All images by Luis Ruiz. Used with permission
Photographer Luis Ruiz is a New York based creative that I met years ago when I first started the Phoblographer. As time goes on, we tend to evolve as photographers. But Luis and I used to inspire one another by heading out in the streets of Manhattan together and shooting street images. We learned from one another. We were also both concert photographers. But while I couldn’t find a way to make it profitable, Luis never gave up and through tenacity and perseverance Luis became a well known name amongst many magazines and music blogs in the New York area.
His story is one of humble beginnings that carry with him even to today.
Phoblographer: How did you first get into photography?
Luis: I first got into photography at a very young age when I would play around with a camera that had no film in it, the shutter click was such a nice sound though I would just keep clicking away. Fast forward to senior high of high school and for a birthday present I got my very first camera Sony Cybershot DSC T1..that year I remember documenting everything around me. That trend continued on for me throughout college where I went to school for graphic design and ended up taking a bunch of photo classes. During my years in college I always found a way to use my photography in my graphic design work and just kept continuing on with it after graduation. My love for music grew more during this time and photographing during shows became a usual thing for me.
Phoblographer: Who were your early influences in photography?
Luis: Music has always been a big influence in me but in terms of people I would have to say there were some artists I grew fond over the years and through childhood. Salvador Dali was one of the first artists I learned about so I automatically fell in love with the Surrealist Movement. Another artist during that movement who was sort of an underdog was a photographer Man Ray. Gary Winogrand was another photographer who inspired me a bit in my street and wedding work, the ability to capture real emotions was always a treat to see.
Phoblographer: You not only shoot concerts, but also do weddings and street photography. What genre is your favorite and why?
Luis: I really see all of these styles of photography to be in the same world. I guess since It’s the way I approach it, it might come off like that to me.
The art of storytelling is my biggest passion, the idea to connect both love (weddings) and music is something I have worked on the past couple of years. It all connects together the way life flows. I just love to capture real moments, be it in the streets, a small wedding ceremony or a backstage candid of a musician before a show. Whenever I get asked this question I automatically think of how much I love the idea of a moment in time that happens in a certain way that can’t be recreated no matter how many times you see it. Life is beautiful in it’s natural fashion, I just love having the opportunity to see it and capture it as well as I can. But in the end, luck does help out a lot.
Phoblographer: Since we’ve met, you were into concert photography. Why did you stick with it despite the tough economic times?
Luis: Well after working at my last office job in April 2013 I ended up freelancing, so you basically have no choice. And I learned to do what makes you happy, so I did that. Music is what drives me each day I shoot.
I started to hustle a bit more because shooting for online publications like Stereogum and BrooklynVegan don’t pay the bills! Being in this industry though for the past four years I do meet and talk to publicists one and one and I realized it was best to just work with the artists themselves.
Publicists can only do so much even if they are the sweetest at times, but giving a pass, or scheduling a shoot is sometimes out of their reach. So I took a different/simple approach and just emailed managers and musicians to come shoot their shows. It all evolved into a sort of an unintentional sales pitch. Basically give these artists a bit more also when they are starting out. It’s all about building relationships and this past year I have worked exclusively with several artists in the NYC area.
Phoblographer: How have you sustained yourself as a photographer while trying to make it as a concert shooter?
Luis: Well to distance myself from the typical concert photographer is something I like to do as an artist. I don’t call myself a concert shooter which is what I like to do everyday. I do call myself an artist and I just let the music move me. My love for music comes from childhood since my family has always been involved in music ( mother a singer, dad a DJ, grandfather/uncle – salsa band). It all inspires me each time I’m out there.
I think all types of photography have their traditionalists who stick to certain lighting / retouching/ and gear and it’s something I learned to distance my way from. Being in that photo pit could be a bit intimidating to some. It’s funny how each job I’ve done there are certain cliques of people who either follow each other or do things on their own, and in music photography it’s no different. I step back from that all, it’s basically my true personality. Stepping back when there are 20 people ahead of you in the photo pit (or in life) and just do what makes you happy.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear you use and how it has changed over the years.
Luis: Well I’ve always had a Nikon after my Sony cybershot point and shoot days. But 2008 was a big year for me after using mostly a Nikon D60. I purchased an Olympus pen, which I’m sure you remember was the start of a revolution of sorts since the camera were now smaller and easier to work with in quick scenarios.
I actually was one of the first in NYC area to take some images with that camera in the photo pit. I definitely got some stares and mean looks but it’s funny because now everyone has a small camera in the pit these days haha.
In my Nikon gear it all started with the Nikon D60 w/ kit lens and a 50mm f1.8 lens. I always had a prime lens on my cameras be it m 4/3 or nikon. So eventually upgrading two years ago to a full frame D700 Nikon helped my quality a bit more. Using mostly all nikon lenses 35 mm f/2 , 50mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.8. You basically just shoot what makes you comfortable and being on a prime always felt right to me. I felt closer to the artist that way. It’s like how a musician has that one mic or guitar they would use and they create magic with it. It’s what I do with a 50mm/ 85mm lens in the pit.
I now have a nice set up lenses these days finally getting a 70-200mm which has helped in the festival days of shooting. But in the end you can read all this and agree when I say it doesn’t matter what camera you use. I’ve surprised many people on my feeds when I post a photo taken with a Fuji x100s. I’m really happy I started photography when I did just because of the ability of the smaller cameras.
It really changed the way I see things in life, having a small camera with you being very quiet and intimate. I love that feeling. And an musician can agree as well, when I have a small camera in their face photographing backstage or portraits, It’s definitely less intimidating.
Phoblographer: What are your marketing strategies for your photos?
Luis: Hmm well starting slowly out of the gate in this freelance photo world wasn’t easy and It’s all about not being shy and be very persistent. I just email away nowadays. Give a business card to a person I just met. The past 6 months that simple routine has provided me with a nice chain of jobs that came from just one.
Hashtags have definitely changed the way we market ourselves as artists and I’m really grateful for that. Instagram / Facebook / Twitter just hashtag it up and you’ll get some special likes and followers that may somehow lead to a job or new client. Life is all about luck, I mean you can be the best at anything but if you don’t showcase your work out there no one will see it. So I think a lot of people who shoot shows are just waiting for that moment for a band to come see their work and maybe come to shoot their show. This is also where music photography has it’s faults and It’s why I tend to distance myself from it all and shoot things that I want to do. Music, weddings, street photography, IT all comes together in this big package for me.
I love to shoot life and see what I can get when I do. Stepping back and photographing what I see is what I do best and if you have a strong passion for it. People will notice and then that’s one of the best ways I market myself.