Photographer of the Month Interview: Daniel Garcia | Aperture Academy

Featured Photographer, May 2016:   Daniel Garcia

We are happy to present Daniel Garcia as our featured guest photographer this month. We appreciate his time and generosity in sharing his fascinating photography with us all! Please visit his links to see more of his work, and to let him know you enjoyed this interview.

:: How did you get your start in photography from a career in law?

Actually, I was just a young law student and wanted a free way into Lollapalooza. I had always took a small personal (non DSLR) camera with me to shows like a lot of people do, and always thought my photos turned out pretty well. So when I knew Lolla was approaching, I took some of my best shots, portrayed myself as more a photographer than I really was, and was lucky enough to find a publication who would let me cover Lollapalooza for them. Fast forward after my photo pass application was accepted, I was shooting photos in the pit of Eminem and Outkast, all while using a DSLR for my first time ever.

:: What was the toughest part of being a "music photographer" before you had really been established, and had any kind of portfolio to work with?

The toughest part was learning how to use a DSLR, without physically having one to practice. Come Lollapalooza I had my mom's DSLR to use, but after my photo pass was accepted, I was in a different state and had to use online guides and YouTube video to self teach myself. It was very intimidating because I essentially had zero real experience, with DSLRs or shooting professionally. Either I was a natural or my unconventional training paid off because I look at those Day 1 photos and compare them to other photographers who were there, and in almost all cases I prefer mine.

:: Who was the easiest performer you have photographed? Who was the most difficult?

The easiest was probably Kanye West, simply because I am such a big fan of his, that I know his performance so well that I can adjust my settings to capture him at the right moment. The most difficult was probably Childish Gambino, because the two times I took photos of him it was either pouring rain or dark lighting. And considering how much energy Gambino brings to his performances, it only gets that much harder when he is running around the stage.

:: When you're at a performance and dealing with the crowds and energy present what techniques do you employ to stay focused on being creative?

So much of how the photos turn out is contingent on the artist. Are they photogenic? How is their lighting? Do they move around a lot? Will they have on a memorable outfit? Do they have a cool stage set-up or is just a rapper with a DJ on his Mac? But once I get a feel for everything, I just try my best to be unique and make something out of nothing, or more often, do the artist and the moment justice through my photos by really capturing what the night was like.

:: Concerts often have tricky lighting, and that can be hard technically to deal with…when it comes to ISO how far are you pushing the camera, and do you find the need to update equipment more often to help battle those technical issues? What other gear do you use to help with the lighting issues?

While it of course depends on the lighting that night, I almost never let my ISO get past 800. A noisy photo is one that goes straight to my recycling bin. Sometimes I am able to break this rule and have the photos have little to no noise, but when possible I keep my ISO the lowest. Again depending on the night, either my photos are good as is or I have to save my photos after with editing. I definitely don't find the need though to update my equipment. I shoot with a Canon Rebel T2i with standard lenses. Sure, an upgrade could serve some benefit but I put way more stock into knowing how to shoot manual than the equipment that you're shooting with. In my opinion too many music photographers crutch on having or not having the right gear, when really they should be thinking about studying the lighting patterns and how they coordinate to the music, where should I be in the pit, what hand does the artist hold the mic with so I don't have a hand blocking an otherwise perfect shot, things like that matter much more in my opinion.

:: Sports and music are different in approach what similarities from each do you try to bring to the other? In other words, what things you learned from photographing sports do you find you can use in music, and vice versa?

I think what helped me most is that I had a ton of experience shooting shows with horrible lighting before I shot my first sporting event, which normally has exceptional lighting. It's like a was training with a top ranked boxer and then I was thrown into the ring with an amateur. And just like with music photography, I learned that finding your right settings were key. Sure, I can bring down my ISO because the lighting is better, but now I need to adjust my shutter speed because an elite running back moves around faster than someone singing on a stage.

:: I've noticed with reading some of your other interviews and such, there seem to be an attitude you've always had of "I belong here, doing this." And that has helped you maybe when you weren't being allowed into the shows in certain areas, or dealing with other photographers who maybe worked for larger publications…where did this attitude come from, and why do you think it is vital to this kind of photography?

I would have to credit it initially to my first weekend at Lollapalooza, and each and every show since then. I was thrown into the music photography world with essentially no experience and I was tested in the ultimate way possible and the results couldn't have been better. Music photography isn't easy and it isn't for ever, so excelling at it gives me the confidence that I have.

:: What is the scariest thing that has happened to you at a shoot?

When Harry Styles from One Direction splashed his water bottle into the crowd and got myself and my camera wet. I wasn't scared for my camera, more so scared that teenage girls would kill me out of sheer jealousy.

:: You have the biggest sports event of the year, and the biggest band reunion concert of the year happening at the SAME time…which do you photograph, and why?

I have to go with the sporting event. No "first three songs" limit and reunion concerts don't do it for me (unless it's the Spice Girls, my first concert ever by the way). I like sports and music photography both not because of a love for photography, but because of a love for the things I'm taking photos of. And while I certainly root for Kanye West to be understood and loved by the general public one day, there isn't an artist that I root for like I do the Chicago Blackhawks.

:: Which artist is still on your bucket list to photograph?

Lana Del Rey. She doesn't allow press to shoot her shows, so this one may be difficult. I'll find a way one day though.

:: What piece of equipment other than camera gear do you find most important to your work?

A monopod that I can lift up to get some great angles, because while I'm 6'1 it helps to be 9'1 at times.

:: Your photography is mostly live action…do you do studio work as well?

Not yet, maybe soon though. While I still control my shots in various ways, I have no control over what a concert will be like or what will happen in the big game. So to go from almost no control to full control is a whole new world for me.

:: What advice do you have for young photographers looking to get into the sports and music scene but maybe lack the ability to get in close to places?

Realize that the barriers to entry aren't as big as you think they are. If you don't own a DSLR, buy one off craigslist for a couple hundred. If you don't have a publication to shoot for, find one, or better yet, make your own. As lame as it sounds, if you want you be a music photographer and you aren't one, you're the only thing holding you back. And for sports, the barriers are much harder in my experience but they aren't impossible. My first time shooting sports professionally was on-field for a nationally ranked college football team, but there is no shame in starting at your local high school.

Daniel Garcia

"Realize that the barriers to entry aren't as big as you think they are.... If you don't have a publication to shoot for, find one, or better yet, make your own."

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