The third creative we are spotlighting is one I have had the chance to share the photo pit with. Her name is Michelle Shiers and she has photographed some of the biggest names in music. If you have ever been to a show at The Greek Theatre in L.A. or follow their Instagram. Then you’ve already seen her in action or hit like on her work.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: First question is why do you love music?
MICHELLE SHIERS: Music has always had a special way of making me feel singular and also part of a group at the same time. It’s probably the closest I get to feeling some type of religion. It gives me something to look forward to and something new to discover and songs to enjoy as much as I want. It allows for such an individual experience of listening to a song over and over and feeling like it was directed right at you. AND, it also allows for you to join in a big crowd of people who all share your fandom like your part of something bigger. I’ve always loved how music has sound-tracked my life and worked as a time machine, bringing me back to flashbulb memories and bygone feelings.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Can you tell us your backstory and how you got your start with photography?
MICHELLE SHIERS: I got started doing music photography as a hobby. I always enjoyed taking photos of my friends and when I started going to concerts as a teen, I would cut a hole in the lining of my purse and drop a small camera in there to sneak in past security. I always wanted my shots of gigs, but I never considered photography in any professional or artistic sense or even thought I had any talent to go for it. Once I moved up to LA, my now-husband would sometimes have me take photos of his band, live or in-studio. This was so entertaining for me that I commandeered his camera and started taking photos of anything (mostly my dog). It soon blossomed into a full-fledged passion that settled as though it was there all along. I suppose it was! Eventually, a friend of mine strongly encouraged me to start a blog, after which I realized shooting musicians was what I sought most, so I focused on that. I never expected anything to come of it, but the more I photographed, the more opportunities I drew in to shoot shows, which eventually turned into bigger opportunities. I got to shoot for Buzzbands LA for quite a while which exposed me to so many great artists and helped me get noticed by venues and bands who needed a photographer. Now I can’t look back.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: How did you end up working as house photographer at The Greek Theater and at Spaceland LA events? What has been the most rewarding aspects of both jobs?
MICHELLE SHIERS: Both of these just feel like dumb luck. I think Kevin Bronson of Buzzbands recommended me for Spaceland after I helped them out with some picture usage when they were down a photographer. I was surprised to hear he did that but I never thought they’d need me. At the time, they already had a house shooter but I think they ended up needing a second person on occasion. With his recommendation, I was so grateful that they thought of me when they went to hire someone else. That was incredible and I’ve done a lot of photography for them at The Echo, The Echoplex, the Regent Theatre and a few others. So many cool shows happen in that indie scene around LA as it’s such a rich atmosphere. The Greek was also just luck. I shot there a few times and when I noticed the Greek Instagram liked a couple of my posts, I just let them know that I loved their venue and if they ever needed a house photographer, I would be there with bells on. Eventually, as a new season approached, they did need to hire a house photographer and I am so thankful they invited me!
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: What is a typical day like for you as the house photographer at The Greek?
MICHELLE SHIERS: The Greek is a fantastic venue to work for and I look forward to going there every time I’m scheduled. Typically, I can arrive an hour or so before the show begins. I go in the office and organize my gear and then I walk around the grounds to see if there are any fun photos of excited patrons I can take or any set ups with vendors or radio stations. I then meet in a spot with all the other photographers to be ushered into the barricade, or if we are shooting from the soundboard, I just pick a spot up there a few minutes before it begins. Then, I do my shooting for the first three songs and retreat back into the office to edit some of the best ones for the Greek to post on social media that night. I do the same thing for the headliner and then I pop out again to get wider shots of the whole venue from a few different corners and elevations. This is pretty good cardio, too. Then, I enjoy the rest of the show if I want to! It’s a very rewarding job and I am so grateful to have been asked back for 3 seasons. Hopefully a 4th once live music is safe again!
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: What advice would you give to young creatives wanting to work in concert photography?
MICHELLE SHIERS: I would tell them to practice a lot! Practice on their friends’ bands, practice in small venues that allow cameras and practice in very dimly lit situations. Once they feel comfortable, I recommend just reaching out to some smaller local publications. It’s easier for established publications to get press-passes to shows, and some of them may be looking for an eager photographer. There’s a lot of unpaid portfolio-building in the beginning, but it’s still very rewarding as you meet people, build relationships, and learn so much on the way. It’s a challenging industry especially in this age when everyone has a camera in their pocket, or where publications are struggling to compensate writers and photographers. But, if you keep your head down and do your best while supporting your peers (of which you’ll have many after shooting elbow to elbow in the photo trenches) you’ll gain more opportunities than you expected!
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: You also photograph musicians during sessions and portraits. What’s biggest difference between this and concert work? What advice do you have for photographers wanting to branch off into this?
MICHELLE SHIERS: The biggest differences here are control and intimacy, I think. In concert photography, you have no control over what the artist will do, what the lighting will be like, or how long you have to photograph. You’re also sometimes one of many shooters in there scrambling for a spot. Some photographers thrive on the suspense, unpredictability, and rush. It’s exciting nearly every time! Some people prefer much more control over their subject, the lighting, and their vantage point. So those are photographers that thrive more in portraiture, I believe. I love studio photography because that’s a much more delicate dance of sitting back (or sometimes hiding in a corner) and capturing the artist concentrated at work as unobtrusively as possible. If you’re in a studio with your friends and you can be more present and vocal, it’s really fun. You truly feel a part of their recording process. If you’re with musicians who don’t know you or feel vulnerable in front of a camera, it’s best to be as quiet as a fly on the wall. That intimacy will come through in the photos.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Let’s talk gear! What gear do you use?
MICHELLE SHIERS: I use a Canon 5D Mark IV, a 24-70 2.8, a 70-200 2.8, my favorite 50mm 1.2 (for those poorly-lit venues and vibey studios) and I more recently got a Sigma 35mm 1.4 as well. Oh! And I have a 15mm fisheye 2.8 which comes out sometimes. At the Greek, I’ve used a couple of Canon extenders for my 70-200 when I have to shoot from front of house. They aren’t ideal (not as ideal as 400mm prime!) but they get the job done. I’ve used this gear for a long time and it seems to have worked well! I’m rarely asking others what they use so I’m not sure how my gear measures up to other concert photographers, but I think I’ve got a system and variety that works for me! I also proudly use the THINK TANK lens belt/pouch system most of the time which has made a huge difference. I love it because not only does it save me from incessant shoulder pain, but it’s the ultimate embodiment of my affinity for fanny packs.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: How are you staying inspired as creative during quarantine? Or are you just not worrying about that as much?
MICHELLE SHIERS: Oh man. Not only am I not really staying creative, but I AM worried about that fact a lot. I wish I could say that I found the impetus to stay creative or that I created projects to keep myself inspired. Sadly, for the most part covid has left me with some awful demotivation and depression. I know it has affected a lot of artists in the same way. I try not to put pressure on myself to stay creative in a state of loneliness, but then I scold myself for not pushing harder to get out of the rut.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: What are the top five shows you’ve shot that you’ve felt the most proud of?
MICHELLE SHIERS: Ahhh! This will be tough to narrow down. I am incredibly proud of shooting Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at the Fillmore. They have been a favorite band of mine since I was 16 and getting to hop on the bus and join them for a few dates was a bucket-lister for sure. I was proud of the shots I took of Thom Yorke at the Greek and the one and only time I got to shoot Radiohead at the Shrine. They are my all-time favorites so I was really proud to have gotten to that point. I’m proud of shooting Arctic Monkeys at the Hollywood Bowl because that’s not a venue I get to be at too often. I’m also very proud of photos I’ve taken of Elbow (for Elbow!) at the Wiltern. Their music has brought a lot of profound “feels” to my life so I was thrilled to be able to give something back. I think most of my “pride” comes from the opportunity to photograph artists I’ve revered for so long.
(cont.) I’m also really proud of some crowd shots I’ve taken of Royal Blood and some energetic shots of the Hives. I’m proud of making it through shooting two CalJam festivals because that is exhausting work that I’m not quite designed for!
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Who were some of the people that championed you in your early days?
MICHELLE SHIERS: My friend Lisa Best was the first champion who made me start the blog! She is an incredible writer/comic in LA and remains one of my greatest supporters. Veteran music video director Paul Boyd along with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics we’re also incredibly encouraging and were it not for them, I wouldn’t have quit my day job to pursue photography. Kevin Bronson of Buzzbands LA was of course very supportive and recommended me for countless opportunities. Leah Shapiro, the drummer for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, has been a wonderful friend and advocate for my work especially and especially as a woman in a male-centric industry. My husband has been very supportive as my career gives him plenty of nights alone to rewatch The Wire. I could keep going because I’ve been truly fortunate to have had a myriad of encouraging friends, peers, and enthusiasts of my photos. It’s hard to believe it most of the time.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: I also wanted to touch on a personal project you did during quarantine “Portraits of L.A. Musicians in Quarantine”. How did that come to fruition?
MICHELLE SHIERS: That was just an idea I had after weeks of feeling terribly idle. Looking back, if I had known the pandemic was going to last this long, I’d have worked on that project more slowly. But at the time, I wanted to create a snapshot of what people were going through at the height of our what-the-hell-is-going-on-ness. I had planned on photographing more artists over a couple of weeks, but after I did the first set, the pandemic got worse and it seemed like staying at home entirely was most responsible. I did have a wonderful collection of portraits of friends who allowed me to capture their quarantine selves, so I reached out to see if Ladygunn was interested in sharing the series. I’m glad they did and that others got to see the photos and read the blurbs each artist took time to write.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: How do you see our industry coming back from COVID-19 and the pandemic?
MICHELLE SHIERS: I’m really unsure about this but I think the industry will slowly inch it’s way back to where it was before, as soon as it safely can, and may even come back with a bang as people have been so starved for live music. I know the touring industry really had the rug pulled out from under it – especially as it seems that music will be one of the last events to resume. However, I’m quietly hopeful that when it does people will have a hugely recharged appreciation for live music. The last time this happened the world created Jazz… maybe a new roaring 20s is around the corner.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: What music has kept you sane during quarantine?
MICHELLE SHIERS: No music has managed to keep me sane! haha. But, I’ve been listening to a lot of my friend Lauren Ruth Ward’s second album as we were supposed to tour that record and couldn’t. That disc lives in my car. I listen to a lot of blues when I’m home alone- Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Albert King… really love that sound. I actually asked people for recommendations of their favorite albums of all time on Instagram so I could listen to new stuff while going for walks and the scope was pretty great. From Creedence to Kanye, Nirvana to Nas, Dylan to Deftones, Sinatra to Selena, I had quite a soundtrack.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Is there anything else you would like to add?
MICHELLE SHIERS: Yes… My ACTUAL secret “album that keeps me sane” is Harvey Danger’s “King James Version”.
Next week we meet Nashville based music and lifestyle photographer Devyn Vaughn.