Todd Owyoung: From Smoky Dives to World Famous Concert Photographer

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Todd Owyoung has been photographing concerts and musicians for years. He runs the very successful I Shoot Shows blog, and is always on the road, and blogging about his experiences. Todd is extremely active on Twitter as well. At a very young age, he's accomplished much, having photographed many major musicians that others would only dream of.

Todd found some time to answer a couple of questions for us about his methods of shooting, and about concert photography in general.

B&H Photo: When you first started doing concert photography, did you expect to see yourself this far into your career down the line?

Todd: When I first started shooting concerts, it was mostly in smoky dives and tiny clubs. All I knew was that I was getting to shoot some of my favorite bands and—if I was lucky—scoring a spot on the guest list with a comp ticket. 

From that first show, I never imagined that I'd be able to make a career shooting music full time, working all over the country, doing what I love. 

B&H Photo: Have your photos ever been stolen? If so, how did you deal with it? If not, what preventative measures do you take to ensure that they don’t?

Todd: I watermark the images that I post on my own archive and site, but in this digital age, it's impossible to police all use, especially when it's fans who are downloading the images and reposting them. This is particularly true for fans re-posting images on sites like Tumblr. 

But frankly, I think it's a losing battle trying to limit this kind of use. But more importantly, the end result is positive for me. Ultimately, I want to create iconic images, and if fans love my work so much that they're making screen captures, blogging it, and generally spreading it, that's not the worst thing in the world for me.

B&H Photo: I’ve often read on your site that you’ll have maybe five minutes or so to do quick and informal portrait sessions with certain bands. How does your mind work in situations like that? It’s got to be tough to stand there, work with a location, bring personality out in subjects, and figure out the lighting schematicsespecially with your DIY Beauty Dish.

Todd: With quick portrait sessions, it's essential to be able to work extremely efficiently. Not only is the time with the band limited, but very often, so too are the shooting conditions, like available lighting, workable backgrounds, and so forth. 

Overall, the key is to be flexible. You have to be able to walk into a new space and simply make the best of it.  

While I try as much as possible to plan out in advance those elements that I can control, I still have to be very flexible on quick location shoots. Also, it definitely pays off to know your equipment extremely well, so that you know exactly how it will perform, which frees you up to focus on directing the band and focusing on all the non-technical details that can make or break a photo shoot.

One boon from having experience doing these extremely-quick editorial shoots is that all those skills apply to larger, longer shoots as well. After having shot platinum-selling bands, with speedlights, in a 4-minute on-location shoot, it's amazing what kinds of jobs feel easier!

B&H Photo: During said portrait sessions, you tend to reach for your dish a lot. But are there any other flash modifiers that you fancy?

Todd: One modifier that I've used a lot is the Lastolite EzyBox Softbox. It's small and compact, and it works beautifully with speedlights. It compresses down to be small enough that it can be taken just about anywhere, and it throws a beautiful light for such a small modifier.

In addition, the Photek Softliter II is a fantastic lighting modifier, which works with speedlights and strobes alike. It has the portability of an umbrella, with the quality of a big softbox, which I love.

B&H Photo: To shoot concerts, you often need to shoot lots and lots of photos, and read body language (plus prediction). What’s your keeper rate on your photos?

Todd: Ultimately, my aim is to show only my best images. For some shows, this might be as high as 20%, and for others, less than 5%. 

My personal philosophy is that it doesn't really matter how much you shoot, because you're only going to regret an image you didn't make. Moreover, you don't have to show anyone your bad images. 

B&H Photo: How much editing do you typically do to your photos? I know that I’ve done a lot of it.

Todd: I shoot in RAW 100% of the time. For almost all of my concert photos, my editing is pretty limited to quick adjustments to color temperature, exposure and tone curve, in Lightroom. Additionally, I'll adjust the highlights, shadows and black point as necessary. 

I don't apply filters or presets to my images, as I prefer a more natural look for my images. Overall, I probably spend less than 30 seconds per image. I like to find a balance that keeps the lighting treatment close to what the audience saw, while making the performers look as good as possible.

B&H Photo: Lots of the photos on your portfolio page also feature concert goers. How do you approach them about taking their portraits?

Todd: Actually, it's very often the fans who approach me to photograph them! My favorite time to shoot concert atmosphere is during the climaxes of a performance, when the crowd is going crazy. A lot of fans ham it up, but I love catching people in the front row just rocking out and oblivious to me and my camera. 

B&H Photo: Where do you look for inspiration if you ever run into a dry spell for ideas?

Todd: With music photography, there's always some element of challenge, whether it's stage lighting or the time constraints of a photo shoot, so it's hard to get too bored.

But I think that there's never been a better time to be a photographer. With services like Flickr, 500px, and even Instagram, there's no shortage of images to pore over and explore. Social networking through Twitter, facebook, and Google+ make it amazingly easy to share ideas with colleagues halfway around the world.

B&H Photo: What upcoming projects do you have?

Todd: Nothing short of world domination through music photography.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Photo, Video, Pro Audio