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Today’s guest is someone who is living the Rockstar life. Let me introduce you to Mr. David Bergman, the official tour photographer of Bon Jovi.
We’ll talk about his crazy schedule when he is on tour with the band, why being persistent and knowing exactly what you want is the key to success and why his upcoming workshop is taking place on a cruise ship.
In This Episode, You’ll learn
- how David started his career as a sports photographer
- the story behind touring with Bon Jovi
- why you should never give up in order to live your dreams
- Best Camera For Photography: Canon EOS-1DX Mark II
- Best Lens For Concert Photography: Canon 24-105 f/4L IS II USM
- Best Record Of All Time: 90125 – YES
- Music Photographer you admire: Jim Marshall, Danny Clinch
Follow David Bergman
Matthias Hombauer: Thanks for your time David! How are you doing today?
David Bergman: I’m excellent, Matthias, how are you?
Matthias: I’m fine too, thank you so much for taking the time to do this with me, I really appreciate it.
David: It’s my pleasure, thanks for having me.
Matthias: So, let’s start from the beginning. How did you get into photography?
David: The beginning? Way back from when I was a baby. Actually, it’s funny, I was a musician first.
Matthias: Me too.
David: Really? I was a band geek all through high school, I played drums and a little bit of piano and I was sure that I was gonna be a music producer, that’s where I was headed.
Matthias: A music producer, not an actual rockstar.
David: No, I never really wanted to perform for a living, I don’t think I have that gene in my body, but I loved the business and I loved the industry and being around great musicians and I like to produce, I like to sort of put things together so, that’s where I was headed. My first year of college I went to the Berkley College of Music in Boston and I was all set for my career as a producer and then for a million different reasons I transferred back to my hometown of Miami, Florida. I went to the university in Miami and I sort of stumbled into the school newspaper, where I had a camera, but I didn’t really know aperture from shutter speed and the short version is that the photo editor gave me an assignment and basically I fell in love with it and pretty soon I sold my drums and started taking pictures and work for papers. You just never know with those crossroads moments will happen in your life.
Matthias: Yes, interested story, I’ve never heard of someone who wanted to be a producer, most likely people want to be musicians, go on tour, be on stage.
David: I did have the hair, I had the long hair, but that was about it.
Matthias: So, for people who are not aware of your name can you give me a short resume of your work so far. Where are you now and how did you start?
David: Sure, I was freelancing in Miami after I got out of school for a few years but I was really a journalist and I worked for the Associated Press and the United Press International and was covering news, sports, a little bit of everything and then I was fortunate to have a full-time job at the Miami Herald. I was a staff photographer for that newspaper in Miami which was at the time around a half million circulation paper, very big paper. That was in the 90s. Miami is such a great place to be working at that time and there was so much news and things going on and scandals and riots and all kinds of great stuff.
David: Yes exactly, everything. But I sort of gravitated to the sports realm and I really enjoyed shooting sports I had done it a bit in college and I really liked it so throughout my time there I became pretty much the primary sports photographer for the paper so I covered the Olympics and Superbowls and all that kinda stuff. That was a blast. And then 2001 just kinda decided I had lived in Miami most of my life and I wanted a change, I enjoyed working at the paper but it was kinda the same thing everyday.
Matthias: So you had a full-time job there?
David: Yeah full-time staff job there and I gave it all up and I moved to New York City, which was probably incredibly crazy to do, I had no job or anything, and I started freelancing.
Matthias: How long did it take you to make this decision? To take this dramatic shift in your life?
David: Yeah, it was dramatic. Probably over the course of a year, we talked about it and finally made that decision and in early 2001 too I gave my two week notice and headed up coast. And then Sports Illustrated really became a big client of mine throughout the next ten years or so, it really started because I had been shooting digital really early on before a lot of people were and the magazine was just starting thinking about transitioning to digital, they’d been shooting all chrome at that time so I came in at just the right time when they were looking into digital and I sort of helped them bridge that gap by training the existing photographers and I was shooting digital and really it was a 2-3 year period were there was a transition for the magazine and by then I had sort of ingratiated myself and became one of their regular freelances. Throughout the 2000s that was my biggest client, I mean I was freelancer so I had other clients as well, but again more Superbowls and things like that.
Matthias: What fascinated you about sports? I’ve never shot sports, so…
David: You know as a concert guy I think you’ll love it. It’s very similar. I’m not really a sports fan I’ve become a fan I’ve become a fan over the years just being at all the events but I’ve always loved the pictures, they’re so dynamic and there’s so much action I love capturing that peak moment when somebody’s flying through the air, the helmet gets ripped off… those kinds of images and especially being at the big events and being at the Superbowl, at the Olympics, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat and all those clichés and it really can be encapsulated in one photograph and I love that.
Matthias: And I guess it’s also challenging to get an accreditation for the Superbowl as a photographer.
David: Sure, but I was always working for somebody so they’d handle that. As a freelancer, you really can’t do it, it’s next to impossible at the Olympics or the Superbowl but I was shooting for somebody and that was part of my job.
Matthias: So are you still shooting sports nowadays?
David: These days, not so much anymore. I was, up until a few years ago and then the music kicked in and teaching was my primary focus these last few years but that was a fun time, I really enjoyed it but at the same time while I was doing that I always had the music part of me and it was always a dream to shoot more music and tour the world and do all those things. Back when I was still in Miami I had pitched a story to the newspaper to go on the road with Gloria Stefan, who was –you know– a musician from Miami, an icon and she went for it so I got to spend a couple of weeks on the road with her. That was my first touring experience, that was probably 1996 or so and I was riding the tour bus with Gloria and Emilio and their kids and making pictures I had all access, backstage, that was the beginning of the end for me. Unfortunately, as you know there’s not a lot of people that get to do that so over the course of being a freelance up to the 2000s I was constantly pitching bands and constantly trying to get more of that kind of work and slowly but surely I did so at the same time I was doing the sport stuff I was building up my data base of music clients. Being freelance really allowed me to do that and I could make the time to work for the clients that I wanted to work with.
Matthias: And touring with a band is really special. I’ve toured with some bands for a couple of weeks and it’s like becoming a family even though you’ve never met these guys before and after these two weeks you go like “I kinda miss these guys now.” Strange.
David: Yes, every tour, whether it-s a week or a year I always sort of go into a post-tour depression because you come home and it was so intense for so long and then it just goes away and you can’t wait to go back on the road again. It’s not even just the band but the crew and everybody who works on tour I find for the most part are very professional and they love what they do and they’re there not just to “Oh, I gotta go to work today.”
Matthias: Right, it’s totally different. For example I was shooting with some friends of mine from Barcelona yesterday in Vienna, I met this guy first in France and then in Vienna and now they were playing here yesterday and it’s cool because you’re talking to the guitarist and he also has a one and a half year old boy and he said “Let’s meet in Barcelona when I’m on tour and just go to the beach and have the kids play” and I think you don’t find this kind of openness and friendliness in another genre, in a normal job, because people are always aware that this guy can take my job or whatever and this is totally different.
David: It’s an interesting way to look at it because I’ve always felt that on tour especially everybody has their own job and there’s not really a lot of crossover. There are carpenters there’s a stage manager, there’s a tour manager and in most cases there’s just one photographer. They’re not trying to do what I do and I’m not trying to do what they do, but I know that they’re good at what they do and hopefully they know that I’m good at what I do and hopefully we all come together and make something bigger than all of us. It’s just so much fun to do.
Matthias: Exactly. Let’s move on, maybe we’ll split the interview a little bit into your music work and your work as a teacher. Let’s start with music. You’ve worked as a tour photographer for let’s say, famous bands.
David: Yeah, I’ve worked with a few of them over the years, but the biggest one by far is Bon Jovi and I think a lot of people know me for that and I’ve been fortunate to work with them they’re one of my clients, I’ve been working with them now since 2010.
Matthias: That’s awesome. So how did it start out did you get in contact with them?
David: Yeah, basically throughout that time where I was doing a lot of sports work, I was trying to do as much music work as I could and I wanted to, I had a goal, I had a dream of touring the world with a big rock band and there really aren’t that many out there that tour at that level, that really go round the world every few years. I reached out to everybody I could and as you know that was the hardest part. The hardest part is figuring out who to contact.
David: Throughout the time working I always found that you meet people here and there and this person knows this person, and this person may know this person, and this person says he knows this person but they really don’t. I just tried to be open and honest with everybody and make my intentions clear and whenever I could talk to somebody or send somebody an email or a pitch here or there I would do and Bon Jovi was one of the many, many, bands at that level that I contacted and it took me a really long time, I really didn’t get my first meeting with them until probably years after I started badgering them. It really doesn’t happen overnight, people always want a great story like Jon saw one of my pictures in Sports Illustrated and called me up and hired me. It really doesn’t happen that way either. Every good job I’ve ever had is because I went after it really hard and sometimes I even pushed too much I think but I’d rather go down swinging that sit on the bench.
Matthias: Yeah and it also makes sense from the artists’ side because why would they hire someone they don’t know and just bring them to the tour bus because that can be dangerous, some photos can just end up being published on the press which shouldn’t be published on the press, so it’s totally understandable.
David: This job is really half of it is the photography and obviously you have to be at a certain skill level in order to be able to do the work but the other half is just trust, having the right attitude, it’s about being someone they can hang around with because you do spend a lot of time together and you’ve seen this on cruise if there’s one guy that nobody likes, they’re not gonna be around for that long. You live In such high quarters and spend so much time together that you’ve got to be able to get along with everybody and be hopefully a fun guy that people wanna be around.
Matthias: Otherwise it can get intense quickly.
David: Yeah, really quickly.
Matthias: How is it with Bon Jovi, how often do they tour, do they do it a couple times per year or do they do a bigger tour after they’ve recorded an album and then you join them for half a year or whatever.
David: It comes in waves, since 2010 I think I’ve done every show, but what they’ve usually done is release an album and then tour the world for a year, a year and a half. So 2010-2011 was a big tour and they took 2012 off and 2013 we did 102 shows on 6 continents.
David: Yes, it was amazing, that was by far the biggest tour I‘ve ever been on. It started out in 2010, really the first few shows I flew on my own and just did a couple things for them here and there and then they put me on a tour bus which was great and then eventually Jon was walking by me one day and I tend to push a little bit as we all do and I was doing more and more backstage stuff where I was just around and Jon would want a picture he would have a congressman backstage with him and he’d want a picture and I was the guy there to shoot it. More and more I was doing that and Jon one day walked by me and the tour manager is next to me and he said something like “you should probably be travelling with us” and he kept walking and I went crazy because the crew travels on tour buses there are about 80-100 members, but the band is on a private jet, so the next day they changed all my backpacks and I was on the plane with them so yeah, that was amazing. That 2013 tour we did in literally 6 continents and it was since February to December and it was insane, and so much fun, and tiring and amazing. Everything you imagine. That was great. They haven’t really toured since then until last year, we did a couple of months in the US and then a couple of weeks in South America so I think it looks like they’re probably gonna do fewer shows every year but more years, I’m not really sure. There are some dates coming up this year, honestly I’m not sure if I’ll do them all, I may do some at the beginning. The big news this year is that they got into the Hall of Fame, the Rock’n’roll Hall of Fame which is a huge honour and something that’s long overdue for them, I’m 99% sure I’m gonna get to be with the for that, that’s in Cleveland in April I believe, so I’ll do the big events like I said I may start their tour but honestly this year I’ve got other things going on so I’m not sure that’ll be able to do all the dates this year.
Matthias: I see, so what would be a typical day with you on tour with Bon Jovi, maybe you can talk about from the morning till the end of the concert.
David: Sure, it does sort of become like Groundhog Day a little bit, where it’s a similar thing each day. Usually I’d get up and I’d probably have some editing to finish from the last night, the show from the night before. Here’s the thing, when I first started –this is a funny story– I was in the tour bus with the crew. Jon Bon Jovi actually approves every photo that goes out, he’s really hands-on, he’s involved in everything, so I would do my editing and then show him my final pictures and he’d say they’re fine and we’d put them out. When I first started I was on the tour bus, so I’d only see Jon at the shows which may be every 2 or 3 days, so I’d take those off days and do my editing. I’m a pretty heavy shooter so I might have 4000-5000 images to go through and as you know that takes a while, so I’d get through them and then the next time I saw Jon I’d show him the pictures, but then when they moved me to the private jet, we would usually fly on the off days so the next morning after the show we’d get up and the maybe at noon we’d get on a plane and the first time I saw Jon on a plane he goes “Oh, where are the pictures?” and I go “Urghhh… right, you’re expecting to see them.” And I can’t tell them “Oh, it takes me too long, I can’t do it!” No, I just gotta get it done, right? So, from then on, basically when the band is away I’m shooting and when they go to sleep I edit. I wake up in the morning usually very tired after very few hours of sleep and I finish any edits that I have to do. If the band is in the gym I might go make some pictures there, I might do that, grab a bite to eat and then basically there’s either travel or sound check, something like that. I’ll go wherever they go. Usually it’s a sound check or maybe we’re flying to the next city and then go right to the arena or the stadium, do sound check and I’d be photographing the whole time. It goes right into the show and then after the show, back to the hotel and usually there’s like a dinner after the show, because the band hasn’t eaten in a while so we have dinner and then again I have a camera the whole time.
Matthias: And you can’t eat there, you’re taking photos.
David: Well, I can usually eat, but I’m still working. And then maybe 1AM or so, they go to sleep and then I have to start editing so I go as long as I can until I fall asleep on the computer and then I usually have numbers on my forehead…
Matthias: From the keyboard!
David: Yeah. And then I wake up and do it all over again. It is exhausting, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything, I’ve never complained about it because it’s so much fun to be a part of that world.
Matthias: I can imagine. What software are you using for editing?
David: I use Photo Mechanic which I’ve used for over 20 years now. It’s by far the fastest way to go through my images and then once I have my selects down I’ll get it down to 40 or 50 images and then I’m still using Aperture, from Apple. I was actually on the Aperture advisory board when the program was first being released so I have a soft spot in my heart. I love it, I’m used to it. It still works even though Apple is not developing it anymore, it still runs. I’m using the latest IoS I’m gonna be very sad when it stops working, but it’s gonna happen. I’ve been looking at alternatives and I may go to Capture One, I haven’t decided yet but I’m gonna keep using Aperture until they take it out of my hands. Again, what I do, and I know people with Lightroom have this problem as well, putting hundreds of thousands of images in there, I do my calling, my editing first in Photo Mechanic and then I only bring in the images that I have to tone up into a RAW processor.
Matthias: It makes sense.
David: Yeah and then it’s great because I can go back and look and all I have is my best images in my library, so it’s a very good system.
Matthias: I’ve tried Photo Mechanic for myself and yeah it’s really fast, the JPEGS load really fast.
David: That’s the key. I shoot all RAW but it still reads the embedded JPEG preview so I can fly through thousand images which waked a long time to do it but way faster than anything else.
Matthias: This might be also a good tip for wedding photographers since they take thousands of photos. So, Photo Mechanic it’s of their interest. So, what would you say was the biggest challenge you faced when you started the job with Bon Jovi?
David: Really, it was what we’ve just talked about: making enough time to sort of go through the images because it is intense and people always think “Oh, you must have people to do that for you,” you know how it is on the road, there’s nobody else out there but myself. We do a lot of things with those photographs, we sell prints and we’ve done photo books and calendars and all kinds of stuff and I handle all of the photo requests for the band when the PR firm needs something so I’m at a point now where they go through me so it’s just the pure lack of sleep really, it’s hard to get used to, but again, it’s a minor quiver, it’s something I’ve signed up for and I’ve always enjoyed it. As far as getting the job, again going back to when you’re trying to get to a band, who do you contact? That’s one of the hardest parts, the managers and the people who can really make it happen are not really accessible, on purpose! They don’t want anybody contacting them.
Matthias: So, what’s the secret?
David: Throughout my whole career my thing has always been about persistence. I’m just so persistent I never give up, I don’t take “no” for an answer, and you never know who is gonna lead to whom. It’s funny, recently I had done a job with an artist and I was curious in my mind “How did I get to this artist?” and I could trace it back, I’m 47 years old, I could trace it back to my college roommate, this guy knows this guy, and I did this job with this person, and I met this person there, and on and on and on over 25 years. Really, you never know how those storylines are gonna play out. I don’t burn any bridged, I think I’m a nice guy and I get along with everybody and hopefully people like my work and that’s all you can do. Just keep in touch with people and as you meet people, you keep those links alive and you never know where the next thing is gonna come from. The other thing is that I try to stay relatively focused, pun intended, where I knew I wanted to go out with one of those big bands, you know, The Stones, The Who, Madonna, Bon Jovi, Springsteen, so I pursued them non-stop for years, literally for years. Persistence, not giving up, not taking no for an answer.
Matthias: Hopefully not sitting on a tree in your garden and taking paparazzi photos.
David: Exactly, I only take pictures of people who actually want me there.
Matthias: That’s a great point. Being persistent is definitely a key factor that you should have in life in general doesn’t matter which job you have because a lot of people just think they can call the manager and then they’ll go on tour or even they’d get a phone call from the big bands and then they can shoot them. If they don’t get the phone call which is obviously frustrating, you may give up. Never give up and always be persistent.
David: Here’s a big secret that nobody’s gonna tell you: most people are gonna say “no” you know, you get “no” most of the times, probably 90% of the times or more, 99% of the time, the things that I’m going after and these are things that I want that I’m pitching really hard, most of them are not gonna happen. First of all I don’t dwell on that I don’t sit here all day “Oh, if only I’d gotten that…” No! The 1% you get you jump on and you work as hard as you can and then you go to the next one.
Matthias: I think this is how successful people are doing it in life. You have to make failures and you have to be on the ground and just stand up and do it again and move on.
David: And you can’t also base your own personal well-being based on somebody’s whether they hire you or not. Just cause somebody says no, there could be so many reasons why they’re saying no that you don’t even know and maybe even if they tell you a reason it may not be the real reason. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person or you have horrible. People get so discouraged by that “Oh he doesn’t like me, he doesn’t like my work.” That’s usually not the case, there’s usually some other reason, sometimes it has nothing to do with you so you just have to ride it off and keep moving forward, that’s all you can do.
Matthias: Yeah and that’s a big issue that I’ve seen on social media because people post a photo and they ask for critiques and if they get a bad critique from someone they take it personal and they may even stop shooting or whatever. It’s clear everyone is kind of… they don’t want to be critiqued in a bad way but don’t take it for granted if someone on Facebook who you don’t even know says something bad about you and don’t take it personally. Have your dreams and just go for it. Even though it’s probably not the direct path and you’ll have to go a longer route just to get there, just live your dreams and stick to them.
David: Yeah, there you go.
Matthias: So, did you have any failures or projects that didn’t work out and what have you learnt from them?
David: I don’t know about anything in particular but like I said, that always happens. There are always going to be things that don’t work out, photographically I might try things, I might experiment with some things and a lot of the times it just doesn’t work. And even, like I said, in business, constantly, I can’t say it enough, people have no idea how often things don’t work out how you hoped but I choose not to dwell on those and if you learn something from it… I’ve had a gig that I didn’t get and then if I’m close enough to the manager or the person I was pitching and feel like I can ask them, I’ll say “Hey! Really, I can handle it, be honest with me: what’s the deal? Is it this or that?” And sometimes they’ll tell me and if you can learn from it and grow from it and move forward then that’s a win, that’s not a failure in my mind. So yeah, just learn from it and move forward.
Matthias: I heard this cool story about this Angry Birds app, which is everywhere or was everywhere, from this I think Swedish software company that Angry Birds was the 53rd game that they’d released. Can you imagine the years of struggling with games that didn’t work and they just kept going, probably if you just stick to something that is not working then after years you should just change your strategy…
David: ….but if they had had given up for the 52nd…
Matthias: Sure! It’d have never happened.
David: And they would’ve said “Well, we tried 52 times…” There you go. There are famous stories with Walt Disney about how many banks turned him down for a loan to start Disney World or whatever it was, 200 banks or something like that. If you believe in yourself and you really want to do it then you just find a way. I have a core belief in my system that I feel like there’s always a way of making it happen. It may not be exactly how you expected it. It may not be a direct route, but there’s always a way, you can figure it out. We’re smart people and you can find a way to get to what you want for the most part.
Matthias: Perfect. So, let’s talk about the teaching part. What are you doing?
David: What am I doing? Over the years I had a lot of speaking gigs and workshops and those kind of things occasionally here and there, again my primary focus was always as a working photographer and then people would ask me to do these things here and there and I would do them which was great. Well, a few years ago I was incredibly honoured to be made a Canon Explorer of light which is sort of their program, I think there are 42 or so photographers in the world that are part of this program and it’s such an honour and I’m humbled to be a part of this group of amazing photographers. With that has come a lot of other opportunities, I’ve done more and more speaking at photo expos and I was just in Imagining USA in Nashville and I was in Photo Plus in New York and to do those kind of things with Canon. Then I’m also developing some other workshops and one of the things that I’m sure this is what you do for a living and I get these emails all the time. People write me constantly and they say “I wanna do what you do, I wanna shoot concerts, I wanna be in the photo pit, can I carry your bag?” I get that all the time. And you know there’s really no way to do that and I started looking at the market out there and there are photo experiences, photo workshops for sports and headshots and travel and fashion and all those things, but there’s not much if anything for concerts and we know the reasons why. Bands are notoriously skittish about having too many photographers shoot them and the control of their image and all of that kind of thing so I thought well I’m kind of in a unique position because I have been a working photographer in the music business for a long time, I have a lot of connections in the industry over the years and I’m hopefully respected as a photographer and a teacher as well and can teach workshops. Not to be too much of a shameless plug but I added a new workshop series that I’m starting which is literally called shootfromthepit.com which I figured I’d go to some of my music clients and I’d say “Hey, let me use your concert as a backdrop for my workshop,” so I basically have people there and if it’s just a single day concert I’d have people joining during the day and I’ve done a couple of this already and they went really, really well. I have people come on the day and I teach them everything, everything I can about shooting a concert. OF course a lot of that overlapped with other photography, but we talk about the business and we talk about camera gear and we talk about remote cameras and shutter speed and aperture and dealing with lighting and dealing with crew and dealing with celebrities and all of that kind of stuff, everything that I could cram in one day. Then at the end of the day we get to graduate and shoot the actual shot. I did a couple of this last year with an artist named Andy Cramer, he’s a big pop star and a really great guy and they were nice enough to let us do this and it worked really, really well and the people that came out had a sort of bucket list, a one in a lifetime experience where they can actually shoot in the photo pit in a concert and we weren’t limited to three songs, we could wander around the venue and make wide shots, tight shots and look for cool angles and I was there with everybody the whole time so I could pull somebody over and say “Look at this angle, try this, mess with your shutter speed here or do this”
Matthias: How many photographers were there?
David: For those we maxed out to five because again, you can’t have too many people on the pit at the same time but the other thing is, I’ve started doing these at music festivals as well so these are multi-day events, I did one last year with a friend named Pat McGee, he’s a really great artist, he’s been around a long time and he does this 4 day music festival and about a dozen singer-songwriters come in it’s very casual, on the beach in North Carolina, there are concerts all throughout the thing and there are barbecues and things like that and that really give us an opportunity as a class to work more intensely and we can also do some portraits so I can pull one of the artists in and we can make a portrait and do portrait lighting and all of that and it’s all a lot of fun. It’s all the fun of being at the end, at the festival, but also getting a music photo experience and getting to shoot the actual shows in a way that you’d normally do. For the smaller bands we put strobes up and we’ll light it, at a club concert we’d put lights up and put gels on and change everything up and make it really fun. That’s been a big focus of mine lately and I’ve got two coming up I’ve got one with Pat McGee the same guy in North Carolina in May and then the big one is… I have a good relationship with a company called Sixth Man, they do these music cruises, right? We know about these rock cruises and they sort of invented the genre, they’re the company that do I think about a dozen of these per year.
Matthias: I didn’t know about these cruises a couple of months ago but then I did some interview with some guys that are cruise photographers so now I know that they exist and they’re a big thing in the US.
David: Yeah, it’s so much fun. I used to tour with a band called The Barenaked Ladies, a Canadian band who you may have heard of, and they did cruises three years in a row, I was just there with them as a photographer but now there’s one coming up next month It’s just in a few weeks, early March, with Pitbull, so they’re doing a Pitbull cruise, Pitbull after dark party or something like that and it’s Pitbull, Flo-rida and Becky G and a whole bunch of great artists and they allowed me to have the workshop on the ship, it’s the same thing, right? We get to spend time during the day and learning and shooting and having fun and then the people who attend get to shoot some of the shows on the ship, it’s gonna be so much fun. It’s a brand new concept, nobody’s really doing it like this and because you need that perfect storm of things to come together and make it happen, my goal is to expand these and to do them with other artists and do them with on tours and with other festivals and really I want to allow people to do something that they’ve always wanted to do and never thought that would have the chance and shoot from the pit at an actual concert.
Matthias: Yeah, I love the concept.
David: So, anyway, that’s enough to go in a long ramble there but that’s what I’m really focused on right now. Of course I still have my clients and I continue to shoot, that’s still something I love to do but this is gonna be a big focus of my career moving forward.
Matthias: What would you say is your main motivation to teach others? Because there are, as we know, a lot of guys out there who might see differently and don’t want to give away their secrets and then you have guys like us who want to help others.
David: I think you’re either just the kind of person who wants to help people or you’re not. Obviously it’s born out of demand; I know that people want this. I’m just not the kinda person who’s gonna hoard everything for myself. There’s plenty of bands, plenty of work to go around and there’s a whole new generation of young up and coming photographers who want to learn how to do it the right way and if I can help teach them that then why not, I’m not gonna be around forever, I can’t shoot everything myself so, why not? Some of the people who come to the workshops are actually people who will be or currently are working news photographers who want to work in the industry and some people are just hobbyist, advanced amateurs who want the experience so why not? I remember when I first was doing that digital thing at Sports Illustrated some of my friends said you’re gonna teach yourself out of the job. I was the only digital guy in the beginning so they had to send me to all the events, but then if everybody shoots digital then you’ll be out. Well, here’s the thing, that’s gonna happen anyway, everybody else is gonna be shooting digital in the next years, this was in the early 2000s.
Matthias: And you’re still around as a photographer, the living proof.
David: Yeah! I can be part of that transition instead of holding up in my castle saying “Noooo, nobody! Get of my lawn you damn kids!”
Matthias: And keep your photos on the hard drive so no one sees them.
David: Exactly, exactly.
Matthias: What would you say was the biggest takeaway of your career as a music photographer?
David: I really love watching people who are really good at what they do. Like the crew, those people are generally at the top of their game. The bands, what I’ve seen is that the ones that rise to the top are usually just really good at what they do, they work really hard and again, just like we’re talking about photographers, it’s easy to sit home and go “How come nobody likes my stuff?” Well, bands are the same way, there are plenty of talented people who just don’t have the drive or the ambition or whatever it is, that magic formula, to rise to the top and that doesn’t always mean that the best ones rise and the good ones don’t make it, but on average I’ve just seen… bands like Bon Jovi, I’ve seen them day in and day out and the work that they put in and that sort of New Jersey work ethic that they have really translates to success in the industry. When I started working for them –I’ll give you another quick example– if the lobby called time was 5:30, let’s say we’re going to the venue at 5:30 well, guess what, at 5:10 I’m in the lobby with my bags in the car and ready to go because if the band comes down at 5:20, they’re gonna leave. One of two things is gonna happen either they’re gonna say “Where’s Bergman?” which you don’t want anybody to say that or they’re just gonna leave without me so that work ethic is… most of these bands are run like a fortune company, it’s really professional, people think that it’s sex, drugs and rock’n’roll backstage but it’s not, this is a business. It may have been like that in the 70s or the 80s or I don’t know, I wasn’t there yet, but these days, this is a business and these are multi-million dollar acts and there’s a lot of things on the line so they take it very, very, seriously and that’s how bands like Bon Jovi have been able to do this for over 30 years. That’s been a good lesson for me and it really sort of made me up my game a little bit to work at that level and really be prepared for that.
Matthias: Do you regret anything in life looking back?
David: Do I regret anything in life? I don’t wanna sound like a jerk, but really I don’t because I just don’t live with regret, I don’t think regret is a useful emotion, again, if you do something that didn’t work out like you expected it you learn from it and you move on so I still see it as a positive. You go, you do what seems like the right thing to do at the time and you make the best decision you can and you move forward, so no, I don’t have any regrets.
Matthias: I like it, perfect. What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
David: Oh boy, that was some time ago. You know what? I think for anybody starting out what I’d have told myself is to take more business classes early on. It’s easy to focus on the creative side and that’s obviously important and you’re always gonna be growing and learning as a creative person, but the business side… You know how I was talking about that magic formula with the bands I think with creative artists of any kind, not being able to run business is gonna make things really challenging, I’ve learnt as I’ve gone along and I’m still not the greatest business man in the world, I’m much better than I was 25 years ago, but we’d all much rather be out taking pictures than sitting in front of quick books but the reality is you have to have a handle on that part of your business or you won’t be able to continue to do the work that you do. I wish I had paid more attention to Economics and taking those business classes early on.
Matthias: This is also what makes it interesting for me, because as a photographer you don’t just need to take good photos, but as you said you also need to know about the business part and in my case I started the HTBARP community and I was watching workshops and reading books about online marketing, how to build online communities. So for me it’s really versatile and that’s the cool thing because personally speaking, I think it wouldn’t be the best job for me if I had to do photoshoots all day long for a newspaper for example, but I’d love to have the freedom to shoot what I want and also have to think of all other stuff, like the business part.
David: Exactly, it’s a necessary evil, but you gotta stay on top of it.
Matthias: So, what does success mean to you?
David: Really, it’s just about being able to do what you love, I can’t really imagine doing anything else, I can’t imagine going into an office everyday and sitting in a cubicle, I’d probably get fired. I consider that a success. The money is nice, you make a lot of money but I think more important is to just enjoy everyday. Life is short, right? We never know when it’s gonna be over and why do something that you’re not enjoying, it’s just something that’s never made any sense to me. I’ve met people who say “Oh, I wish I could open a big shack in Paraguay,” well, just do it, find the way to do it. Life is too short. If you’re always waiting for the day…
Matthias: Yeah people always have excuses for their dreams.
David: Yes, there’s always an excuse. But there’s never gonna be a perfect day to pursue it, the day is today. So don’t wait around any longer.
Matthias: So, do you still have any dreams in your life or are you living the dream?
David: It sounds bad to say that, but yeah, I have business goals and I have some career goals but for the most part I’m moving in the right direction and again, I love what I do everyday so that to me… I could say I’m living my dreams.
Matthias: Congrats, because I think that most of the people on this planet are not living their dreams for the reason that we mentioned, you always find an excuse not to do it, there’s no time, whatever…
David: It’s really just fear, it’s fear of failure and again, if you don’t look at it as failure, you look at it as “Ok you tried something and you learnt from it and then you move on,” then that gets rid of some of that fear.
Matthias: So, let’s do a short Q&A, I’ll ask you 7 short questions, please answer them as quickly as possible. Nikon or Canon or another brand?
David: Canon, of course.
Matthias: Which camera model are you shooting with?
David: Mostly for the concerts it’s a 1DX Mark II, that’s sort of the big heavy sports camera action buddy.
Matthias: It’s a premium model from Canon, no?
David: Yeah, that’s the big boy.
Matthias: If you could only choose one lens for concert photography, which one would it be?
David: One lens? Probably the 24-105mm f4 it’s got a nice range on it.
Matthias: Favourite record of all time?
David: Oh, man, it’s so hard to pick one.
Matthias: It has to be Bon Jovi.
David: Well, I do love their stuff, but from when I was a kid I loved albums like… I’m a big fan of Yes 90210 album which is a bit obscure but every song on that album was great. It’s hard to pick one… I like Peter Gabriel, I like Sting, there’s a few others in there but I think that album the songs, the track to track is the best album of all time.
Matthias: Is there any music photographer you admire?
David: Sure there are so many. The late great Jim Marshall was a legend. If I had to pick one not living. And let’s see, living today… probably Danny Clinch, I love his work, I love his portraiture, it’s amazing. I’ve met him a few times and he seems like a nice guy who’s doing all the right things.
Matthias: Coolest concert you’ve shot so far?
David: I’d say maybe the 12-12-12 concert, I don’t know how much that got internationally, but that was on December 12th, 2012 after we had a hurricane here and it was a benefit show, Bon Jovi was there, but there was The Stones and The Who and Springsteen and McCartney and it was just an amazing line-up, but I was with Bon Jovi backstage and just walking down the hall you just see all these guys casually, it’s like “Holy cow! There’s Paul McCartney! And there is Mick Jagger!” That was pretty amazing to be there.
Matthias: Water or beer?
David: When I’m working, water, of course. Only water when I’m working, gotta stay hydrated. Maybe after the show I’d have some rum.
Matthias: Rum for editing.
Matthias: And which band is still on your concert photography bucket list?
David: You know what I’d say? Probably Sting. I’m a big Sting fan, I’ve seen him in concert many times, I’ve photographed him a couple of times but I never actually worked with him and I’d love to do a tour with him, that’d be on my bucket list.
Matthias: Nice. And the last question: what are your must have tips for someone that is starting out as a concert photographer?
David: If you’re starting out and you don’t have the connections with the big bands, really, start small. Everybody has got a friend who’s in a band and you can make great pictures anywhere. You don’t have to be on stage at a stadium in front of 100,000 people to make great pictures. If your friends’ band is playing at a prom or at a club, go with them, make pictures that are better than what anybody else would make that is there with their phone.
Matthias: It may be more fun than shooting all the big stars with contracts.
David: Sure, that definitely has its challenges, it’s still fun, but definitely there are challenges. But you can get all access with your friends’ band, you don’t need a photo pass, you can just go on stage and make pictures. It’s your buddies! Start with that and as you build up your portfolio, then you can use that to start making other pictures. I used to see that in the sport world too. When I’d do a portfolio review people would show me pictures and they may have a picture of the president of the US, but it’s them standing at a podium and they’re happy that they’ve photographed the president and my question always was: if that wasn’t a president, if that was somebody else, would that picture be in your portfolio? If the answer is no, then you get rid of it, cause it’s not a good picture. Just because you’ve photographed the president… loads of people have photographed the president. So, with your friends’ band you can get access than nobody else has and you can make unique pictures and if your work is good, it’ll stand out no matter who you’re photographing.
Matthias: Thank you so much David for your time and doing this interview, I really enjoyed it, really great information, and yeah, all the best! Are there still spots available for your cruise workshop?
David: Yes, there are! The cruise is coming up fast and the cabins are running out, so if you want to, shootfromthepit.com, you can see the info there and you can email me through that and I’ll get you the info, that’d be great.
Matthias: Maybe I’ll join next time.
David: You should! I’d love to have you, it’ll be a blast, it’s gonna be a big party this Pitbull cruise.
Matthias: Perfect, cool! All the best for your future and maybe see you sometime, somewhere.
David: Thanks Matthias, I appreciate it.
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