Spotlight is a feature which aims to give exposure to the unsung heroes of the music industry. This article focuses on one of the most important groups of people that perhaps go largely unnoticed during most gigs: photographers. Keep an eye out for further articles on photographers and other groups of unsung heroes (independent venues and record stores) in the very near future.
Mike Danenberg [pictured above, credit to Tyler Golden] is a freelance photographer who specialises in live concerts, events, and headshots, but is perhaps most likely known for his concert work. Mike has been shooting for Interscope Records for a few years and has done lots of work with Universal Studios Hollywood, including their Halloween Horror Nights and New Year’s Eve events. His photographs have been featured all over the world, in publications such as People Magazine, Rolling Stone, GQ Magazine, and E! Online amongst others.
What does photography mean to you?
I enjoy creating moments for viewers to look back on. With most of my work being in live music photography, I always strive to create images that will give feelings of excitement as if you were there.
Whose work has influenced you the most?
This is a very hard question because there are many people that I’ve gained inspiration from. I am continually inspired by my peers and fellow photographers in the music industry, but I always try to be myself when it comes to my style of shooting and editing. There are techniques that I have tried out after seeing someone else use it, but I always stick to my own style. Always try to stay true to yourself and your business.
How do you educate yourself to take better pictures?
I taught myself how to shoot and edit photos from day one. I’ve only taken one class and I felt it was a waste of time because the teacher was only showing us how to handle studio equipment, but truthfully never went into depth on how to use it. Every shoot is a learning experience. When dealing with live music photography, every single show is going to be different. You can shoot stages with quality light, or you can shoot stages with terrible light. You need to get creative and work with what you have in front of you.
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos in a live environment?
When I first started, I just wish I knew how to edit photos better. I started out shooting JPEG instead of RAW which made it very tough to have quality edits. It wasn’t until after a year or two of shooting that I got comfortable using RAW. A lot of music photography styles boil down to the editing. Cameras these days have some incredible dynamic range. Shoot in RAW so you can have lots to work with.
What settings do you use in a live setting?
There’s no right answer to this, unfortunately. Everything changes depending on what you’re shooting. With live music photography, you’ll need a shutter speed fast enough to capture movement without motion blur, an ISO at a comfortable level where you aren’t too grainy and maintain a clean dynamic range, and a wide aperture to get enough light in. But these settings need to continually change based on what you’re shooting.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you could give to anyone wanting to get into live music photography?
Just have fun with it. Lots of photographers take the photo pit too seriously. When you’re working alongside other photographers, be courteous and don’t stay in one spot. Don’t step in front of someone. Recently this photographer literally stepped in front of me to get her shot. I laughed and moved, but you need to be aware of your surroundings. Always tap someone if you need to get around them and they’re busy shooting. Duck under their cameras and don’t just walk in front of anyone.
In you spare time, what other kinds of pictures do you enjoy taking?
I always have a fun time photographing landscapes. I love a good California sunset. And I always enjoy photographing my dog!
What motivates you to keep taking photographs?
I just love what I do. I have fun doing it and I love it even more when my clients like my work.
Who has been your favourite artist to photograph so far?
I don’t really have a favorite because every shoot is so different. Some artists I have really enjoyed capturing in no particular order include X Ambassadors, 311, Tory Lanez, Yellowcard, The Struts, and so many more that I’m missing. I love when bands get animated on stage. I love a good jump shot. It’s more fun for me to capture photos of a lively performance than just someone with their guitar. But it’s also nice to capture some intimate performances as well from time to time.
Who are your favourite artists to listen to when you’re at home?
Some of my favorite bands are 311, Pearl Jam, X Ambassadors, Dave Matthews Band, James Bay, Ellie Goulding, Sir Sly, and many more.
What was the first gig you ever went to as a fan and what was the first gig you did as a photographer?
The first show I went to as a fan was for a local Chicago band called Lucky Boys Confusion. My friends introduced me to their music and we went to at least a couple of shows every summer. The first gig as a photographer was back when I was managing a band called Good Luck Jane. Before moving to LA I used to manage artists and I first bought a camera to help document their shows. It took me a little while to get the hang of shooting, but I was patient and am happy where it led me.
In order to view Mike’s work, please follow the following links to his website and social media. Supporting photographers like Mike ensures that they keep on providing us with the shots that enable us to continue to remember the gigs and moments that mean the most to us.