Jason Miller is an author, B2B marketer and the Global Content Marketing Leader at LinkedIn. Come the evening though, he’s a Rock N Roll photographer. He’s shot the likes of Guns n Roses in Vegas, Roger Waters at AT&T Park, AC/DC twice in one year, Kiss, Sam Smith kicking off his first US tour in Boston, Metallica on Super Bowl eve, and his all-time favourite band The Cult multiple times.
He fell into B2B marketing by accident – and into concert photography the same way. Here he shares how he taught himself to use a camera and meet the unique challenges of live music photography and life in the pit. He explains too, how he’s applied what he’s learned in his role at LinkedIn to his photography career and how that’s helped drive his success.
By Jason Miller
You can be self-taught
Having grown up playing in a hair metal band and working in the music industry for more than a decade, I’ve always loved music and going to concerts. When I quit the music business, I wanted to stay connected to the industry, so I started writing a music blog. I was writing concert reviews for a weekly newspaper and got offered to cover Motley Crue (an all-time favourite band of mine). I had never picked up a DSLR in my entire life, but that day I went out and bought my first Nikon D3200. I stayed up all night giving myself a crash course on shooting with the camera. On the day of the show, my shots were awful, and I made a vow that I would master this stuff properly.
The first thing I’d say to anyone looking to become a photographer, is that you can teach yourself all you need to know. You can learn a tremendous amount from the Nikon tutorials, as well as virtual content on expert tips and tricks. I followed other photographers like Jared Polin (aka FroKnowsPhoto). Immersing yourself in photography communities is a great way to learn very quickly as you can share your experiences with one another. Beyond that, it’s true what they say – practice makes perfect! I practiced with the DSLR every chance I got and did a tremendous amount of experimentation and research until I felt comfortable shooting in manual. I’ve probably shot around 500 or more gigs and concerts since I began in mid-2012.
Why you have to be more than just a photographer in today’s world
The most successful photographers aren’t just photographers – they become their own photojournalists as well. No matter how great you are, if you don’t know how to showcase your work online, you won’t get the jobs. We now live in a digital world and it’s so important to market your content if you’re looking to go pro.
Marketing your work means more than uploading your photos to a website or your social media channels. It’s also about search engine optimization, making sure your content is discoverable by the right people, and developing connections with other photographers and influencers who can help you raise your profile. If you’re interested in some advanced techniques, I wrote a book all about marketing your content called Welcome to the Funnel (whether that’s part of your day job or getting your photography the audience it deserves).
While Facebook and Instagram are, of course, essential social platforms for photos, LinkedIn is a huge missed opportunity for many. It’s a great platform to showcase your work, engage with other professionals and optimize your profile to be found in search.
Besides your social platforms, it’s vital to have a “homebase” for your words and photos. I put all my faith and efforts into a custom WordPress blog and utilize my skills as a content marketer to stand out. For example, I update my blog after concerts and events by doing an all-encompassing, round-up post of my favourite photos. With this post, I pay very close attention to meta data, title tags, and other important factors for being found in search results. When I got back from the Monsters of Rock cruise a few weeks ago, one of the first things I did was create a post about 15 Epic Moments from the Monsters of Rock Cruise.
I’ve found success not just through shooting bands, but also writing, promoting and then connecting with people. The fact that I can capture the visuals, write the story, market the content and optimise it to be found on the web, gives me an edge over other photographers. It’s important to create helpful, but relevant, content and deliver it to the right people at the right time. If you can inject your personality into what you do and the message you share, you’ll be one step ahead.
What it’s like in the pit
As I’ve learned over the years, the general rule for concert photographers is that you’re allowed to shoot the artist for the first three songs, but only without flash. The first thing I try to do is capture a story within those three songs along with the energy of the crowd and the general atmosphere. I’m looking to do two things: capture the moment for the crowd to relive later and share the experience for those who couldn’t make it. I’m more focused on capturing that story than one standout image.
Doing so, isn’t always as easy as it sounds. With live music photography, the challenges are many: unpredictable lights, unpredictable movements, little to no light at all, shooting in a crowded photo pit (or no pit at all), stage divers, artists who don’t particularly like photographers, and having the right gear in place with the right settings for the right show. I had a crowd surfer fall on my head while shooting Taking Back Sunday. Another time, the singer of Yak reached off the stage and hit my Nikon DSLR camera with the head of his guitar. I also got covered in fake blood and God knows what else while shooting Gwar. Beer, spit, water, vodka, whiskey, sweat; you name it, it’s been on me and my camera more than once!
Perfect moments are fleeting – and you need reliable equipment, so that you’re prepared to capture them when they present themselves. I use a Nikon D810, and I’d recommend getting a reliable DSLR as they are particularly beneficial in these low-light circumstances. What’s really valuable is the combination of a higher ISO, larger aperture and slower shutter speed to let more light in.
Capturing split-second moments in a harshly lit environment is a challenge, of course. In a low-light environment, you must be able to predict the band’s movements and find a light source that you can use to your advantage. For example, in the image below, I was able to use the flash of the fan’s iPhone to capture the image. You must be aware of your surroundings to figure out how you’re going to get the best shots.
Balancing a full-time job and my love for photography
My nine-to-five job is working at LinkedIn, and I find that this complements my photography beautifully. In my day job, the fact that I can capture the visuals, write the story myself, market the content and optimize it to be found on the web, gives me an edge. Saying this, it is challenging to balance having a full-time job and late night gigs. But I love what I do. When I’m in the pit, it’s almost my bit of therapy to take me away from the stresses that come with work.
To any photographer who’s semi-pro and looking to make the next move, I’d say you have to have a passion for what you’re doing to make it work. For the gigs, I’m there as a fan as well as a photographer, so I never mind the late nights. I would actually say I love the music more than the photography – but the photography comes as a close second of course!
Jason Miller is a marketer and global content marketing leader at LinkedIn by day, and a Rock N Roll photographer by night. He is the author of the best-selling B2B marketing book Welcome to the Funnel: Proven Tactics to Turn Your Social Media and Content Marketing up to 11, which you can buy on Amazon here. You can find out more information about Jason Miller and his photography at his website online here. Feel free to also follow him on Twitter (@JasonMillerCA) and Instagram (jasonmillerca).