• Photo Diary: Heather Hawke

    It’s hard to be a music journalist in Northern Nevada. Reno, where photographer Heather Hawke grew up, is over 200 miles away from the next major city. Touring bands hardly ever came through. So when work started to slow at the online music and entertainment magazine she regularly contributed to, she started her own. 

    Heather’s Decorated Youth Magazine, founded in late 2012, celebrates music and photography through original and in-depth interviews and photo shoots in both digital and print formats. Through YouTube videos, she educated herself on the art of layout and design while curating issues of intelligent music reporting. It was her foot in the door to the industry she so desperately wanted to be a part of. 

    With experience under her belt, Heather is frequently commissioned by various outlets to photograph live music at major music festivals like South By Southwest and Lollapalooza, having photographed artists like Best Coast, Local Natives and more. Her command for the camera, capturing the larger-than-life onstage moments and intimate performances, is apparent in her smoky and shadowy shots. 

    “You see people — musicians and fans alike — lose or find themselves in music,” she tells us. “Seeing it performed live, it’s such a genuine thing to witness.”

    Take a look at some of Heather’s favorite photos, here, and read our interview with the young creative.
    Photos by Heather Hawke


    Tell us about the first time you picked up a camera. What was special about that moment? 
    I don’t remember the very first time I picked up a camera, but I figure it was probably my dad’s video camera. He was always filming and making home movies about our day-to-day life and I’d always want to look at the playback immediately after. When I got a video camera around the age of 17, I soon began documenting through that as well. I feel since I grew up watching my dad create through these formats, it was in my blood to do the same and it just progressed very naturally.   

    What was the first concert you ever shot? 
    In March 2012 I requested to get a press ticket for a fun. concert through an online magazine I was contributing to and the publicist asked if I also wanted a photo pass. Having just gotten a DSLR a few months prior, I said yes. Before this, while in communication with a few of the photographers that worked for the site, I became aware that music photography was a feasible thing for other people, I just didn't think I could do it. I didn't know a single thing about shooting live music, the settings you should use and what they did. Unfortunately, I didn't know any music photographers — let alone photographers in general — in my hometown in which I could seek advice. The photographers I knew online were stingy with sharing their knowledge, so I turned to blog posts, photography websites, and YouTube for education. By August 2013, I went to another fun. show and experienced my first time in a legit photo pit.  It was from that point on that my passion for music photography was solidified. I started attending and shooting as many shows as I could.


    What makes music compelling for photography? 
    The energy of it all. One of my favorite things is when you catch the musicians on stage sharing a genuine smile with each other or when you look over in the audience and you see the people really living for this song or this moment. 

    Why did you found Decorated Youth? 
    One day while working at my day job, I came up with the idea of starting my own magazine. I was almost joking to myself because I didn’t think it was feasible, but the longer I thought about it I knew it was what I had to do. I proceeded to launch Decorated Youth Magazine in November of 2012 with 5 interviews on the site. As the months went by, I began to notice more and more online publications turn out digital/print issues and I knew that if I wanted to keep challenging myself I had to also start creating them. At this time, I had zero experience with creating and publishing digital magazines or doing any sort of graphic design. I didn’t know the first thing when it came to using InDesign or Illustrator so I spent many hours on YouTube researching and tinkering around in the programs to get a small grasp on it. I released the first issue in June of 2013 and with the release of each issue, I gain more and more confidence and knowledge of how the programs work and what looks best when printed.  


    What’s the best photography tip you can give?
    “Trade expectations for appreciation.” I know it’s not a technical tip, but this is a quote I’ve recently come into contact with and one that’s really helped me these last few months. I’m an optimist and even more so when thinking about and pitching photography and writing gigs. Because of that, I often dream up and get super excited about how things are going to play out, whether it’s being able to do live photos, behind the scenes photos, portraits or an interview with a musician. I always reach out about setting up shoots with musicians, either for freelance work or for Decorated Youth stuff, or reaching out to other publications to do work for them. I’m not going to lie, it’s a huge letdown when you hardly get any replies or the yes’s turn into no’s, but you have to think about the opportunities that have played out and be so grateful for them. 

    Is there a particular photo you’ve taken that sparks a vivid memory?
    There are two that immediately come to mind, both of which happened on the same day, March 17, 2016, at SXSW.

    This year I was commissioned to work with Spotify to shoot their weeklong Spotify House SXSW 2016 showcase.  There were so many incredible artists that played that week, but getting to see St. Lucia, a group who I’ve admired for a long time, for the first time was very surreal for me. During their song “Love Somebody” their singer, Jean-Philip Grobler, got into the crowd. Fortunately, from my vantage point standing on the stage, I was in the best place to witness the crowd interaction. Shortly after Jean got into the audience he invited people to “start a train” if they desired and they open handily accepted it; all the while, stopping to take selfies with people. Whenever musicians get into the crowd to interact during their sets they’re always taking a chance on what the crowd will do so seeing it go the best way possible made it one of my favorite moments I’ve ever seen during a set. 


    The second photo is from a Cage the Elephant house show. The night before this show I had met a friend for dinner who told me that Cage the Elephant was planning a secret show in the city. Not knowing any more details but positive that this would be a show I shouldn’t miss, I reached out to their PR person for the info. She told me that doors were at eight and since there was no guest list, to come early because space would be tight. For dim lighting like this, a lot of photographers would usually use their Speedlight remote flash, but since I’ve yet to use one for a live show, I’m still very hesitant as I think it can be very distracting for both the bands and fans. Luckily there were so many photographers there who were using Speedlight that even when the show started and they turned off all the lights in the house besides two neon ones behind the band, I could still manage to take decently lit photos, although I did have to keep my ISO at 25,600 for the entire show. Right as I took this image someone’s flash went off and when I saw how much energy it captured I instantly knew this was the image that summed up the night.


    What’s the biggest challenge in live concert photography?
    When you’re first starting out, it’s how to do things the correct way. There are so many things to learn with photography, so a lot of the times when you’re first starting out and getting the hang of things you do a lot of things incorrectly. Learning all the camera settings to shoot in manual and shooting in RAW, photo pit etiquette, how to ask for tickets and photo passes (and that you usually have to be working for a press outlet to get them), how to properly pitch outlets and clients assignments to cover, and being supportive of other photographers and also supporting and looking up to photographers outside of your peer circle or your style of photography. 

    On the technical side of things, a big challenge is capturing both the energy of the show and musicians in a flattering way. There are times when I love a photo because it captures the energy perfectly, but the musician in the photo is making a weird face (that you know they wouldn’t be fond of) and you have to have the etiquette to not use that image. Also, composition is everything and that even has to deal with watching what the other members are doing and where they’re placed when you’re about to take a photo. You don’t want a mic stand, instrument, or even another person to be blocking someone’s face. 


    Has there been a show, musician, album or trip you’ve taken that really inspired you? Tell us about it! 
    Yes, to all of these. It’s based around Tame Impala and their last album Currents. I’ve always been a fan of their music and when they released their first single off of Currents called “Let It Happen” last year, I was in the midst of doing a photography internship in New York City. While in NYC, I did nearly as many portrait shoots and shot as many shows in those five months as I had done in the three years prior back home. Also with the energy of the city and the fact that all your senses are being taken over, you don’t really have time or the ability to be in your own head. All of the chaos seems to put restless minds at ease and it led me to be the most self-assured I’ve ever been. When “Let It Happen” came out, it was a turning point for Tame Impala as well with their sound and with what Kevin Parker’s lyrics focused on. Their previous albums focused around the theme of isolation, which I could relate to as I’ve always been isolated, literally, from the music and photo community because where I live and figuratively, as I've never quite "fit in" anywhere. However, I remember very vividly sitting in my room in NYC playing this track for the first, second and third time in a row and being overcome with feeling a sense of relief that everything was working out how it was supposed to. 

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