Tips from the Pit: photographer Erik Voake

Photographer Erik Voake and his Sun-Sniper Double Press Harness

“My path to photography was a unique one. I did not go to school but always had a passion for it. I actually began my “visual career” at the age of 19 making action sports documentaries, shooting everything on 16mm motion picture film. I did that into my 30s and then decided I wanted to make the shift to Hollywood. I immediately started directing music videos, some of which appeared on MTV and also worked on various television projects.

Photo courtesy of Erik Voake

I eventually created, sold and Executive Produced a reality series for FUSE TV called ‘Crusty’s Dirt Demons,’ it was about finding the next Evel Kneivel. Around that time I also worked as the Director of Photography on a short documentary for acclaimed photographer and director Larry Clark, his photographic work has and continues to be a big inspiration for me. He was also a catalyst in pushing me to pursue photography. That documentary went on to screen at Sundance, Cannes and also the Tate Modern in London.

Photographer Erik Voake

Also around that time I got a job to go and shoot a documentary in Baghdad, I jumped at the chance as I was also exposed to James Nachtwey around that time as well. I decided I would take my trusty Canon AE 1 with me on the trip. While I had to leave the video in Baghdad I was allowed to bring my photos back to the States. While I was there I avoided gore like the plague and decided I would point my camera to the culture and way of life that continued amidst the war. When I got home I showed the images to a friend who is a trustee at the Museum of Modern Art, he said I should take my work to a gallery and to let them know he sent me there.

Photo courtesy of Erik Voake

Well the gallery was not interested in doing anything war related but they loved the photos and asked what else I had. I said I had spent a year documenting the world famous Roxy Theatre on the Sunset Strip and could showcase those photos. They said they loved it and they would do it, only problem was I didn’t really have the photos. My dear friend Nic Adler owns the place and I knew he would be fine with me doing that so the next day I went and bought a Canon 5D and set out on a mission to document all things related to the Roxy for one year. While doing that I took a photo of this band called the “Chelsea Girls”, I posted the image to Flickr and a week went by and I got a call from SPIN Magazine. They wanted the photo. I said sure, they said they would pay me 750 bucks, I said ok but I want an assignment as well and now I have been shooting for them for the last 4 years. While I had always had the dream of being a war photographer, it didn’t quite end up that way however I think something even more exciting came from it. Of course if you have ever been in a photo pit for Slayer you could probably say you are a war photographer then. Today I shoot a ton of music related content and also celebrities. Ive shot for a number of high profile magazines, SPIN, Billboard and Rolling Stone. Its been quite a ride and Ive loved every minute of it!

Photo courtesy of Erik Voake

I owe quite a bit to my parents for encouraging me to pursue the arts when most parents probably would not, I thank my wife, Jenni, for being my biggest fan and a wonderful mother to my daughter, I thank the photographers who I admire like Larry Clark, James Nachtwey, Herb Ritts and Jim Marshall. And if it wasn’t for that trip to Baghdad I probably would not have realized whats most important in anyone’s life and that is the pursuit of dreams. It may sound corny but that truly is the meaning of life.”

Photo courtesy of Erik Voake

 

“Tips from the Pit”

 

Photographer Erik Voake

  1. Stay calm – There is a lot going on during a concert, fans screaming in you ear to get out of the way, security telling you that you cant stand here, publicists watching every move you make, oh and did I mention a giant concert raging in your ear drums! There is a lot to distract you and its over coming those distractions that will make your images even better. You have to focus on the task at hand which is getting that one moment that says everything about that show, everything else is secondary.
  1. Have the right equipment – To be competitive you really do need to have two camera bodies, one with a wide lens and one with a long lens. Being able to access those two cameras quick and easily and not have them sliding off your shoulder is critical. You have maybe 3 songs to get all the shots you need so being organized and ready is key, this is where the Sun Sniper Double Press Harness really comes in handy! This simple piece of equipment will truly make all the difference in getting the images you need. It allows quick and easy access while making sure your gear is safe and secure!
  1. Don’t get caught up in the need to be front and center – When your in the pit you will see a number of photographers rush to the front and center of the stage. I have found that inevitably you only get great photos of the performers nostrils. Don’t be afraid to stand back or to the side. Keep in mind musicians move around the stage, you should too!
  1. BE NICE! – That might sound like an unusual tip but people continually ask me the key to my success and I simply say “Be nice”. You never know who is who in this business to treat everyone equally, you also never know who could introduce you to the one person who could make a difference in your career so it definitely serves you best to just be nice to everyone you meet, it does make life easier. Today I am continually told how easy I am to work with and in today’s economy with everyone doing multiple jobs no one needs or wants to work with a difficult photographer.
  1. Be ready for all types of light – I do believe that at times your images are only as good as the lighting, no one likes the all red lights, it looks great to the audience but it definitely does not make for great photos. When I get photos that are all red I immediately turn them black and white. Learn Lightroom, Aperture or Photoshop, one of those applications needs to be your best friend!

 

 Erik Voake Photography

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