I’d love to give you some philosophical answers on how my photography connects to my music, but I can’t. Truthfully, I invested my time in photography almost in spite of music. Any musician who performs live has those dreams of “making it”, but the music industry is cold; everyone from the record executives to the club promoters. It’s all a business. I feel many of the creative industries are just that: industries.
Of course you have to have great content to stand out, but no one is looking at it artistically, they are just looking for ways to sell it. I know as artists, we have to play that game a little bit, because after all, who doesn’t want a career doing what they love? But I grew tired of the music game: there was too much stress and it became dull for me. So, for the time, I wanted to get away from it and express myself in other ways.
Now, to pull a complete 180, I guess you can tie music to photos into the shoots themselves. I love shooting to music, but I think it’s important to have the right playlist. Most of the music I’ve made over the years has either been in rock bands, or solo acoustic/indie rock stuff. Sometimes these genres can be good for shoots, but I’m really into either hip-hop (Ab-Soul, Run The Jewels, etc.) or vibey pop/indie/electro stuff (Phantogram is a great shoot band). The right music can bring out the best in any model.
I’ve always been pretty outgoing; I love meeting people and asking lots of questions. Even though I’ve always had a strong social circle, I was still having trouble expressing my “big feelings”. If I was feeling upset or depressed, I never felt like I could share that. If I was in love, I couldn’t articulate it verbally, but I could write a song about it. I create because I want to articulate what I’m feeling in the best way I know how. Sure, I would consider myself an extrovert, but when I write music or create a still image, I generally like to do so alone. I tend to bottle things up, so any platform for self-expression is always welcome.
I remember way back in the 8th grade, I was just learning to play guitar. At this point I wasn’t any good; I was bad. But I liked a girl, so I wrote her a song. Now I can’t remember the words or how the song went, but I remember I wrote out every single note I played (similar to guitar tabs), along with every word I sang, and I played it for her. It was a sweet moment; I don’t think I would’ve been able to have that conversation (at least not then) had I not had music as a tool for self-expression.
Aside from music & sound, I’ve always been inspired visually; no one ever asks me to recommend a good book. Before a band I was in left for tour, I snagged one of the Flip cameras (if you remember those) and took videos of everything. Between that and the cell phone pictures I took, we had tons of content. After that tour I became the visual media guy. Years passed, the band dissolved, and I was becoming increasingly more frustrated with the music business.
“Sure, I would consider myself an extrovert, but when I write music or create a still image, I generally like to do so alone. I tend to bottle things up, so any platform for self-expression is always welcome.”
Music was not fully satisfying my creative desire and I was running out of ways (and motivation) to express myself. A few years back, my girlfriend (now fiancé) lent me her Nikon D90, and I was in love all over again. I went all over Los Angeles just looking for things to take pictures of; if I was feeling down or moody, I would try to capture some lonely streets or the ocean at night, and if I was feeling social I would bring the camera to a party or event and just interact with people. At first, my friends got a little weird with my sticking a camera in their faces all the time, but once they saw themselves how I saw them, they understood.
Today I mostly take photos of people; friends, lovers, models, you name it. I like all the different stories people can tell. If you were to photograph the same person on two different days, or even two different hours, you might get very different results. I love that. Don’t get me wrong, landscape photography is beautiful, and I would love to spend more time learning it, but I’m just enamored with portrait photography.
This is where I may offend some folks. I got into doing portraits by just going to parties and events with my camera and taking fun, candid photos. Once I decided I wanted to try and take photography to “the next level” (whatever that means), I decided to take the easiest route I knew of: being an “Instagram Photographer”. I’m not sure if that phrase is commonplace or not, but it’s what I use t0 describe people who own a camera and have hot friends.
I understand getting hired for fashion shoots or look book shoots is just the nature of the job, but I wanted to make sure I was more than just a guy who takes pictures of attractive women. Honestly, I’ve been shooting less because of that decision. So, when anyone approaches me with the old “hey let’s shoot” I always look through the person’s photos, and ask myself, “How can I approach this subject differently?” In my experience, many of the models, especially on Instagram, have a pretty consistent look or style, and it’s fun for me to try and break that mold. Usually I get great feedback after the shoots, they appreciate the fresh take.
With music, if I had a specific thought or feeling, I can use different chord arrangements and strong lyrical content to say what I want to say, and let the audience feel it through the tone of the music. This is pretty straightforward, and the stuff I write isn’t too ambiguous, so it’s relatable. In photography, you have to capture and sum up any and all emotions (from yourself and the subject) into one, silent, still frame. On the surface, that seems way more difficult, and sometimes it can be, but I find it challenging and fascinating.
For example, if I want to create a somber mood in a song, I can use minor chords and down-tempo drums to create the mood. But in a photograph, there can be many ways to achieve this; maybe I play with the shadows to create the vibe I want, or play with light placement. The subject can be holding something or sitting a certain way to get the desired mood. You can crank the ISO (or add grain in post) to add some grit to the photo. You can even frame the photo a certain way to make the viewer feel differently. The possibilities go on and on.
So how do I approach gigs? I go with my gut. When someone approaches me for a modeling or fashion shoot, I listen to the tone of their message, and I check out their other work and see if it’s something I want to put my name on. I also make sure it’s not trade for portfolio work (TFP), I’m pretty tired of that. I don’t think I have a very traditional style, maybe it’s an acquired taste, but the people who do reach out usually do so because they like my work and want the same feel. Only once did I have someone ask me to go full on Barbie doll and totally airbrush and Photoshop everything; I politely declined the work. I think it’s important that people be (at least a little) authentic.
My absolute favorite shots are the moments in between; all the subtleties and “real” expressions the subject shows when they think we aren’t shooting or posing. I always keep my camera ready, because those moments are fleeting, but they are the best representations of the person.
All images and text by Nathan Hostetter. Be sure to also follow him on Instagram.