South by South West is the event I wait for all year. There’s nothing quite like it. With film, music interactive, gaming and even education all rolled into one it’s the best festival in the US. If you’re ever bored, you’re doing it wrong. This post is for the newbie photogs I met this year. I thought I’d be open about a few of my shoots and how I dealt with certain situations that came up. I hope you find it helpful!
This year I was invited to shoot for Getty Images and it really pushed me to work differently. I loved the challenge. There was no room for mistakes. The field editors take MAYBE a few seconds on the photos that they select to bump up the blacks or brighten the exposure a little. I have no say over what photos they choose. I have no say over cropping or editing styles. You take your few shots and then you submit the images. It’s kind of scary, but more so exciting. It was pushes you to be more selective with what you shoot and how you shoot it. Make sure to move. That is a key factor in this job. You take your shot and then get to a different angle. You cannot rely on standing still or just a zoom lens. There is always more than one perspective. There have been countless times where I thought I had the best vantage point at a concert or event, but then I moved and saw the real money shot. Take a look at this shot below:
Prime example of why movement is important. We all were taking a photo of the same subject, but here’s a perspective only I had. Photographing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one of the huge highlights this SXSW this year. I knew I was basically competing with all the photographers above. I needed all my shots to be spot on with the color and lighting. I needed angles that would be unique and I needed shots that no one else had. Mind you, we are all in the same room together at the same time. So how do you work creatively? You only think about your work. If you’re not seeing the shot yet that makes you scream in your head, “PERFECT!” then you’re not done. Photography is technical, but it’s also a feeling.
I stayed for her whole panel which is something I didn’t do for a lot of others that I photographed. I wanted to try a trick that another photographer taught me last year (thank you Gary Miller!) to ask the speaker and interviewer for one more shot a the end of their session on stage. It's such a quick shot. You have to run back to the stage as they are standing so you can get their attention. You raise your hand and just say, “One more of you two smiling onstage together” and they will do it. It’s how I was able to get a group shot of the Westworld panel with Elon Musk last year. SXSW loves this shot. News outlets also love it. Try it next year!
Another huge thing that happened was Bill Nye hanging out in the audience. When I saw him I knew that I had to get them together. THAT would be the shot no one had. That would be the photo I truly worked for. After Nye had surprised everyone, including AOC, by asking a question from the audience, the selfie takers were in true form. Once AOC stood to leave, they were on him like white on rice. It was difficult, but my photog friend and I corralled him to wait back stage away from the mob to get permission to meet AOC. I finally got them together… and I messed up the photo.
PANIC MODE. You internalize that real quick and stay professional. The first few shots I had taken of them were completely blown out. I had just photographed Nye asking questions from the audience, so my flash was on a crazy power which I think was 1/4 or 1/2 (I always shoot manual flash. Not a huge user of TTL.) I thought I missed it. They were so happy to be chatting with each other that I fixed it and snapped more of them just talking. When they were about to leave I politely asked, “Let’s get one more smiling of just you two.” That’s all it took. That’s the photo that went everywhere.
The theme for myself this year was truly to be a part of the festival. I’ve always felt that your mood shows through your images. When I’m excited I try harder. If I’m bored or just in a funk, why would I want to push myself? It happened everyday. I was tested. AOC was day two. Day one was the first time I was really published.
I was assigned to shoot a filmmakers luncheon at Troublemaker Studios, Robert Rodriguez’s studio, in Austin. He’s the director of blockbuster movies such as Sin City, Alita: Battle Angel, and his newest movie Red 11. Later I learned that this was the first luncheon Rodriguez asked all the SXSW filmmakers to explore his latest movie set, Alita. Normally he would just make a congratulatory speech to his guests for making it into the festival while they ate some of Austin’s best BBQ. Eiza Gonzalez also made a surprise appearance to the luncheon and mingled with the filmmakers. I had previously photographed her in 2017 when Baby Driver premiered at SXSW. I always kicked myself for not taking more portraits of just her on the red carpet. This year I clearly redeemed myself.
While we were all exploring the set I noticed her taking some Instagram stories by herself and couldn’t believe my luck. I went over and asked if I could take some portraits and she was delighted to! She was happy to be back on the set and couldn’t have been more pleasant to chat with. I almost didn’t ask for a photo. ENews picked up her photo the next day for their Star Sightings series. Even Rodriguez gave me a few poses:
The first two days were huge for me. I won’t dig into the rest of the festival, but everyday was like this. Music is always the hardest. You work until 2am some nights. I had one set that turned from 11 acts into 15 acts. I was exhausted. Just a little change in my mindset throughout the night saved me and I got some killer shots that the Getty Editors were excited about. Just push yourself a little bit more. Your best work will come from that moment.
The rest of the week was just as fantastic, but those two days will always come to mind first when thinking of SXSW 2019. I’m thrilled to be a SXSW Getty photographer now and work with even more incredibly talented photographers. I’ve come out of this more confident and a better photographer than I was before. The SXSW Photo Crew is one of the best teams on the planet with wonderful leaders and mentors. If you are a new photographer, this is the crew you want to be on. Can’t wait for the next.
Cheers my dears!
P.S. If you have any tips, please comment! I love to hear about other experiences and technical advice :)
Any many many more.