Music Photography Blog

by Adam Elmakias

Past Works & Growing As A Photographer

I started out as a photographer shooting live photos in late 2005, mostly to get close to bands and into shows for free. I liked photography but didn’t really have much of an emotional connection until later in my career. Gradually I got into doing press shoots. This means to set up shots; you know, take a band out to the closest railroad tracks and snap away. I started with a bunch of local bands and eventually did my first paid shoot – 50 bucks! I think it cost me more in gas to get there. Soon after, one of the local band’s managers picked me up and started helping coordinate shoots for labels and management companies.

Eventually, it became a couple hundred a shoot. Not insane money, but for a high school student with no expenses, it was amazing. We, as a family, weren’t really raised with anything extra, so having money to spend on food and fun things was completely new for me. I remember having a talk with my boss at the movie theater I worked at. I told her how I couldn’t work some days and she told me that was okay. I told her what I was doing and how excited I was to make a couple hundred. She responded with “That’s not that much money,” and I just remember thinking for a sec, and being like, “I make less than $8 an hour here, its more than a week’s pay, in one day. How is that not a lot of money?” But none of that came out. I just looked at her for a bit and left happy that I was getting time off.

I started touring in early 2008, and after finishing high school I went to college for a semester. I would go on tour, but I was still trying to make it work by sticking to my old ways: photoshoots. So I would literally ride on tour buses and in vans until we had to do shoots. I would take some candid/live images but was so terrible at making them that I just didn’t enjoy it. It’s hard, well, at least I think it’s hard to make candid images look like more than just a snapshot. They can be so boring-looking, so easily–and it’s also harder when the band is younger. As they get older they develop their style just like you do, and both things play in each other’s favor.

I stuck with doing press shoots and continued this for a few years. After moving to San Diego, I drove down to LA to photograph a lot of bands and toured when I could. Slowly, candid and live images grew on me, but I still wasn’t the greatest at it. Press shots were still my strong point and money maker, while everything else was pretty much my “personal work”–meaning I did it cause I loved it, not because it allowed me to make money. I did make some money on the road doing photo shoots, but the most valuable things for me were the relationships being formed day after day with the people I traveled with–both crew and band.

After a while, shoots started stressing me out. Doing them on the road became a task that would get in the way of my daily shooting. I would spend four hours in the day just getting ready, the band wouldn’t really want to do them, and the images just were not genuine. Not really the direction I was trying to head, as I wanted everything to be real. Photography had evolved into a passion for me, and I had a real personal connection with it. I wanted the images I was making to show that. I need to be happy, I need to love what I am doing, I need to obsessed with it and that’s where I get the drive to do it all day, every day.

When I was home, I was doing multiple shoots a week and making pretty good money, but nothing was growing. I always say that I don’t judge a photographer on how good they are right now, I judge them on how much they are improving. You can’t just magically be a great photographer (well some people are) but I sucked for a while, and still think a lot of my work needs improvement. Anyway, I was doing multiple shoots a week.  I would get decent budgets, but after I took my cut, there wouldn’t be much left to invest into the photoshoot. So I tried to get bigger budgets, so we could do more creative things, but that wasn’t happening. So I ended up taking a cut so we could make better images. But now I was in a terrible position, making great images and not getting compensated for it. It doesn’t feel so good. Long story short, something needed to change. The images I was making were just to get the job done, and I couldn’t afford to care. There wasn’t time for that.

Here are a bunch of old press shots, in no particular order. Shot all over the world. I am not happy with most of this work, but it at least represents a few stages of my career.

After dealing with the press shoot world for a while, I decided to make touring my full-time gig. I stopped accepting most new jobs, or would just quote people what I actually wanted to get paid and didn’t really care if they turned me down. It was all fine to me; if they didn’t want to pay me what I was worth, then why would I want to work with them? I wanted my work to be valued, and I wanted the people who were hiring me to want value for their project as well.

I didn’t know how to make money touring, but I took about six months testing out different prints methods and eventually found a way that worked. I have about four bands agree to let me sell their images. If there is something I learned from Lens Bracelets, it’s that when you come out with something online, you have to be ready to go with it and go with it hard from the get-go. Because people copy faster than you could ever believe. My business model I kind of keep to myself, but it works. I made enough money to live off of in 2013 from prints alone (almost 15k sold). Eighteen months later and I have seen a few people try to copy/imitate, but the key to all my business is that everything is automated. I am not trying to sit at home and print prints and hand send them. If I had all the time in the world, I would love to, but I want to stay on the road, create, shoot, network, meet people, experience life, and work on more projects.

I plan on continuing with selling prints, as it works great and allows me to continue touring, but I am always working on what’s next and can’t wait to share everything with everyone. Until then, thank you for your support up until now. The key to anything I do is that it won’t work if you guys aren’t into it. I have a very fair relationship with the internet and I try to give back as much as I can, because I know I do take a lot as well. Really, from the bottom of my heart, thanks for allowing me to do what I love.