Fstoppers Interviews Photographer Adam Elmakias (NSFW)

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Fstoppers Interviews Photographer Adam Elmakias (NSFW)

Adam Elmakias is one of my favorite live music photographers so I did my best to reach out to him for an interview. He was more than happy to answer a LOT of questions I had for him and left us with one of my favorite interviews I’ve ever done.

I first discovered Adam after I attended an A Day To Remember concert in Chicago. I checked their Facebook page the next day to see it flooded with pictures with his name tagged in the description as well as a link to his website. I clicked the link out of curiosity to find myself staring at some awesome pictures. I was hooked. I started following him on Instagram and was even more sucked in to his daily travels and what he was doing. Live music photos, portraits, making t-shirts with his face on it, and much more.

I emailed Adam not that long ago with a long list of questions in which I honestly only thought half of them would get answered. To my surprise, he answered them ALL and in great detail. If you don’t know Adam Elmakias, I hope this interview helps give you a little insight into him as a photographer, what he does, and much more. Enjoy.

FS: Adam, if you met someone who had no clue who you were or what you do, how would you sum up yourself in 3 sentences or less?

"Hi, I’m Adam. I work closely with bands on tour, photographing their lives. Lets get a drink because I want to talk to you."

FS: You shoot a TON of live photography. How did you get started and after that, how did you manage to keep going with it?

"I do indeed! To make a long story short, I basically started in high school when a school counselor suggested I try photography. I loved music and going to shows, so combining the two just made sense. Local promoters used to give me free passes for concerts as long as I gave them the photos afterwards, and from there I did everything I could to network with band managers to set up shoots with touring artists when they came through town. Eventually a band was nice enough to take me on the road, and during my first full US tour I did everything I could to meet people that would eventually help me land gigs in the future. Photography has been a constant learning process for me, but the networking part has always stayed the same. Connect with as many people as possible (and store their contact information with notes so I remember them), have fun, and keep shooting. That’s how I’ve gotten to where I am today."

 

FS: What are some of your favorite bands to shoot with? I see you are always with the guys in A Day to Remember and I've seen a lot of your work with All Time Low.

"The ones I am the closest with. A Day To Remember, Bring Me The Horizon, All Time Low, Pierce the Veil and Of Mice & Men. It takes some time to establish comfortability with people, but after knowing them for so long I feel at ease directing them to do whatever I have in my head—and they know me well enough to trust that I am creating something they’ll like later."

FS: What gear do you generally carry around at all times during a show?

"I always have my Think Tank airport traveler backstage, with a Think Tank slingshot, Holdfast holster, and Spider harness on my body. Sorry for the product plugs, but I wouldn’t promote them if I didn’t love them! Usually I have my Canon 5D Mark III, 24-70, 70-200, and whatever other lenses I feel like shooting with depending on the venue. Also a monopod for crowd photos and or to get height in the photo pit. I shoot with primes during live shows a lot as long as I am on tour with it, but if I only have one shot to shoot the tour I'll stick to zooms."

FS: After shooting a concert, what is your schedule like in terms of post production, getting them live, sharing online etc...?

"After I shoot the show, I immediately download images, sort through them, star my favorites, and edit them that night if I have free time. If the band is going out or up to anything, I’ll go with them. Then I wake up before the band, edit images, get them into Dropbox, and then they have them next day for Instagram and socials. All images are posted to the band’s Facebook the day after that. It’s hard to keep up sometimes, but at least the process always stays pretty much the same."

FS: Outside of concert photography, I see you have a lot of portraits with your bands you tour with. How do you balance the two different styles of photography but still try to keep a style that matches your brand?

"Yes! I only do portraits when it feels perfect, and I won’t take any images I don’t love. Live work is my “day job.”  Portraits are my time to be a little more creative but require a lot more coordinating on my part to involve the bands in a way that doesn’t mess with anyone’s schedule. It can be challenging but I honestly just go with whatever I am dealt and take it as it comes—and lately that entails a series of fairly simple backstage portraits of band and crew members. Since I am on tour constantly, I am more able to nurture concepts and let them grow organically rather than forcing anything, but if I find the perfect white wall then sometimes I just have to make shit happen. Overall, my main goal is to always learn and change things up, but I don’t necessarily make a conscious effort to always match my brand. As long as I am happy with my images, that’s what matters most."

FS: Do you have a favorite image you've taken? 

"I mean, it’s really hard to beat this photo of Mitch Lucker and his daughter Kenadee that I took backstage before his band Suicide Silence’s show. He was involved in a tragic motorcycle accident in late 2012 and this image really resonated with a lot of people afterwards—including myself. I’ve always loved this photo because it’s such a classic father-daughter moment, but now it’s even more meaningful."

"Other than that, I pretty much have new favorite photos all the time, which is good because otherwise I’d probably get bored. More recently I enjoy my close-up live portraits, because it’s so different from what you would normally expect from a live image. Still full of emotion, but quite literally in your face."

FS: How do you go about contracting work for tours? Do your contracts cover weekly costs, travel, etc..? And, have you ever made a contract mistake and found yourself at the end of the tour barely holding on?

"Honestly, only recently have I actually started to get paid a salary. I don’t have any contracts signed; everything is just an agreement, as I am very close to the bands that I work with. Yea, for the first few years I didn’t really have any money or eat well. I was on tour on my own dollar working for free proving that I should have this job, and it took me a few years to create my own role within the bands I worked with. Most bands don’t know what they want/need from a music photographer, so it’s kind of up to us to define that role in a way that works for everyone. Music photography is notorious for not being a very lucrative career, so I supplement my income with Lens Bracelets, t-shirts with my face on them, and print sales. It’s all for the love of photography, because without these other revenue streams I wouldn’t be able to do what I want and still be able to afford to eat."

FS: On Instagram, you have a pretty large following. How often do people notice you at shows and have you seen anyone wearing your t-shirts at an event yet? Do you ever sign autographs?

"YEAH! It’s actually gotten sort of out of hand I think. I get recognized at any show I shoot of any of the bands I work with a lot. If I go out into the crowd it becomes kind of overwhelming, so I usually wait until it starts to run out to front of house. At their signings I have to stay hidden because otherwise security gets mad at me when kids keep asking me for photos and autographs and I don’t want to have to say no, but I have to remember that this is for the band, not me. The band jokes that I am going to headline their shows, and we all kinda joke about how ridiculous it is that people want to meet the photographer, but at the same time it’s this “popularity” that keeps my life going and my job possible so not for a second would I ever hate it.  We’re currently on tour in Australia and when we get to the airports every day there are a handful of kids at airport waiting to take pictures with bands that also take pictures with me. It’s a little wild, but I am happy that the branding works. The bald head shirts always crack me up. I feel bad for anyone who wants my autograph cause its kinda shit."

FS: What is your craziest tour story?

"Ummmm. F**k...Craziest?! I guess it would be the 18-inch dildo story. I have a lot, but honestly a lot of my relationships revolve around trust and the stories aren’t mine to tell. Dildo story. You really want to publish this? Haha. I have a video of it…. want that? Let me know and I'll elaborate on the story.  (Adam, as much as I REALLY want to hear about this, we will let you keep this one to yourself for now. I still plan on keeping this answer live just to let people know, someone on this planet has an awesome 18 inch dildo story. - John)"

FS: What tips do you have for anyone who already got their foot in the door to shoot a concert? Anything in terms of what to look for during the show, camera settings that are your "go-to", how fast you should try delivering images, etc..?

"Start shooting, …, don’t stop. Network, lock in repeat clients, expect lots of things to go wrong, don’t take anything personally, focus on the positive, don’t get discouraged, and just keep shooting. Have fun always during the journey, because if you’re like me then you are never going to be satisfied with where you are and always thinking about what's next, so make sure you enjoy yourself along the way. As far as go-to camera settings, it depends on the venue and situation. Honestly, when people ask me this question I assume they’ve never shot a show before because the possibilities are endless. In general, I pick my camera and lens, evaluate the lighting and stage, and then adjust my settings from there starting with f-stop and working my way through shutter speed and ISO. Then I shoot in burst mode all night and adjust settings on the fly. For me, I am expected to deliver images by the next morning, but in general the faster you turn them over the more likely people are to search for show photos the next day and see them. The longer you wait, the less people care, so it’s in your best interest to edit quickly and move onto the next show."

After Adam answered all of my questions, I asked him to ask YOU, the readers, some questions of his own. Feel free to respond in the comment section!

Adam: What would you want to know more about in relation to live photography, touring, my work, etc...? Adam: What do you think of when you think of music photography? 

 

To view more of Adam's work, visit his websiteadamelmakias.com

 
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25 Comments

Ahhhh this dude is my favorite concert photographer! He's definitely a big inspiration to keep pursuing my own concert shots in my portfolio.

My question for Adam: I usually have it fairly easy on getting the green light to take photos during the shows, but what is the best way to get your foot in the door for taking artist promos (or portraits) of "bigger" bands?

And… do you have offer internships or workshops during concerts? If not, you should.

John White's picture

Glad you enjoyed the article!

Lauren Parker's picture

What I would want to know is how to get into the business in a general sense. As working with musicians and people in the public eye is something that I would love to get into doing (especially shooting promotional pieces for them), I would love to know what the first steps should be towards that. Thank you so much for this awesome interview! You're such a huge inspiration.

Shoot, just shoot. Are shooting yet? Start shooting. ;)

Go to small concerts/festivals from bands/genres you like, learn the (photography) basics, and learn the rest. Get your photos published in the schoolpaper, or in the local paper or a music blog, etc...
When you promise something, deliver it. And if you can not deliver, communicate and offer a solution to the problem. Have fun! Learn how the system works, and to whom to talk with and when people are noticing. Then dare to ask for some things from them. Ask for a backstage pass and do a pre-show/backstage/etc... -report. Have fun and grow and make a nice portfolio. Dare to step up to a bigger artist and climb the ladder.

And find a photography friend that is around the same level as you or (little bit) better. Someone who dares to speak his mind about your photos. Show them your worst and best pictures. And try to improve with those tips. And brainstorm endlessly. Oh, and learn analog photography, it will help you.

Oh, and never ever stop shooting. People will notice. ;)

You say to shoot, just shoot? Well, that's my question.... HOW do you GET TO shoot in the first place? All these venues don't allow DSLR photography. Don't you need to get some kind of pass? press pass is it? How do you get one in the first place? Do you contact the venue? the artist? or do you just take a chance and try to sneak your camera in?

I was able to shoot my favorite rocker one time and only because it was a free, open air concert so I was able to get there really early and stake my claim to a pretty good spot up front. But, I was still roughly 50 feet or so away and behind the stage so I had to dodge people and heads, and had to watch so drunk folks wouldn't spill their beer on my camera. I think I was able to get some good shots, in my opinion. But, as you can imagine, I was pretty limited. So anyway, I was wondering if anyone has any insight on that. Thanks!

In The Netherlands we have the privilege that most venues are not that strict at the door, so you can sneak your dslr with you. (As long if you don't have the long lenses or be a jerk.) Don't stand in the way of the other (paying!) visitors or photographers.

Most of the times you have to contact the label/tour manager/publicist of the band or the venue to get the permission/access (the venue will ask the tour manager/etc of the band). (Good luck with that. ;) )
But with (bigger) bands you have to have some good luck to get the access. But it never hurts to try a few times. ;) Tell them you are building your portfolio. But don't be sad if get turned down in the beginning.

It is better to start to do some things with a (small) local band. Go to an open-mic/talent night, or a bar/venue where they are not that strict, or ask your friends for some local bands if you don't know any. Ask them if you can shoot them. (Always fun to make some new friends, and if they get bigger maybe they will remember you.)
Or look around on festivals who are shooting, and ask for their website/blog/flickr/500px/etc. (Or look on Flickr/etc for photos from some venues nearby.) And see if you can offer some help.

You will shoot some smaller bands and then you can focus to learn all the things of concert photography, and when it is time you get your big fish, you know how to handle all the different situations.
The (people) skills, the how-to handle drunk people, the how to get access will then come to you after a some time.
BTW. your dslr can handle a few bumps and some water/beer/wine. (Speaking from experience) ;)

You can find some good info on this FaceBook page. https://www.facebook.com/MusicPhotographers
And in this YouTube video.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrQd1aRNXkc

And you can make concert photos with a compact. ;)
This is what I shot recently with a Canon IXUS 117HS (Which is +/-100 euro).
The Pretty Reckless: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kimmo/sets/72157642120994614/

IMG_8941_EDIT

Fall Out Boy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kimmo/sets/72157642120423683/

IMG_9347_EDIT

(Tip: -2 the exposure thingy and put it in spotmetering.)

And one big extra tip. Don't be a dick. Or complain in public or on social media. Was the light bad, learn from it. Was the artist the whole time behind his mic, learn from it. But don't complain about it in public/social media. It is a small world. ;)
Discus with your photography friends, and talk about how they deal with it. Everybody likes somebody who is enthusiastic and positive (and solves problems). ;) Have some fun!

Thanks for the tips and the links. The video was great. I will try to keep these tips in mind. I will definitely not be afraid to reach out to my favorite rocker through his fb to see if I can get my foot in the door. Don't get me wrong, not really looking to make a career out of this, at least not at this stage in my life. This is more just for fun. I would never be a dick or complain on social media. Hope that wasn't the impression that you got from my comment. I am actually pretty happy and proud of the shots I was able to get.

Also, you got some great shots! Love Fall Out Boy. Thanks again for taking the time to respond.

I did not have that impression.
(But it something I see around some concert photographers the last few months.)
Good luck! :)

Thanks, Junkie!

Start small when it comes to shooting. If you want to follow Adam's path, start at your local teen centers if they do shows. In Madison where we grew up there was an awesome local scene with bands that needed nothing more than people to get good shots both live and promo.

Thanks! I will. Like I replied to Junkie, I'm not really looking to make it a career. This is just for fun. But, I would like to capture my favorite rocker when he comes to town. It's hard to do when venues are so strict about their no photo policies. So, I'm just gonna put myself out there and see/learn/try how I can get a press pass.

Never be afraid to ask. The worst they can say is no. Most bands love getting free promo photos, I mean hell it's the best kind of advertising when they turn out well. Remember, a closed mouth wont get fed.

A good friend of mine LOVED shooting shows. so he started a webzine about it. Did more and more shows, was agressively purssuing promoters to get in (while staying nice...) etc...

He now has a quite large website (http://www.thoriumphoto.com/).

Still doesn't do a dime with this. He's a full time doctorate in science...

Good luck making a few bucks!!!

E Port's picture

"Honestly, only recently have I actually started to get paid a salary. I don’t have any contracts signed; everything is just an agreement, as I am very close to the bands that I work with. Yea, for the first few years I didn’t really have any money or eat well. I was on tour on my own dollar working for free proving that I should have this job, and it took me a few years to create my own role within the bands I worked with."

This should be a strong reminder of how impossible it is to make any money out of the music industry. You have to become the rat that eats crumbs off the floor. Maybe one day you get lucky and find four turtles covered in radioactive ooze...but most likely that's just the band's 'aura' from not showering for a few days.

John White's picture

change "impossible" to "extremely difficult" and you have a great point. I think Adam is a perfect example of someone who really had to work at it to get to where he is today. It is NOT easy at all. Hope you enjoyed the article! :)

"Believe you can and you're halfway there." - Theodore Roosevelt

Why the NSFW warning?

John White's picture

I didn't want any surprise when talks of Dildo's and some half naked guys were seen. Just a courtesy thing. Hope you enjoyed the article!

Someone came here for boobies.

David Vaughn's picture

Uh hello, the drummer flipped the bird. We have to think of the children.

WOW. I didn't even see it.

I guess if ou had blurred it out I would have noticed.... the irony!

great article, im now going to start following Adam, i love his photography style.

First of, great article and great work from Adam. I was looking for a music photographer for a while, for inspiration.
But now questions,
firstly, what others photographers have you met in your career that could be an inspiration to less experienced music photographers?
secondly, since I cannot afford buying many or expensive lenses I decided to turn to books, therefore, what books would you recommend to us for music photography and in general, if you were using them, that is.
thirdly, in your personal opinion, is it better to try to go to as many organisations(that make concerts) or should we focus on making a long term relationship with some certain organisations, or maybe going directly to the bands for better results?
forth, have you ever invested your time with a certain band, in a good faith of long relationship, just to turn out, later on, to be a dead end, and if it did, what was the cause?
fifth, what were your biggest mistakes you made in your career, as during the concert and in general?
So far those would be questions I would like to get answers to. I hope you won't mind answering.
We all wish you best of luck and want you to keep going.

What do you think of when you think of music photography?
well, to be honest, when i hear 'music photography' i think 'Adam Elmakias'. it's crazy how popular you got. and i don't mean it as a bad thing, it's just i've never heard of a music photographer that would be so well-known. so here comes my question. what other music photographer's work could you reccomend? and have you ever worked with someone else or do you always run solo?

Outstanding photographer