Industry Insights: Krystal Spencer on Live Music Photography
Live music photographers have the career every music fan dreams about, but the job entails so much more than pointing and shooting a camera.
Krystal Spencer has been a photographer for eight years, getting her start shooting live events after asking a local promoter if she could bring her camera to an upcoming show and shoot for him. She fell in love instantly, and began freelancing for free or very little money just to get her feet wet.
“It’s important to craft your own personal relationships,” Spencer said. “No matter who you’re working for, you’re still your own artist. The hardest part is no one understands the amount of time it truly takes and no one wants to pay for your work, especially now that acts have their own personal teams. So do it for passion, not money.”
Spencer started her career shooting artists and shows in 2012, a time when the electronic scene was really just starting to enter the mainstream, before joining the YourEDM team in 2014 as a writer and photographer. Like the electronic music scene itself, she has seen the live music photography and blogging industry expand rapidly in the past few years.
“I think we hit a plateau in electronic music in 2016,” Spencer said. “DJing became saturated but the best ones are beginning to shine through, and I think the same thing will happen with photographers. People are starting to notice and appreciate good art again, and that comes from the resurgence of DJs being appreciated for their art and who they are again. The next step will be photographers, promoters, etc. now that the bubble is bursting.”
Shooting shows and festivals is exciting, especially when a photographer knows they’ve captured a truly special moment and get to share it with the world. But it certainly isn’t an easy job once you factor in the hours you spend on your feet, carrying heavy equipment and a variety of other factors us music fans don’t think much about. Krystal has learned a lot in her time in the industry, and had a few things to share with photographers looking to get their start.
“The one thing a lot of people don’t realize is that it’s hard to be a female in this industry,” Spencer said. “You kind of get shoved out of the way a lot. I discovered that in my first couple of months, because I’m only 5’2”.
“Timing and being vigilant is also something you have to learn. At first, I felt like I missed every single time there was a confetti drop. You have to learn what’s going around you and getting to know each and every artist. You have to know what the landmark songs and big moments are going to be, what time someone’s going to bring out a guest and you have to know your audience. It’s a business of being on your toes and trusting your gut. Trial and error is a big thing. If I’m at a festival, i can take 3,000 photos a day easily and only 100 will be really good. There’s only a split second between the perfect shot and a mediocre shot.
“Getting along with other photographers and having respect for the field is important. There’s people that have been shooting for 20 years, so give them some space. Please respect your craft, the people that are working and the people that came before you.”
Despite the hard work that goes into turning out a few astounding shots, live music photography is rewarding, both in terms of creating art and showing a side of artists most people don’t otherwise get to see to their fans. Working extra hard to make that connection with artists has paid off well for Krystal.
“Having a personal connection with people, not being starstruck and treating people equally helps you make a name for yourself,” Spencer said. “Respect artists, don’t fawn all over them and it helps you stand out. I remember details and ask about them next time. Recognize them as a human and not just a DJ; they appreciate it so much more.”
Krystal also shared a few tips for growing your personal brand, a key play for photographers trying to make it in this crowded industry.
“Instagram is everything, while Facebook isn’t as great for photographers. Also, no gaudy watermarks! It should be discreet and not make artists want to crop it out. Mine is thin but recognizable.”
Nowadays, you can find Krystal focusing on chill crowd shots more so than high-energy artist shots. She works as a brand photographer for Red Bull, a role she says has done more for her in understanding photography than any other gig.
“A lot of my current work isn’t public; it’s much more behind the scenes but I actually like it a lot more. You don’t get a lot of the same pressure as other gigs. I get to learn a lot more about consumers and the industry. It helps train your creative eye. I’ve gotten better at taking photos of bigger events and taking photos of more than just what’s right in front of me.
“I used to have a tunnel vision, but now instead of focusing on one piece, there’s so much more to be said than just the main focal point. You get better at your craft when you realize why it’s being implemented. I’m taking a photo of an experience so I can draw more people in next time. This job has helped me learn my purpose.”