Ever wanted to know what it takes to be a World Class Concert & Portrait Photographer, Educator and Best Selling Author??? Well I had the great pleasure recently of chatting to someone who is exactly that … Alan Hess
Based in San Diego, California Alan very kindly gave up some of his time to talk about a whole host of things from how he first of all came to be a Photographer, teaching, life as an Author and so much more…
So, here’s the content of our conversation accompanied by some of Alan’s incredible Live Concert Photography which I simply cannot stop looking through!
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Glyn: So Alan, I guess the first thing to ask is ‘How did you become a photographer?’
Alan: Well first off I never meant to be a photographer. I got a degree out of college in computer science and english and I went to work for a textile company that was in our family, so photography was kind of the last thing on my mind but I enjoyed taking photographs and it was one of those like “Well if I’m going to go do something I might as well take a camera along with me”
A couple of years ago I started having a little more free time…work was slow so I started doing more and more photography just because it was something I enjoyed. It was kind of like making more out my hobby than a job, so it was kind of like a passion and then manufacturing in this country started falling off more and more and more and suddenly it seemed like there wasn’t a very long term opportunity in manufacturing…especially in textiles as it seemed to have moved to China and out of here. I working with my father and he decided it was time for him to retire and I decided it was time for me to try something else and in my mid 30’s I decided it was time to become a photographer and follow that passion that I already had. You know I already enjoyed taking photographs but now I had to actually start making a living out of it which is a big step to take.
Luckily enough at the time my wife had just started a new job so she was secure and suddenly I was the one floating around…
Glyn: So you didn’t initially run it alongside what you were doing with the textiles then? You literally came out of that into nothing and started your photography business?
Alan: Yeah I basically had a bit of time and we had a little money saved away and so it was the right time to do it or I was going to have to start looking for another 9 to 5 office type job.
It didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. It took a lot longer to get some clients, it took a lot longer to get my name out, it took a lot longer to actually get paid for jobs that I used to do for free. It was very difficult to tell people that now it’s no longer a hobby and I’m no longer willing to do the same work for free that I was doing earlier.
So there was a steep learning curve in setting myself up correctly and if there’s one thing I would tell people now, even if they’re starting out with photography as a hobby they need to start thinking about it in a professional way. So you see I didn’t really approach it very professionally when it was a hobby and it kind of came back to bite me in the butt. It became real difficult to ask for the money off people I’d previously done work for for free.
Around the same period of time there was a photo expo in San Diego and on the expo floor I got into a discussion with Lexar Media before they were bought by Micron and they were releasing some new cards readers and they were talking about the new UDMA cards and all the advances they were working on so they just told me to keep in touch with them and at the same time they asked me to write a blog. So just because I was interested in it and I had the time I thought it would be a great opportunity and that blog for Lexar really kick started everything else that’s happened to me since.
The sad part is that Lexar changed ownership and they kind of changed the way they did things a little bit and I don’t really have too much of a link with them anymore but they did start something that has grown quite nicely.
Glyn: That was actually one of the questions I wanted to ask you…how on earth did you get your name out there and clearly social networking in the form of the blog played a big part…
Alan: Yeah it did. I was a professional photographer in that I actually got paid to take photographs and they were looking at this new technology called blogging which wasn’t really wide spread at the time and they wanted a bigger web presence so there were I think 4 or 5 of us that started a blog and basically I could blog whenever I wanted to and obviously they would prefer it was about photography and through that I actually got an email from my current publisher. One of their acquisitions editors had read the blog a couple of times and thought that I had the ability to write a book. I thought they were crazy but they were adamant so from that blog they contacted me and it took a little while, I mean it wasn’t like I wrote a blog on Tuesday and had a book contract on Thursday, it was more like I wrote a blog entry in February and got a book contract in November. It took a while going back and forth but the next thing I knew was that I wrote 2 books on Sony cameras; the Sony A700 and then right after that the A200. Those are the Sony A700 Digital Field Guide and the Sony A200 Digital Field Guide both for Wiley Publishers.
So that was really interesting because I wasn’t actually a Sony shooter at the time so I needed to go out and borrow all the Sony gear and I bought the cameras which ate into some of the profits but I wanted to make sure that the pictures were all taken using the Sony kit.
Glyn: So did Sony give you some kind of recognition for what you wrote for their equipment?
Alan: No that’s actually one of the things that was quite disappointing and a real eye opener. Sometimes the camera manufacturers don’t really care what people are doing to really help them to sell cameras and that part from Sony was seriously lacking and it’s one of the reasons that right now I don’t think Wiley Publishers are
going to produce anymore Sony Digital Field Guides. It seems Sony released too many cameras too quickly for any of the books to get a good grip in the market and there was very little support from Sony on the sales side ie the books aren’t available in the Sony stores. They didn’t lend me anything, they didn’t offer any support you know…it was really tough.
At that time I was asked if I’d edit some books so I was actually Rick Sammon’s technical editor on about his last 4 books with Wiley which was really interesting because I understood how the process worked from an author’s point of view so now I was looking at it from the point of being an editor and it was really enlightening.
Then Wiley came to me and said they wanted to expand on the Digital Field Guide series and would like to write a book about Exposure…the basic concept of exposure and I jumped on that really fast. I thought that would be a great book and it’s turned out to be a really well received.
After the Exposure one did well we went on to Composition and that was the follow up to Exposure and has been well received too and still has nice sales behind it; it seems like it’s taken a little longer to catch on but I’m really happy with the way that book came out.
Now around the time I got a note from Scott Kelby asking if I wanted to come and do a live version of the my Guest Blog that I did on his website covering Concert Photography as a pre conference workshop at PhotoshopWorld and a class on concert photography in the conference and that was really exciting because when the books were coming out I was starting to teach at Photoshop World which I guess was the Summer of 2009 being the first time I taught.
Actually at the last Photoshop World it was the first time I taught a class on Exposure and Composition based on concepts from both of those books that I mentioned earlier.
Glyn: Looking back at some of the pictures all you guys were posting up, I was sat here green with envy that I wasn’t there but it looked like you had an amazing time…
Alan: That was my 4th Photoshop World and it was the best one yet, not just because I enjoyed teaching a new class and I’m a lot more comfortable generally now, but it was the people and everything was great…except for the weather….
Glyn: Yeah I heard it rained really bad…
Alan: There was Lightning and the Thunder all day long and the torrential downpour certainly wasn’t expected but when you’re at Photoshop World in the Classes or on the Expo floor it doesn’t matter at all.
Anyway at the Exposure and Composition Class I tried to do things a little different this time and I so I tried to do it as general concepts rather just sitting down talking about favorite F Stops and all that. I had 60 minutes to talk about Exposure and Composition, you know I might as well say I have 60 minutes to talk about the whole of Photography..it’s too broad a subject to go into all the details but I was really hoping that people would start thinking about it in broad terms and not get overly concerned about all the math involved. It was a really interesting class for me to teach and different too because this wasn’t in my usual realm of Concert Photography. I was really happy with the way people were coming up to me afterwards and telling me how they enjoyed the class and that it was fun and different.
Glyn: So did you do your Concert Photography Class too though?
Alan: Well we did a Pre Conference Workshop on Concert Photography which is probably the most unique thing I’ve ever seen but yeah maybe I may be a little bit biased, but I only taught the exposure and composition during the conference.
Glyn: Alan one thing I’d love to know…how did you get involved in Concert Photography?
Alan: Glyn I’m a huge music fan so I really enjoy going to concerts and I enjoy taking photographs and this is going back to the 80’s when you were allowed to take photographs at concerts, you know not every show but at a lot of shows and they didn’t really care as much as they do now. I think partly because back then photography was a lot more expensive and of you wanted to take photographs it cost you…you had to buy the film, you had to develop the film, you had to print stuff so it wasn’t just taking 300 digital pictures and posting them on your Facebook or your website. So a lot of people weren’t really bothered to carry a camera around everywhere they went because there was an inherent cost to it.
I used to go to watch a band called ‘The Grateful Dead’ a lot and they had a very liberal camera policy and a very liberal recording policy and a pretty much a liberal everything policy and allowed you to take photographs if you wanted to. Now this was just from the audience and the rules applied that you couldn’t upset anyone or get in someone’s way; generally make sure you didn’t interrupt anyone else’s experience. You know they were allowed to enjoy the show and you were too by taking
photographs and that was fine. This gave me a lot of time to practice, the kind of practice that you just can’t get anymore so I took that and when I was back in San Diego and starting to have little more free time I started talking to promoters here who were putting on festivals and a little more of the Jam Band stuff, you know the hippy music and I got the pony tail so I’m good…
After a while the bands started noticing the pictures and this is all around the same time that blogging and websites and email and the Internet craze you know so all the pieces all started coming together and I actually managed to send the photographs by scanning the prints or negatives or slides and then putting them into an email and creating a website and doing all these kind of things back in the very early 90’s and kind of got a little bit of a ‘leg up’ and the bands started seeing images and the next thing I know they’re asking me to shoot some photographs and I started getting more and more calls.
Because I love music this was just fantastic you know I can go to the show take some photographs…
Glyn: Geez yeah an absolute gift…
Alan: Yeah sure but at the same time there weren’t that many people doing it and it was still all film…digital camera weren’t quite out there yet. I mean the first digital point and shoots were coming out and I had some little thing that I can’t remember what it was now, but I used to take it along too and experiment seeing what it could do and how long it would take to get a photograph and get it onto a website and it kind of worked so while I wasn’t doing it full time I did feel likeI was on the cutting edge of technology and some of the local bands really appreciated it.
I found out the hard way that there’s not a whole lot of money in actual Concert Photography . There’s some magazines that will pay but if you’re shooting a lot of live performances, to actually sell live performance photographs and make a really good living it just isn’t going to happen.
So I started doing portraits and I shot some weddings and I’ve done product photography and I found it more satisfying to actually work for the bands and do stuff for their websites. There are a lot of my photographs that have never bee seen by the general public because they’re sitting in offices or promoters living rooms…you know things like that.
Anyway getting back to Photoshop World, what we do there is a Pre Conference workshop for a maximum of 40 people and I work with the very talented Scott Diussa View full post »