.
Thank you for your sharing this journey of yours. Fantastic photos and perspective.
You have a good eye. Because you are young, I will let you in on a secret. I started photography with an all manual film SLR with the novel feature of through-the-lens metering. I got busy for a few decades and about 5 years ago started photographing for pleasure and using a modern digital camera. That lowly Rebel is a miracle of technology! After I had used the T2i at work for documentation, I bought the slightly larger 60D (for the most comfortable grip and for the tilt screen, which is killer for low level or high level work, saves the back and knees). I still can’t get over how good the technology is. It will be a long time before I become “better than the camera”.
A guy I went to Uni with is now a semi-pro concert photographer. He uses a selection of reasonably current equipment, and his shots are a similar character study thing. But I think yours are better in that context. However, I do think that good gear and a good photographer is better again. Not that you absolutely need it, just saying.
Just as a sidenote; whew! Some of the guys in those shots sure are ugly.
Curt – There are so many photographers that post concert photos, and they are so ordinary and actually dull, that I don’t even want to look at their posts. Those photos are posted by self proclaimed pros with Leicas and the like. You, on the other hand, have definitely attracted my attention. Your photos are excellent. I don’t think that you have appropriately named your article, since I think that with “better gear” your photos would not only be good, they would be “dynamite.” I understand that you shoot with what you have and that you’re glad that you have it. I wish that you could have had more since you are really a good photographer and your results could have been even more outstanding. Keep up the good work.
Um, gear does not matter. Curt’s photos are already good AND dynamite as is. I think you owe Curt an apology.
I should have added that I was so impressed by your work that I clicked on the link to your website and looked at all of the pictures in your galleries.
Great article-you found you photography voice as it were, something I still struggle with. However I agree with keep doing what you have a passion for and eventually it will pay off. Thank you for putting yourself out there and sharing.
Check out Motley Zoo Animal Rescue, you might relate to her passion, just a different application.
Awesome post – I’m also a concert and live music photographer ;) And I’m in the same shoes you were. I love what I shoot and shoot what I love. I’m a music junkie, and having fun is part of my passion for photography. I share my work with the artists for free. Some of the best gigs I’ve been to are low budget anyway. But here’s the thing – whenever someone needs a photographer, they recommend me. And cool people have cool friends – even commercial jobs I got through them are fun. And on the rare occasion they get sponsorship and a decent budget, they always offer to pay me. I’m on the guest list for the best gigs in town which is cool. And I got some awesome characters to model for me when I was working on my portraiture portfolio. I got some stuff up here: www.flickr.com/photos/molnarcs/
More importantly, shooting artists exposes you to a clientele with a better, more demanding taste and more appreciation for genuine creativity. They inspire you to push your limits and move out of your comfort zone. Just like any art form, photography is all about moving out of your comfort zone. You know, I’m not surprised that this article comes from a music photographer. If you hang out with artists, you know it’s all about inspiration. There is no art without inspiration. And yet – what’s the most common question people ask from a photographer? What camera do you use. That is why photography is not commonly regarded as art. But if you do believe it’s a form of art, than you should do what other artists do. Be inspired.
Good photography doesn’t start with gear. It doesn’t even start with the “maths” of photography. Understanding 1/160 F/2.8 ISO 200 won’t make you a better photographer. What settings did you use is not a lot better than what camera you use. It starts with improving your visual literacy buy studying the work of great photographers. Inspiring photographers. And when you look at inspired photography work, it won’t be about numbers. A good portrait will have dozens of different creative elements that has nothing to do with gear. Type of light, expression, pose, background, styling, perspective – these are the important parts.
Sure, gear allows you to do more, but without inspiration, without good visual literacy (=good taste) and without understanding the creative process, there is no good photography. Reading photography related sites, you get the impression that 99% of people think that better gear would allow them to take better photos. The atrocious quality of photos shared on the d800 FB group says otherwise. It’s really refreshing to see an article like yours. Need more of these!
Curt, this is a very important article for multiple reasons.
First, fight vs ‘gearophilia” is always good. Second, probably there are many introvert people out there who are interested in photography, yet most of the articles are about the bright, luxurious side of photography.
Again, very important article. Thank you.
Wonderfully inspiring story Curt, with sage words and terrific photos to match. Wish you much continued success! :)
Totally agree with AW here. Wonderful work and words Curt. Congratulations on your success!. Your pics thrilled me. To me, this is the most important and inspirational post on PL yet, along with AW’s recent posts! I got a huge kick out of reading that this story flies in the face of everything we take for granted in photography and marketing of one’s pictures. It puts the focus (pardon the pun) where it ought to be – on quality photos! I aspire to be a concert photographer in my on small way, having taken a few pics of bands in my home town in India. They are nowhere near ‘art’ level but I try and I learn. Looking forward to more posts from you Curt. Cheers.