Music Photographers Life - How To Become A Rockstar Photographer

Music Photographers Life

Matthias Hombauer Interview

The awesome video about my music photographers life is online! Watch it below and read my interview from being a frustrated researcher to becoming a Rockstar Photographer here.

Tell me a bit about your background. What did you do before you started a music photographers life?

I grew up in Austria, finished high school with a focus on electrical engineering and then, during my civil service, found my passion for the human body. I wanted to find out how our body works in detail, I think that’s something we learn way too less about as human beings. This interest led me to attend a 3 year academy for medical technology and then on to study molecular biology. At that time I dreamed of once winning a Nobel prize as a researcher, went on to do my PhD in the field of immunology and started working on basic research, the foundation for any deeper studies. During my Phd I lost the perspective and reflected if it was really the right thing to do for me.

When did you find out, that being a researcher was not the right thing for you?

Actually it was when I really started working as a researcher. I totally loved my studies, though molecular biology is everything but an easy subject and the master itself took me more than five years. Then I started my PhD which meant working as a researcher and I went into the field of basic research, working on a mouse model, observating cells. At the beginning, this was fun, but after two years of basically doing the same thing everyday, i doubted that I wanted to spend the rest of my life like this. I couldn’t handle this long term, hard work that doesn’t even guarantee an outcome. I missed something that could give me a quick outcome and satisfaction.

Watch the video about my music photographers life here.

That’s when you thought about photography?

Well, I did some photography when I was around 20. Back then I went to Hong Kong and Taiwan with a Lomo (an LCA Kompakt automatic, to be specific). There was a big hype around analogue photography and Lomo back then, and I met local lomographers there and had fun shooting some random stuff. During my teenage years, I played in a death metal band and I always had a great passion for music. At the beginning of my PhD, I started to do photos again as a hobby and two years later, it was on this one day on the way to work that I was sitting on my bike thinking: „Why not combine my passion for music and photography and become a music photographer?“. The first thing I did when I came to the lab was opening Google and searching for „Concert photographer“. It turned out that this simple search query would change my life.


You still went on for two years and finished your Phd. Why that?

The main reason for that was that I spent more than seven years studying already and I thought that it won’t be bad for me to have a Phd. The other reason might be that I am a quite risk-aware person. I thought about getting a job as a lecturer, work for thirty hours a week and spend the rest oft the time with photography. But the closer I came to the end of my studies, the clearer it was that I needed to put all my energy in this one goal. In the last two years of my studies, I went out to shoot concerts three days a week, built up my portfolio as well as my equipment. I got deeper and deeper into photography and also learned about online marketing and sales in my spare time. When I finally finished my Phd, I already had an offer to work for a magazine, as well as a portfolio of concert pictures and everything I needed to start my second career path.

Being a photographer is a quite unstable job, it’s not easy to make a business out of it. How much money did you save from your work as a researcher? How much time did you buy yourself?

That’s a great question. I had enough money to survive half a year, but more important, I already had bought proper equipment and started to build up a portfolio and my first clients while I still had a steady income. This may not be the kickass way to do things, but I think especially in a field like photography it is good to have a safety belt, it makes no sense to start out and then be forced to sell your camera because you run out of money and you need to start over again.


How did you move on then?

I shot loads of concerts and then one day saw that Fatboy Slim was in town. I thought, I had nothing to lose and contacted the management. And they got back to me and invited me to shoot the show. And not only that! I got the chance to do a 30 minute portrait shooting. Coming to the venue, I was extremely nervous first, but then everything worked out fine. When all the other music photographers had to leave the photo pit after 3 songs he invited me on stage. During the concert, Fatboy Slim gave me a sign to come shoot in front of him and so I was standing between him and 30.000 people. It was just the most incredible thing I had done so far in my life.

Then The Prodigy, who have been my idols since I was 15, came to town. Same thing. But this time 50.000 people. There was I, the boy from the village in Austria sharing a stage with my idols. I never had so much adrenaline pumping through me. From then on I knew, that I was heading in the right direction and did everything to go on with my journey. Shooting concerts and bands, that’s where I’m in my element. Shooting stuff for money is fine with me, weddings, family portraits, editorial work, but concert photography is where my real passion lies and I guess a lot of music photographers will agree on that too.

And so you did…

Yeah, it went on. Iggy Pop, Peter Gabriel, Calexico, and then the world tour with Shantel.

Calexico - music photographers


How did it come to the story with Shantel?

Shantel plays in Vienna three times a year, sells out every show. I shot some of his shows, then my first portrait session with him and then one day, they called me and asked me to shoot his press photo, that would be on tour posters around the world. That’s how we kept in contact over the years. And one day I went on a small tour in Austria and Germany with him, we got quite close and he asked me if I would join him on his world tour, first stop: Mexico. Of course I said yes, it´s every music photographers dream. He played as a DJ in Mexico city in front of 200 people, the crowd went totally nuts. The other stops were Brooklyn, then Canada, where he played two shows in front of 50.000 people and several shows around Europe. That was really a dream come true for me.

What would you consider the most special experiences in your career so far?

First definitely shooting The Prodigy. I mean, they were idols for me, and they trusted me to come on stage. A show of the Prodigy mainly consists of strobe and haze, if you run over an amp or unplug a cable, you’re in serious trouble. So that was really an honour for me.

Secondly I met a band called Vintage Trouble on a festival in the middle of nowhere in Canada. They played after Shantel and I found that they were really well dressed and asked if I could do some portraits. Two years later, AC/DC would play a show in front of 120.000 people in Austria. And well, this band called Vintage Trouble played the warm up show. So after two years, I got in contact with them again via Facebook and asked if they wanted to collaborate. That was two days before the actual concert. They agreed, but I didn’t have any official accreditation and when I came there, the network was down due to the huge amount of people there. In the end, everything worked out and I found myself in front of 120.000 people. It was the biggest single concert in Austria ever, and as Vintage Trouble was playing right before AC/DC, the whole crowd was already there. Unbelievable. I first got the feeling of what it must be like to be a rockstar. Watch my other Vintage Trouble photos of this concert here.

Vintage Trouble

Vintage Trouble

How did you come up with the idea of starting your online business?

I started out with writing guest articles about my work quite early. I got featured on Digital Photography School which was founded by Darren Rowse, the founding member of Problogger. That’s when I first got in touch with the world of blogging. I then started out with my project How To Become A Rockstar Photographer. At first, it was all about my camera settings and technical stuff, I then recognized, that a lot of music photographer worldwide are facing the same problems. How do I get started? Which equipment and camera settings do I need? How to shoot for magazines? We all face the same challenges. So that’s where I set the focus of my blog and my upcoming video course to help music photographers to live their passion. Besides that I wrote my e-book Guide to Rockstar Concert Photography. That’s an already sold out 170 page PDF that helped me build up an international community. In the meantime I sold more than 300 e-books.

How did you start with online marketing as a total newbie?

The same way I taught myself guitar and music photography: I’m self-taught.

What do you enjoy more – a band telling you that they like your photos or somebody who thanks you for sharing your knowledge?

Good question. I’d say both in equal terms. Of course it’s the biggest appreciation for my work, when artists I admire tell me that they like my photos or even feature it in their album booklet, like it was the case with the new album by The Prodigy, The Day is my Enemy. At the same time, I get several emails from music photographers every day where people tell me, that my knowledge helped them in becoming better photographers. There was one artists who told me that she’s been an artist for ten years, but she’s never been as satisfied with her work, as she got so much better through the knowledge I shared. Of course, that’s a huge honour for me and it motivates me to go on.


Your online presence led Instagram to invite you to shoot a festival in France. What’s the story behind that?

Yeah, that’s also a crazy story. I got an email from Instagram France and I first thought it to be spam. But the lady who wrote the email asked for a phone call, so I thought, why not just give it a try. And yes, it was Instagram, what I didn’t know is that the company has a branch in France, besides the headquarters in the U.S.. They were searching for a photographer who would take over the official Instagram feed for a festival called Frankofolies Festival in La Rochelle on the western side of France. 5 days, 10 stages, 90 bands, almost exclusively from France. And the funny thing was, that there were around a hundred music photographers, who wondered why they invited a foreigner – so did I. But in the end I see it as a further appreciation for my work and it was great fun. Have a look at my complete Francofolies 2015 photo set here.


Instagram Photo Pass Francofolies 2015 - music photographers

Instagram Photo Pass Francofolies 2015

Did photography bring you closer to music again?

I would say it gives me the opportunity to look behind the scenes. If you’re at a concert as a fan you often times only see the video wall and everything seems so surreal. There’s these stars on stage and they seem so untouchable. If you’re on tour with a band, you get to see what it really means to be an artist. They tour over the course of weeks, many people on very small space and then they have a small number of days off before they go on touring again. And you can’t allow yourself to lose your voice or get sick or anything. So it affords lots of discipline and hard work. That definitely gave me a different view on what it means to be a rockstar.

What aim do you follow with your blog?

I definitely want to reach all music photographers, with the blog, as well as with the upcoming video course “Shooting The Rockstars”. And of course I want to earn a side income with it, which allows me to go on with the work I truly love and stand for. Surviving as a concert photographer alone is almost impossible, so rather you do normal photojobs like portrait photography or editorial shootings or you have a second income stream. There’s some money to earn if you work directly with bands and shoot their promotion photos, but no chance with concert photography alone. I talked to people who are in the business since 40 years and none of them could name even one photographer who earns his money with concert photography alone. That’s what I also teach in my course. Concert photography will not be your main job, so find another way for earning some money and enjoy being close to your idols, I mean that’s the reason, so many people want to get into shooting concerts.

Did you face any serious downs over the years?

In the beginning, I had a down every month (laughs). In the meantime, I’d say I’m quite stable, as I work with awesome bands and addition shoot for Forbes Magazine here in Austria. But at the beginning it was hard for sure. You shoot a wedding once in a while, stuff for magazines. But you only see expenses and almost no incomes. And then you get frustrated. But that’s the same with every person who runs his own business, there’s days when you’re totally down and don’t know how to go on and the next day you get this email from a band and you’re flying high again. And you know that it is what you’re supposed to do. Every big goal needs dedication over years, a painter once told me, if you’re in the business for a long enough time, it will work out one day, even if it takes years. And that’s how I see it. At the moment, I’d say I’m living my dream life and I want to encourage everyone, but especially music photographers to go for their goals, no matter how far away they might seem.

This interview was originally published on Follow them on Facebook for more inspirational stories.

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