• Photo Diary: Pooneh Ghana

    Working as a music photographer, traveling from one festival to the next? Yeah, that’s basically the dream—and Pooneh Ghana’s living it.

    While the 25-year-old has lived in Austin for eight years, she’s spent the past two on the road hopping from festival to festival and touring with musicians like JEFF The Brotherhood, Cage The Elephant, and Twin Peaks, all in the name of capturing the musicians in their natural element.

    And capture them she does; in a world where everyone’s posting blurry band photos to Instagram, Pooneh’s photos manage to detail all the energy (and the mosh pits, and the guitar solos, and the backstage fun) that goes into a live show. She also cares way more about format than your average front row photographer; the San Antonio-native first made a name for herself with the photos she took on instant film (she’s got a pack of Impossible Project film on her at all times).

    While it’s not all fun and games—“You busy your ass and work hard; it’s definitely not a lifestyle for everyone,” says Pooneh—working as a full-time music photographer certainly got its fair share of rewards. “I've been able to meet a lot of people and get jobs that way. Over time it's built up and I've been able to get more and more stuff under my belt. Somehow now I'm able to make a living doing what I love,” she says.

    Keep reading to get Pooneh’s tips for making it as a music photographer—and check out our exclusive photos from her favorite music festivals this spring and summer.
    Photos by Pooneh Ghana, words by Ilana Kaplan

    Diarrhea Planet, Courtney Barnett, Mo, Twin Peaks, and St. Vincent at a music festival in Washington in May

    How did you first become interested in photography?
    I started getting interested in photography towards the end of high school, so about eight years ago. I bought my first camera when I was 17 years old and became totally obsessed. I was a bit of a loner in high school, so I engulfed myself in the world of live music and photography. I took photos of everything, researched whatever I could about cameras, lenses, developing film. I also started traveling a lot around then, in the US and overseas, going to festivals, driving up to Austin from San Antonio every weekend for a show. Traveling has really helped me develop skills for shooting things outside of music and concerts, as well as trying to bring a new perspective into my music photography.

    You're living the music lover's dream, what's your favorite part about going on tour with bands to shoot them?
    In terms of music photography, touring is by far what I enjoy the most. Capturing the band goofing around offstage and just being themselves and doing normal things gives them such a closer connection to the fans. Most people will see the band onstage and that’s it; they never really see the other side of it, but super fans are dying to. I’m a fan of every band I’ve gone on tour with, so I am kind of in that mindset as well. Like, I’m there as a photographer doing a job, but also thinking of the photos that would excite me or make me smile. I don’t really go in trying to capture a specific image; I go in to capture what’s really going on and tell a story, and to create that intimacy between the band and the people looking through the photos.

    What's the best part about shooting at festivals?

    Festivals are great because of the energy—the adrenaline I experience shooting bands in that atmosphere is like nothing else—and, obviously, you get to see so many bands you love all in one place. Another great part is catching up with familiar faces—photographers, bands, tour managers, roadies—who also bounce from festival to festival, and have become good friends over time.

    Tame Impala, White Fence, and Mac Demarco at Levitation Austin in May

    Tell me about the biggest challenge you've faced shooting bands at festivals.
    Each festival can be so different, but I’d say one challenge that I face at every festival is just scheduling my days. Trying to fit the live sets I need to shoot as well as working with bands to lock times in for the portraits. Just going back and forth to find a time that works for both of our schedules can be a challenge for sure. Another challenge is always the first day at a festival you’ve never been to before, just figuring out where you need to go, then finding good spots for portraits that’s not just another white wall or something.

    Do you have shots in mind before you attend concerts? Or do you just get into shooting and get ideas throughout the show?
    If I’ve shot a band a lot I usually know what to expect during their set—say, a jump shot, or fireworks—[and therefore] I can be ready for it. Otherwise I just have to be attentive and wait for the moments I feel are worth capturing.

    Are certain cameras better for festivals versus regular shows at venues?
    Yeah somewhat, if it’s a smaller club show I just take my 5DMKIII with a standard lens, like a 24-70mm. If I know it’s going to be really dark, I’ll take my 35/1.4. If it’s a massive arena show or a festival, I’ll have that setup as well as a telephoto lens, [which is] 70-200mm. I always have my Polaroid on me and at least one other film camera. My Pentax 6x7 is a beast to carry around but it’s one of my favorite cameras.

    We at UO love instant film—why do you?

    Polaroids just bring an intimacy that you can’t really get when you stick a DSLR in someone’s face, which is why I love it. I love capturing the more candid stuff on instant film, like bands just messing around backstage, chilling in their green room, and stuff like that.

    Portugal. The Man backstage and onstage at a music festival this June

    Who are some of the favorite bands you've shot?
    There are too many! The Flaming Lips are always fun to shoot. Blur at Hyde Park in London five years ago is still one of my all-time favorite live experiences. My boys, Cage The Elephant, I’ve been touring with them on and off for the last year. I can probably shoot them every single night and never get tired of it. Metal shows are really fun to shoot, too. King Diamond at Fun Fun Fun Fest last year was one of the most ridiculous shows I’ve ever seen. Also, Foals, Diarrhea Planet, Black Lips…I can go on forever.

    What’s your best advice for surviving festival season?
    This is an obvious one but staying hydrated and eating well is on top of the list. I learned that the hard way when I found myself shaking and dry heaving for two hours in a medical tent at Coachella last year. Also, having a comfortable pair of shoes [with you]. I’ve been wearing my same Dr. Marten boots for five years now, and they’re universally great for any festival weather. I also always have a battery pack for my phone, extra batteries for my cameras, plenty of storage space, and rain sleeves for my cameras in case it rains. I also always type and print out a spreadsheet with my schedule for each day. If I’m shooting portraits, I’ll print all the bands’ contact numbers out on paper, in case I don’t have internet access at the festival and can’t pull all that info or my emails up on my phone.

    And what advice would you give to aspiring music photographers?

    Always carry a camera with you; take photos constantly, and not just in a studio or at a gig. It’s huge in building your photographic eye and creativity. Of course, separate your work from other music photographers. There are a lot—no really, a lot—of music photographers out in the world wanting to do exactly the same thing you do. You need to stick out. Also, don’t be a dick. Don’t let the lifestyle get to your head. Don’t act entitled. You can be an amazing photographer, but if you have a bad attitude or don’t treat your peers with respect, no one will want to work with you. [That’s true] especially with shooting gigs; sometimes you’ll get approved, sometimes you won’t. Most of the time it’s not personal, so don’t go in attack mode towards the band or the PR if you didn’t get into one show. Then you’ll develop a reputation that’ll hurt you down the line.

    Florence and the Machine, Courtney Barnett, Kendrick Lamar, the crowd, and King Gizzard at a music festival in Tennessee in June

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