At the Mic: Chatting With Rolling Stone Photographer Nicole Fara Silver

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All images shot by Nicole Fara Silver and used with permission

Nicole Fara Silver has the job that many photographers dream about–she is a photographer for Rolling Stone magazine. Many that get into concert shooting eventually learn that making a living out of it requires a business plan, and Nicole was able to fulfill her dream and land a gig at one of the biggest music mags in her early 20s. A native NYC resident, Nicole has been shooting for years and started as an intern at the famous magazine where she then was hired to be a photographer for the company.

We were able to grab Nicole away from the stages and the studio for a bit to talk with her about photographing musicians.


Phoblographer: How did you get into photography and how did you know that you first wanted to start shooting bands and performers for a living? 

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Nicole: Being a photographer is really the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve never really seriously thought about anything else, it was just sort of a natural thing. My dad was a photographer. When I was growing up, my dad had a disposable camera in the glove compartment of his car at all times. We’d be driving down the street, and he’d pull over anytime he saw something he liked. He’d make me get out of the car and stand next to him while he told me how he was composing the shot, and why he was doing it one way or another.

I come from a musical family. My maternal grandfather was a songwriter and owned the first record manufacturing company in Philadelphia, Clarion Records. At one point, my uncle managed Elton John and Melanie. My dad also worked for the Ralph Flanagan Orchestra for a spell. My mom made sure that there was always music playing in our house, despite the fact that she could never identify who the artist was (still can’t- unless it’s Bruce Springsteen). I was raised around musicians and actors, they’re my people, and I don’t know anything else. Something just clicked. I love music more than anything else in the world. I just want to be around the music, around the people making the music, around the people loving the music. I want to tell their stories.

Phoblographer: Are you usually assigned a full shoot and concept, or do you usually have say in it? If so, how much?

Nicole: It honestly depends on the job. Often, I don’t have a lot of time with whoever I’m shooting–5 minutes or less…so it’s really about making the most of your surroundings…If I’m doing promotional photos for a band/artist, it’s more of a collaborative process because we have a little more time.

Phoblographer: How do you approach the big name artists the first time around?

Nicole: If someone else hasn’t already facilitated it, I just introduce myself. Seriously. “Big Name Artists” are people, just like everyone else.

Phoblographer: Who or what inspires you to capture the portraits that you do?

Nicole: Eep! I don’t know if I can pinpoint that. It’s kind of a spontaneous thing- I just get a gut feeling. My friends inspire me. Music. Laughter. People with great smiles and strong jaw lines. Really quiet moments, when people don’t think anyone is watching. Colorful graffiti-walls. Big empty fields and abandoned warehouses. New York City at night.

Phoblographer: You’ve shot lots of live music as well. How much of it would you say is luck and how much is anticipation? 

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Nicole: My dad always told me that photography was 50% luck–which I tend to agree with. After a few dozen concerts, though, you definitely learn to anticipate certain things…a look, a reaction. One of my favorite photographers, Baron Wolman, said something that is forever etched into my brain (I’m paraphrasing here, so forgive me if the wording is a little off!): “If you see the photo in your viewfinder, you’ve already missed it. You have to anticipate every move, because when you see that shot it’s already passed.”

No pressure, right? If you’re shooting a Rock n’ Roll show and the lead singer gets up on the drum set, he sure as hell isn’t just going to climb down quietly–he’s going to jump. I know to anticipate that. But if you hit your shutter a half second too late, you could miss him being in the air at the right point, and the anticipation doesn’t matter anymore. I think that’s where the luck part comes back in.

Phoblographer: Your portfolio is a mix of black and white and color concert images. Which do you prefer?

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Nicole: Hmmm. That’s hard. It depends on the photo, but I think I prefer black and white. Sometimes I’ll spend hours staring at two versions of a photo and not be able to decide. That’s where my lovely friends come in 🙂. I always find it really interesting to see which photos other people like. Sometimes it’s really surprising, definitely not the one I would have picked. Other people see something that I didn’t or can’t see because they’re a bit farther removed from it.

Phoblographer: You’re a super, super nice person. What do you think of photographers with egos?

Nicole: Awwwww gee thanks! I feel very lucky, and I try not to judge people. I keep my head down and use my energy to worry about myself, and my own work.

Phoblographer: What tips can you give to aspiring music photographers that are starting out with local bands and want to progress.

Nicole: Get out there and keep shooting. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Making mistakes totally sucks, but the only way you’re going to get better is by actually doing it. Have fun and be who you are. And always ask for what you want. People aren’t mind readers. The worst that can happen is that the answer will be ‘no’.

Phoblographer: What kind of prep do you usually do when you’re shooting tours?

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Nicole: Honestly, little to none. There’s no way you can really prepare. It’s obviously good to know a bit about the artist and their music, but for me, it’s really just about being a fly on the wall capturing what happens when you’re there. And there’s really no way to know what is going to happen until it happens.

Phoblographer: Assign certain percentages to these in terms of how much time you spend on each: shooting, editing, finding business/extra freelance work, networking, personal projects, life.

Nicole: Oh geeze. I don’t know if I can do that! First of all, I’m awful with numbers and second of all, I think it’s all way too abstract to fit into percentages. I shoot all the time, whether it’s for a paid gig or just ‘cause (I’m totally in love with Instagram). So, I’m constantly editing- or at least it feels that way. And I’m always networking. I love talking to people, getting to know people… and I talk to everyone. You never know who is going to know whom. Or who someone is going to turn out to be. To be honest, personal projects always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop. I’ve been working on a personal project off and on for about a year now. And I have ideas for two more that I need to start on, but most of the time I get too wrapped up in work or y’know, trying to have a normal social life, that they get put on the backburner. Sometimes it’s just hard to keep all the balls in the air, but I do the best I can!

Want more? Be sure to check out Nicole’s website, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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