Photographer Spotlight: Nicole Fara Silver
From how it felt to be nominated, what makes a good subject in music photography and advice for anyone who’s getting started – read in full below.
How did it feel to be nominated in the Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards 2023?
It was an honour and a surprise! I grew up in awe of Abbey Road Studios because of everyone who recorded there, and to have my work recognised was extremely special.
Why do you think it is important to create a platform like the MPAs to showcase music photography?
Music photography doesn’t get the recognition it deserves! In its purest form, it’s the documentation of history. Whether in the studio, on tour, or on stage, great music photography shows the audience what they can’t pay to see. It’s extremely important that it’s celebrated, especially as attitudes toward photographers and filmmakers have changed over the past few years. Restricting access means restricting the documentation of history. People lose their minds over documentaries like 'The Beatles: Get Back' and yet they would literally not exist without all the people behind the lens and their archival footage.
Have you seen any benefits to you since being nominated?
It’s been really nice meeting and getting to know my fellow nominees! Photography as a career can feel kind of isolating at times and to be able to connect with a community of photographers has been rejuvenating.
How did you fall into music photography specifically?
Music and photography have always been my two greatest comforts. My dad was a photographer and taught me how to use a camera at an early age. I was a pretty shy kid so taking photos became an outlet for me. I also grew up in a music-loving household. There was always music playing and I devoured everything my parents played for me. We lived across the street from a famous music venue, so I would constantly see tour buses and sprinter vans lining the streets, and something about that made the musicians feel both magical and accessible. As I got older it was kind of natural that the two interests intersected. I knew by around age 15 that all I wanted to do was be near the music, the people making the music, and the people loving the music. I wanted to tell their stories.
Was there a particular image, body of work or photographer that was a major inspiration when starting out?
In high school, I discovered the photography of Baron Wolman, Henry Diltz, Bob Gruen, Jim Marshall, Linda McCartney, etc. It blew my mind that these photographers hung out with Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, The Beatles, took these photos, and documented the spirit of the '60s & '70s - an extraordinary time period in music that we will never get back. Beyond my love and devotion to the music itself, I was fascinated with the preservation of its history. Those photos blew my mind, and here we are.
What makes a good subject in music photography and what makes a good music photographer?
A good subject is open, trusting and willing to play. A good photographer is patient, adaptable, and able to put a subject at ease so they feel comfortable on camera. It’s all about connection and collaboration. You’re making something in conversation with the artist, to represent the artist. If they are comfortable with you, it will be easy for you to capture something real, something natural, something they would never see in themselves.
What advice would you give to someone getting started?
Wear earplugs!!! Seriously. I cannot overstate this. If you can’t afford nicer ones, the little foam earplugs will do. If you keep forgetting them, put a pair in every jacket pocket you own. Protecting your ears is so important. Ok, now that your hearing is safe: Shoot everything and talk to everyone! You never know where life is going to take you, or where it’s going to take the people you come up with. Those people you’re in the trenches with in your early career will be on the journey with you for far longer than you expect. They’ll become your community, they’ll recommend you for jobs in the future when they’re booked, they’ll be a sounding board when you have a question about contracts. Invest in your tribe! There’s only a handful of people that truly understand our weird little world, keep them close.
How did you go about building a portfolio?
After I graduated college, a friend called me up with an idea to start a music blog. We applied for photo passes and wrote concert reviews, did interviews and took live photos for our own site. By the time we decided to end the blog, I had built up enough of a portfolio to begin pitching and shooting for other publications.
What are your top tips you can give to any music photographer?
Be present. Especially when it comes to live music photography, there is always a lot going on around you and staying present and in the in the moment will help keep you grounded. Always fill out your metadata after a shoot - for the opening acts too! You may think you’ll remember the band names, the venue locations, the dates but trust me, years down the line you won’t remember and future you will thank you. Triple check your gear before you leave - make sure you have all your batteries and memory cards - there’s nothing worse than getting to a shoot and realizing you’re missing a card!
What are some post-processing techniques that can enhance your music photography?
After a few years of shooting and developing my editing style, I finally saved a pre-set of my settings and metadata. Now, when I import a photo set, I automatically apply those settings and then go through each photo and tweak the edits individually. It saves so much precious time.
How do you create a distinctive style and visual identity in your music photography?
When in doubt, study the greats! The classic shots are classics for a reason. Ultimately, the best thing you can do is go with your gut. Everyone’s eye is different, everyone’s style is different, everyone’s preferences are different, editing trends come and go. Find a balance that feels like you and tune out the noise.
When shooting a live show, how do you prepare? What challenges do you typically face?
Before a shoot, I will usually do some quick research on the artist. I’ll watch any live videos of them that are out there, and I’ll look to see how they’ve been photographed the past. I like to go into a shoot with an idea of what I’d like to accomplish, but I don’t hold on too tightly to it. Then usually I end up listening to their music on repeat until the shoot. My end of the year wrapped playlists tend to be very random!
Do you have a preference of working on location/on tour vs in a studio?
I love both! There’s a certain energy and spontaneity that you can only find on location / on tour. It keeps you on your toes, and I love that adrenaline, but in a studio, you can really dig in deep with someone.
Creativity / Inspiration*
Can you share some insights into your creative process? Are there any specific techniques or equipment you prefer to use?
I think the best way to stay creative is to consume lots of different kinds of art. Movies, TV, Books, paintings - all of that can inform the creative process. It’s good to sometimes take a step back from the photo world and take a look around. I started shooting on Canon when I was a teen and I am loyal! Although, I do love my Polaroid camera - the process is fun and magic. There isn’t a person out there who doesn’t get excited when a Polaroid camera comes out. It’s a great icebreaker.
In your opinion, what distinguishes a remarkable photograph from an ordinary one? What elements do you priorities when framing your shots?
A remarkable photo captures the energy and emotion of a moment. It allows you to time travel back to a split second that would otherwise be lost.
Do you think there’s a genre of music that naturally lends itself to photography?
Rock n’ Roll! I might be biased because it’s also my favorite genre, but there’s something about the chaos and energy that lends itself really well to being photographed.
Who is someone, alive or dead, you’d love to photograph?
Oh there are so many people. The Rolling Stones. David Bowie. Jim Morrison. Elton John. Reneé Rapp. Harry Styles. Margo Price. Glen Hansard!
Working with artists:
How does your approach differ when working with upcoming talent versus established artists?
Fundamentally, my approach doesn’t differ too much with upcoming talent vs established artists. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: to have a good experience and come away with some great photos.
Can you share an interesting or memorable experience you've had while collaborating with an artist?
Boy George was surprisingly well versed in cameras. He immediately asked me about my gear and we spent a good chunk of time geeking out!
How does the photographic process differ between working with introverts and extroverts?
If I sense that someone is a bit more introverted, I’ll take some extra time to talk with them one on one before reaching for my camera. Extroverts are usually ready to go from the onset, but I’ve found that someone who tends to be more introverted will benefit from building up a bit of a bond and trust before jumping in.
Have you ever been starstruck when photographing someone? How do you overcome that?
I’ve been lucky enough to photograph some true icons and I have definitely been starstruck! I usually will take a moment to silently freak out, then I take a deep breath and remind myself that they are just people. They have friends and family and joys and stresses just like everyone else. I try to approach everyone with that same grace and just relate to them on a human to human level.
Business / Social Media:
How has social media shaped music photography, both as a craft more generally, as well as your personal work?
To be honest, I have conflicting feelings about social media. On the one hand, I think it’s great for community building and for giving people a portfolio platform they wouldn’t have necessarily had otherwise. The creativity I’ve seen from photographers I would have never crossed paths with in the past is really amazing. On the other hand, I think people have a tendency to “shoot for Instagram” now and the ethos of the art can get lost. The best work is made outside of the confines of social media’s image dimensions and algorithms. Social media has also made the market feel oversaturated. Everyone is a photographer now, and I think it has become more difficult to convince some people that music photography is an art and a service that should be paid for, instead of something re-posted with credit.
What are some common mistakes new photographers make when starting out on the business side of things, and how can they be avoided?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you won’t learn unless you ask.
In one word, how would you describe your photography?