Photographer Spotlight: Erik Weiss
Erik’s iconic image of De La Soul from 2004 was nominated in the Hip Hop 50 category at the 2023 awards. From his path into music photography to his top tips for preparing on shooting a live show, Erik shares all in this latest spotlight piece.
How did it feel to be nominated in the Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards 2023?
It was great to be shortlisted and to know that my entry was chosen from so many submissions.
Why do you think it is important to create a platform like the MPAs to showcase music photography?
There is no such thing as music photography as an independent genre. All kinds of genres can be found under this label (documentary, portrait, still life, etc.), which is perhaps the reason why there has hardly been a corresponding photo competition to date. I think it's all the more important to have a photo competition like the MPAs.
Have you seen any benefits to you since being nominated?
There has been a certain amount of attention via social media.
How did you fall into music photography specifically?
It's perhaps a little unusual, but my background is in architectural photography. Over time, however, that became a little too static for me, so I wanted to work more with people. At some point, I also started taking portraits of musicians and began working for music magazines.
Was there a particular image, body of work or photographer that was a major inspiration when starting out?
I bought an album in a second hand store just because I liked the cover photo so much. The album was by Peter Murphy and was called Holy Smoke and the photo was by Anton Corbijn.
What makes a good subject in music photography and what makes a good music photographer?
You can recognise a good photo after 1/60 of a second, but a good photographer sometimes needs a little longer for this.
What are some post-processing techniques that can enhance your music photography?
Like probably everyone else, I work with Photoshop. However, I always aim to achieve my goal while I'm taking the photos. Image editing tends to play a subordinate role.
When shooting a live show, how do you prepare?
- If I only have the first three songs (which is often standard), then you can just try to work very quickly and take everything you can.
- If I have to photograph the whole show, then I often take a close look at the venue in advance and organise access to many places to photograph the show from all directions. This can sometimes be the ceiling of the hall or the roof of the stadium to photograph the show from above.
What challenges do you typically face?
One challenge is the security staff at the venue. If I'm photographing the whole show and am out and about in the hall, I walk all the routes beforehand and introduce myself to the security people so that they've already seen me. You can't do that during the show because it's too loud and then you might not get to where you want to go.
Do you have a preference of working on location/on tour vs in a studio?
No, I love both.
I spent several weeks on tour with "The Killers" in the US and Europe and documented their "tour life" for a coffee table book, from a secret show in a small club in Texas to their concert at Wembley Stadium... it was so great that I would do it again anytime. At the same time, I also love working with artists in the studio or under studio-like conditions.
Creativity / Inspiration
Can you share some insights into your creative process? Are there any specific techniques or equipment you prefer to use?
It's not very spectacular. I need a good idea, a good location, sometimes a prop - that's it . The equipment is secondary. Whether you shoot with Nikon or Canon, 35mm or medium format, analog or digital is irrelevant.
Do you think there’s a genre of music that naturally lends itself to photography?
No, I wouldn't single out any genre in particular. I love working for all genres.
Who is someone, alive or dead, you’d love to photograph?
I would have loved to photograph Maria Callas, but unfortunately she died far too young. Of the "living artists", I would love to do a session with Billie Eilish.
Working with artists
How does your approach differ when working with upcoming talent versus established artists?
It's super exciting to work with up-and-coming artists. They haven't "seen and experienced everything" yet, they are easier to get excited about something new
Can you share an interesting or memorable experience you've had while collaborating with an artist?
I had an appointment with "The Strokes". I printed out every single letter of the band name (i.e. S, T, R, O, K, E and S ) in large letters and put them on a sign with "The" on it. I wanted the band to hold the signs up like in a demonstration. Everyone liked the idea and joined in...except one member. He probably didn't think it was such a great idea and always held his letter the wrong way round or turned away. I realised this at some point and we left out most of the signs and only kept the "The" sign in the motif for the last photos. Now all the band members were finally in agreement and my favourite photo from the session was taken. Many bands had a "The" in front of their name back then, but The Strokes were and still are one of the most important. Thanks for the collaboration The Strokes and Nick Valensi.
How does the photographic process differ between working with introverts and extroverts?
It is undoubtedly easier to work with extroverted artists. However, some of these artists turn out to be shy and somewhat insecure in front of the camera. That can be exciting. Then you have to encourage them and give them the feeling that you are realising a common idea here.
Have you ever been starstruck when photographing someone? How do you overcome that?
No, I've never had that moment. All there was was maximum anticipation, for example before I met the Beastie Boys or Kendrick Lamar. I can fully enjoy the moment of working with these artists.
Business / Social Media
How has social media shaped music photography, both as a craft more generally, as well as your personal work?
With social media, everything is available much faster, especially in concert photography. Fans post the first photos and videos during the concert, so the artist or band can no longer afford to wait several days before reporting on the same event. Newspapers and magazines are also usually very quick to get involved. For the "conceptual" work, i.e. working on covers, artwork or press photos, however, not so much has changed, as this process takes place in the run-up to a release and also "in secret".
In one word, how would you describe your photography?