Metal Insider recently caught up with renowned metal photographer Jeremy Saffer to talk about a wide variety of topics ranging from his favorite bands to shoot to the upcoming seminar he’s hosting. You’ve probably seen his pictures in Revolver and Outburn, and he shot No Label Needed winners Iron Thrones, but here’s some insight from the man himself.
How did you break into shooting metal bands?
Basically I grew up on metal. When I was 10 I went to my first few metal shows which were Metallica/Guns ‘N Roses/Danzig/Morbid Angel/Napalm Death etc. Since a young age, my affinity for metal has been my roots and foundation of any and all music in my life. So naturally when I first started shooting concerts, it was namely to be as close as possible to my favorite bands and to capture them at that point in time, which to me, bands like Nevermore, Opeth, Cradle of Filth, Mayhem, Satyricon, Immortal, it was a dream come true, and that was prior to it ever becoming a job. As I kept on doing live shows for fun, that all traversed into doing photo sessions, and eventually working as a full time photographer.
You’re well known for being a metal photographer. What’s the difference between photographing metal bands and other bands?
Metal is the strongest and most diverse genre of music. It also has the strongest minded fans on earth. When shooting a metal band, depending on what sub-genre it is, you really want to put that band into a location that fits them, and use lighting that works for their look. For example: for a black metal band you’d probably want to use lighting that will cause a lot of shadow in a dark location, whereas shooting a thrash band, you’d want brighter lighting and can shoot in a hotel room with beer bottles everywhere. You have to capture both the essence and the personality of the individual band.
Explain what your upcoming music Photography Master Class course is about.
The class covers every aspect of being a photographer in the music industry – from getting into it, who to contact, how to contact them, how to set up photoshoots, live shows, how to apply to magazines, labels, touring, what gear to use, and how to use lighting properly. On the second day, a professional band comes in and the students get to apply what they learned and do photoshoots with a well known band – which not only adds to their portfolio but gives it a big kick up. The bottom line is I teach how to do everything I do, why I do it, and how to make it their own. Basically, how to make music photography go from a hobby to a full time career.
Who are the guest bands?
Cant say quite yet, but heres a hint: a female fronted goth/metal band from NYC.
Why do you have David Brodsky shooting the DVD?
David has been not only a really really good friend for a long time, but hes also THE metal video director. To me, in some way, he’s the video equivalent of what I do in photography. Not that we have the same style, but we work with all the same people, we cross paths often, and we really enjoy the occasions where we get to hang out as well as his lovely lady Allie. So needless to say it made sense if we were there – to have David shoot it and maybe even try to get him to chime in on some industry stuff.
What kind of features do you plan on having on it?
Aside from the seminar, I’m not sure, maybe a disc of behind the shoot footage that I’ve been collecting for a while with a voice over of me explaining what im doing and why.
What generates the most income for you? Band photo promos, endorsement shots, or fine art photography?
It changes every year. One year i ended up doing four weddings for friends in bands/models i work with – and it turned out to be those four weddings (as two were VERY lavish) trumped my band photography pay. Generally my bank comes from band session work.
How is shooting your corpse paint photography different from shooting bands?
The corpse paint nude project is basically combining the two worlds and genres I photograph. There isn’t much difference in most of it – as a lot of it is fine art photography, which I’ve been doing for a while – so the main difference would be the fact that the model is wearing corpse paint – and i suppose the other difference is sometimes i will give them poses I would give to a band like Behemoth or Dimmu , a real metal all-out evil type of pose rather then a traditional fine art pose.
What have your favorite bands been to work with?
I always love getting the opportunity to work with my friends, or shoot a band that becomes good friends. When I work with a band a few times, its always more fun shooting them. I really like working with Behemoth, All That Remains, Shadows Fall, Unearth, The Acacia Strain (the last four are hometown basically), Jeffree Star, Eighteen Visions (was prob my fav to shoot for a long tine), Lacuna Coil, Hatebreed, and of course getting to work with legends like Earth Crisis, Slayer, House of Pain, and The Misfits is always super super exciting. The coolest thing was getting to shoot Earth Crisis at their reunion – because they are personal heroes of mine – then being asked by the band to shoot them multiple times and having them become personal friends.
Do you have any nightmare stories?
Many! One time I was out near Buffalo shooting Earth Crisis for To the Death and I only had one assistant. I was using two umbrellas for lighting and there was 40-50MPH winds, so strong that the umbrellas turned inside out! It was a great shoot, but the lights went over probably 4 or 5 times. They didn’t break, but those umbrellas were done by the time i got home the next day. Weather, especially wind, can be my greatest enemy in photography I did a shoot with Our Last Night on a frozen lake, which wouldnt have been terrible but the wind was 40mph, so the 40 degrees turned to 3 degrees. It wasn’t fun but we got awesome shots. Sometimes you have to really torture a band just a tad to get excellent shots.
What’s your normal equipment setup?
Canon Mark2 1ds
Canon 70-200 2.8 is L lens
24-70 2.8 L USM lens
6 Profoto compact 300s (i use 2, sometimes 3, RARELY ever 4)
3×4, 1×4 soft boxes
A beauty dish
Canon Mark 2 1ds
Canon 24-70 2.8 L USM lens
Canon 16-35 2.8 L lens
15mm fisheye lens
4 dynalite uni400 jackrabbits – usually use 2 – sometimes 1 sometimes 3 – rarely ever 4
Umbrellas, 3×4 softboxes
A beauty dish
All the lenses listed above
Speedlite with 80-20 lumiquest light mod with diffusion
Do you ever shoot with film, or have you always been digital?
I started with disposable film cameras, then went digital and never went back. Film is a dead medium used for pseudo artistic integrity. Ii don’t need to prove I’m an artist because i dont think I am one!
What advice would you have for anyone looking to break into photography?
Never tell yourself no, always try anything, never stop or get discouraged. If I can do this, anyone can do this if they really put everything they are behind it. Oh – and go to the workshop!