Many people have perceptions of what a music photographer must be like. Some live manic lifestyles going from one national tour to the next, showcasing the world’s largest acts, others head over to the local VFW and take some photos of the weekly band. There are a million different versions of what a music photographer is. A photographer’s individualism is arguably their most defining characteristic. What sets them apart from everyone else? Is it their lavish lifestyle? Painfully admirable work ethic? Relatable social media presence?
Or can it be something more raw, more human?
The intimacy that Dieter Unrath captures in his photos mirrors his passion, and perhaps necessity, to continue shooting. The raw nature of his photography strips away the frills that come with the music industry. No one is holding your hand along the way, no one is consoling you at every turn. People like Dieter are working hard to get where they are. The 23 year old has expanded his work into life on the road, becoming one of music’s up-and-coming photographers.
I decided to pick his brain on his path to photography and where he is at today.
What inspired you to get into photography?
I’ve always had an interest in photography for as long as I can remember but didn’t really start shooting until a few years ago. I received a small DSLR camera as a graduation present and brought it to a show the band I was in at the time was playing. I shot all the opening bands for fun and everyone liked the photos I got. I soon started shooting every show my band was playing, and then eventually shows we weren’t playing. I fell in love really quickly. Within a few months I was on my first tour and it’s been a passion ever since.
When you’re on the road, what do you do to not go insane?
I’m insane enough at home, so when you’re living in a van with the same five or six people for a month it can be difficult. Touring schedules are crazy, so I’m usually busy enough between editing, shooting, and selling merch to keep my mind occupied and away from bad thoughts which is good. However, sometimes when we’re sleeping in the van for five or six nights in a row, it can really aggravate my anxiety and depression. You’re also constantly around people when touring and a lot of my anxiety is social-based. So whenever I get the chance, usually after load in or before bed, I’ll stroll around wherever we are at the time and maybe snap some pictures to escape the noise and clear my head. Listening to music or playing games is also helpful on long van rides or times where there’s nothing to do. Shooting photos and editing are my escape even not on the road, so those are always soothing times of the day. Mostly when I feel myself getting restless in the head, I try to remind myself how cool it is to be doing what I’m doing and how lucky I am to have these experiences. I try my best to embrace the time for what it is and not let it stress me out.
Are there things you do to stay disciplined with your work?
I try to keep to a set schedule when on the road. After shooting a set, I’ll import my photos immediately and then work the merch table for the rest of the night if I’m responsible for that. My goal is always to have photos in the Dropbox before everyone is asleep for the night. Occasionally I’ll have to finish edits in the morning if it was a particularly busy or tiring night. I make sure to be disciplined with all this because of the amount of shooting on tour. If I were to fall behind on edits for a day, photos would pile up and everyone, myself included, would get unhappy.
When at home and in school like I am right now, I usually have the opposite problem and am not shooting enough. I try to force myself to get out and take photos or at least make some creative edit once or twice a week at minimum just to keep my eye sharp. I don’t like seeing my art become stagnant and always want to be advancing it or trying something new, even if I’m in a different routine such as college.
Any interesting tour stories?
This past summer I was on Vans Warped Tour with Carousel Kings. We had 12 hour drive from Portland Warped Tour to somewhere south of San Francisco for an off show the next day, so I was riding shotgun on the overnight portion of the drive. Sometime around 4AM we stopped at a gas station in southern Oregon. I wanted a snack, so I took the backpack containing my camera out of the floor of the passenger seat where it was and put it on the ground so I could find my wallet which had fallen on the same floor. I was almost up for 24 hours straight at this point and had a whole day of Warped Tour in that time, so I obviously wasn’t thinking straight and somehow forgot to put my bag back in the van. As we pull away, we hear a bump and I figure we hopped the curb or something.
A few seconds later the gas station attendant comes running after us with a backpack in hand yelling “Hey! I think you forgot this!”. At this moment, my heart sank as I realized I forgot the bag and we had just ran it over. I waited almost ten minutes before opening it up to find what I suspected, a crushed camera. I was pretty devastated as I had this camera for three years and now had nothing for the tour. However, I was able to sell enough prints and get enough donations from my friends and followers to rent a camera for the remainder of tour, and eventually purchase a new one after. I felt really dumb about the whole situation and still do, but it taught me to be more careful with my gear.
What advice do you have for aspiring music photographers?
Get a fast lens, a cheap flash, and start shooting small shows. Vfw or bar type gigs. Don’t worry about money at first. Your pictures will probably suck for a while, so don’t get discouraged. Just make sure you’re trying something new everytime you shoot. Shoot things other than music too. Portraits, landscapes, whatever. It’ll help you learn more about your camera and style.
Make friends with bands in your local scene. One of them is gonna take you on tour eventually once they get bigger, if that’s a goal of yours. Make friends with other photographers you like. Apply for some outlets once you have a portfolio if you want to shoot bigger shows, or just hit up band members on social media and ask if they want photos. Sneak your camera into a show if you have to and shoot from the crowd. Fuck the police.
Also, spend a lot of time editing. Get Lightroom and mess around with color curves and split toning. I’ve spent so many hours playing with the endless editing combinations. It’s fine to emulate other photographers or editing styles. If you’re using presets that’s fine too. Realize that there’s no rules to this photography thing as much as some people like to think there is, so do whatever you want shooting or editing wise and don’t worry about what others think. However, the photographers who stand out are those who are putting out different work from the rest or are trying new things, so keep that in mind! Most importantly have fun with what you’re doing. Music photography is really cool and we’re lucky to be able to indulge in it. Enjoy!
Featured image by Ryan Knowles @duskofus
All concert photos by Dieter Unrath