Photographer Spotlight: Carlo Cavaluzzi
Up next in our spotlight series is LA-based photographer Carlo Cavaluzzi, who was the worthy winner of this year’s Live category with his emphatic shot of JPEGMAFIA. Carlo touches upon tips for someone getting started, how he prepares to shoot a live show, creating a distinctive style and much more.
How did it feel to be nominated in the Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards 2023?
It was a whirlwind of emotions, but mostly positive. I was going through a bit of a tough transition going from doing mainly touring work to trying to get my footing locally in LA. It was reassuring that what I focus on the most is justified and agreed upon that I’m pretty decent at what I do.
Why do you think it is important to create a platform like the MPAs to showcase music photography?
There really isn’t much of a metric of success within this industry besides money and Instagram followers which I don’t think is that important. People take good photos and good photos should be rewarded regardless of their superficial reach. I foresee these awards going on indefinitely and consistently putting a spotlight on those who deserve it.
How did you fall into music photography specifically?
I used to use the website Last FM a bunch when I was in middle/high school and was enthralled by all the galleries of artist photos. I had a journalism teacher that told me they’ve gotten people passes to things before so I applied for Warped Tour and got in. After getting a bit of a taste and graduating, I started to shoot punk shows around Florida and that sorta set the trajectory for me.
Was there a particular image, body of work or photographer that was a major inspiration when starting out?
I remember going to Bonnaroo in 2014 and at that point I didn’t even imagine myself shooting festivals like that, just being a fan doing festival things. Afterwards, Pitchfork posted a photo gallery shot by Pooneh Ghana which blew my mind seeing all the artists I saw transformed into beautiful photos and that sort of set my brain where it should be.
What makes a good subject in music photography and what makes a good music photographer?
I think merely putting this into words is one of the hardest parts about the job because there is no real answer to either. Anybody can be interesting and anybody can take a great photo. I think if you want to take a “good photo,” your subject should be the least interesting part of the photo and I think a “good photo” is one which you could reverse engineer and break down every detail that went into it.
What advice would you give to someone getting started?
Shoot a show. Shoot more shows. Keep shooting. Know your value and know the value of others. Cost-benefit analysis.
How did you go about building a portfolio?
As far as photos go, it’s been nearly a decade so I got plenty of photos. As far as design goes, my brother is a UI/UX expert and tipped me off on a website builder I won’t give away.
What are your top tips you can give to any music photographer?
Shoot a month on manual focus only. Only use manual settings. Challenge yourself, life isn’t meant to be easy. Shoot every single thing that isn’t music so you can see how interconnected everything is. Stop using presets, tune presets you like to be your own. Store your RAW files. Get nice earplugs. Wear comfy shoes. Pack an extra SD card in your car. Send your edits and invoice the same night. Cropping is fine if you have the megapixels to spare, but understand that images are ROUNDER when wide. Don’t use a bag that pulls in one direction of your back. Look behind you before you put your camera in the air. Befriend fans who are in ideal vantage points to borrow their spot. Plan your pathing before the show begins. Don’t be a fan, but don’t not be a fan. Stay hydrated.
What are some post-processing techniques that can enhance your music photography?
Less is usually more, you never want to distract the viewer.
How do you create a distinctive style and visual identity in your music photography?
I once heard Stewart Copeland of The Police say that every drum part ever had already been played before. I think the same thing is true with photography. I think some people are meant to stand in and others are meant to stand out and if you’re meant to stand out you probably just will naturally without trying.
When shooting a live show, how do you prepare? What challenges do you typically face?
I like to be familiar with the music that I’m dealing with. If I’m nervous, I’ll look up a previous date online for a setlist/general studying of the lighting I’ll be dealing with. Can’t say there’s a typical challenge I face consistently anymore but a little bit of nervousness is never a bad thing. I always want to deliver the best of my work and there’s always a tiny fear that I won’t meet that standard.
Do you have a preference of working on location/on tour vs in a studio?
I like touring the most but also like shooting shows in LA because I like going home after. I don’t do that much studio work but I enjoy it.
Creativity / Inspiration:
Can you share some insights into your creative process? Are there any specific techniques or equipment you prefer to use?
I think you should always exist in a creative mindset regardless if you’re creating anything or not. I shoot on Leica equipment because I like them and they make the highest quality of gear.
In your opinion, what distinguishes a remarkable photograph from an ordinary one? What elements do you priorities when framing your shots?
There’s a little bit of randomness to everything, but being ready for the randomness is the important part. You can miss a perfect moment and beat yourself up about it, but it’s fine! You gotta be nimble. Composition varies within the moment and I really don’t know how teachable it is. Know what to cut off and what not to cut off, what details add to the narrative and what takes away from it.
Do you think there’s a genre of music that naturally lends itself to photography?
I started out shooting DIY scenes and punk shows in assorted living rooms and bars in Florida. I think the real answer to this question is NO, because nothing is truly pure in any way, but my experience with these scenes is there’s very little of these spaces that are trying to play things up for the camera and are just naturally real. Anything that can find this world as a touchstone falls into the same category as good to document.
Who is someone, alive or dead, you’d love to photograph?
Alive: The Hives, Lorde, and Kanye West
Broken up: The Chariot, Title Fight, Blood Brothers
Dead: Power Trip, Turning Point, J Dilla
Working with artists:
How does your approach differ when working with upcoming talent versus established artists?
Should all be the same. If I have 5 minutes with an artist, we talk for 4 minutes and shoot for 1.
Can you share an interesting or memorable experience you've had while collaborating with an artist?
I’ve spent dozens and dozens of hours with Danny Brown while working on his collab album with JPEGMAFIA and I think at least 3/4th of that time was spent watching him watch YouTube videos of people eating Subway or drinking entire bottles of liquor to 3 viewers.
How does the photographic process differ between working with introverts and extroverts?
As I said before, you spend as much time as you can chatting with the person and getting them to open up. Works either way.
Have you ever been starstruck when photographing someone? How do you overcome that?
I’ve had moments of shooting sets of artists I adore where I get a little distracted from shooting, but then I get nervous and have the fear of taking bad photos of someone I look up to. As far as one-on-one stuff goes, it’s easy to break down the barrier of fan/work by keeping it simple. Tell the artist you’re a fan, but keep it moving. As few syllables as possible.
Business / Social Media:
How has social media shaped music photography, both as a craft more generally, as well as your personal work?
I don’t want to say that social media has inherently made music photography worse, but it sorta has. Horizontal images are preferred, people don’t look through entire galleries, and not getting likes makes it feel like the photos are bad. At the same time, it provides a platform of portfolio and networking. Balance is important.
What are some common mistakes new photographers make when starting out on the business side of things, and how can they be avoided?
I think it’s clear that photographers get taken advantage of since there’s such a large amount of hobbyists that do work for free/cheap. At the same time, I think there’s a middle ground where photographers can provide work to up and coming musicians/clients to help build stronger connections that could lead to bigger things. Once again, all about balance.
In one word, how would you describe your photography?