Question: How Do You Make It Work As a Photographer?


I did a quick shoot with Miami-based stoner metal dudes Torche after their set at The Firebird in Saint Louis, MO on June 18th, 2012. Rad dudes, or the raddest? (Bryan J. Sutter)

A few days ago I received an email from Kristan Lieb, who turns outs to be a pretty talented young photographer (check out her site, there’s some good stuff!) with an internship at Paste Magazine which I can only assume is as awesome as it sounds. She asked me, in short, “How do you make it work as a photographer?” but I’ll post her email (with her permission, of course) for clarity.

Hey Bryan,

I don’t know you, but we probably have a bunch of mutual stl friends. I’m a photographer from St. Louis, currently based in Atlanta doing an internship for Paste magazine. I do mostly photojournalism, and music photography is my favorite. I’m just wondering how someone like you makes music photography work for them. I’m totally aware that this is not a full time job and will probably never pay the bills. Do you have a day job and then work on music at night? Do you contact individual bands to see if they want photos, or are you mostly doing it for a publication? Do you do other kinds of photo on the side, or maybe video? I’m trying to stay in Atlanta so don’t worry, I’m not trying to steal your clients or anything. Ive been seeing your name around for years and I just wanted to pick your brain. You can check out my stuff at, if you so desire.

Thanks dude!

I’ve had a few people ask me a similar set of questions in regards to photography and it’s not always easy to answer. What works for me, in whatever relative way, won’t work for everyone else. Or even anyone else. To me, it would make more sense to still answer the questions, but in a different sort of critical fashion. Which means I rambled a bit.

Hey there,

Paste, huh? That’s pretty cool. Checked out your site, some great work on there. Refreshing to see a different perspective.

Day jobs are mandatory. Unless you’re Todd Owyoung or a dozen other music photographers, you’re not bringing in the sort of cash you need to have an acceptable single income. Even if your idea of “acceptable” is pretty modest. I wish it were not like that. It shouldn’t be like that. I know I’m not pulling back the curtain here, at this point anyone with a sincere eye and passion for photography and similar creative efforts know that the money is drying up.

The technology has gotten cheaper, more accessible…. better… and somewhere this all has dissolved the appreciation and worth of those who strive to get to the marrow of their muse.

I started doing music photography for the fun of it. I also thought I could do it better than anyone else in Saint Louis. For a long time I did. Through my work I caught the attention of The Firebird and have been the house photographer for over 2 years. Through that relationship I’ve had some amazing experiences and have learned a lot. I once had dinner with Dead Prez. That was awesome… and weird.

My portfolio is kind of overwhelming at this point even if it feels like I’m still an unknown.

However, things change, new faces show up. They may have a bit better business sense than you, they may be more personable. Have a better haircut. Shit, they may even be a better photographer. The question when this happens will always be “What will you do to stay relevant?”

The answer is usually “Work harder.” and yeah, sometimes you need a kick in the ass to step it up a bit. I advise against anything that may feel coercive or like getting on a soapbox, shouting louder than anyone else. Too many people are doing that shit. It’s why Twitter sucks. It’s why Facebook sucks. It’s why the internet isn’t fun anymore. Simply too much noise.

Be the positive change. Do things a little different. Get involved in the music scene. Don’t be fake. Everyone is fake. Don’t do coke, or say “YOLO”. Listen to good hip hop. Don’t let people steal your shit. If they do, call them out on it. People are going to call you a whiner, or difficult, for it. Fuck them. People may not always respect your work, but always respect your work. Don’t drink in the parking lot before a show. If you have to, don’t get caught. How do you not get caught? Figure it out. Network. Eat well. Foods high in potassium will be your friend. It’s probably not a good idea to wolf down Qdoba or some diner food after a night of drinking. It will catch up to you. Don’t be a fat photographer, there’s enough of those.

So yeah, I don’t know if that’s what you’re looking for but that’s what I got.

She caught me on a good day, I suppose.

Get This Fool Some Books
When I’m not getting ready for the next show I like to sit down with a good book. Help support and my reading habit through my Amazon wishlist. You can always order a print from my large archive of awesome rock shots if you need something rad on your wall.


Questions, Comments?
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