Todd Owyoung: Meet the Best Music Photographers in St. Louis



Earlier, we introduced you to our ten favorite concert photographers in St. Louis. We got well over fifty nominations, and our judges narrowed the field to these ten folks. Over the coming week-plus, we'll be introducing you to each of the finalists in turn by having them share with you five of their favorite concert photos and answering a few questions about their process and passion. Up next is Todd Owyoung (who occasionally plies his wares for RFT Music), whose work can be viewed (and purchased) from his web site,

See also: -The Ten Best Music Photographers in St. Louis: Meet the Finalists -Finalist Profile: Jon Gitchoff -Finalist Profile: Jarred Gastreich -Finalist Profile: Bryan Sutter -Finalist profile: Corey Woodruff -Finalist profile: Nate Burrell -Finalist Profile: Jason Stoff -Finalist Profile: Ben Fournier

RFT Music: If you had to guess at the ballpark number, how many concerts would you say you've photographed?

Todd Owyoung: Over the last seven years, I've probably shot somewhere near a thousand shows and festivals, from massive events like Lollapalooza to shows in smoky basement dives.


What makes a great concert photo?

For me, a great live music photo is one that captures the heart of the band, one that makes you feel as though you were at the show.

The best concert images are ones that can make you hear the music and the roar of the crowd, long after the lights have gone down and your ears have stopped ringing.

What's the best thing about live music?

As Bob Marley said, "One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain."

There's an visceral, electrifying quality to a rock show that's singular.

I love the sense of anticipation at a concert just as the lights go down, before a band takes the stage. In that moment, it feels like anything can happen. The best recording can't replace the excitement of a crowd, the slam of bass in one's chest, or the euphoria of hearing a song you've been waiting for all set.


What's the strangest thing that has happened to you while photographing live music?

When a normal "day at the office" includes dodging flying beer, rock star spit, and size ten combat boots to the head, nothing really surprises me anymore.

The most surreal thing that's happened to me outside of the photo pit was when I was shooting Mayhem Fest 2009 on assignment for Rolling Stone. Before his headlining set, Marilyn Manson approached me backstage with his fists up saying, "It's just you and me," and then proceed to shadowbox. After that, we chatted for a minute - all the things you hear about Marilyn Manson being very polite and well spoken are true.

What makes a professional photographer as opposed to an amateur?

This is a perennial question in photography, more than ever now with the proliferation of inexpensive, high quality digital cameras.

In the strictest sense, a professional photographer is someone who makes the majority of their income from photography. That's it -- this distinction has no bearing on quality.

However, beyond that dictionary definition, a professional photographer should be able to deliver consistent and high quality work, regardless of the situation. This is particularly true of music photography, where lighting and access can wild hugely from tour to tour and venue to venue. Anyone with a point and shoot can get lucky, but a pro music photog is one who will always nail the money shots, every single show.


Pick one of the photos you've submitted and tell us a little about it: Where was it shot, who is featured and (most importantly) how did you capture it? We'd love to hear logistical description or technical breakdowns or whatever else you want to tell us.

The photo I've picked is one of the singer Bobby Alt of the band Street Drum Corp. This image was made back in 2008 on Linkin Park's Projekt Revolution Tour at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.

For most of the start of the set vocalist Bobby Alt was running around like a madman. At one point, Alt came to the very front of the stage, dropped to one knee and started wailing. For concert photographers, a frontman move like this is pretty much the equivalent of money starting to rain from the sky. There was instantly a crush of photographers, all shoulder to shoulder and practically climbing over each other trying to make a shot.

I already had my exposure dialed in for the stage lighting - all I was concerned about in this moment was a millisecond of eye contact. I kept shooting as Alt's attention was split between the crowd at the barricade and the press photographers in the photo pit. Alt's eyes darted around the swarm for a second, gave me a glance, and then bounced to his feet. As quickly as the moment started, it was over.

This was one of those photography moments where, I admit, I immediately checked the camera's LCD to confirm the shot. Even with a camera that can shoot at 8 frames per second, all I got was a single frame of Bobby Alt staring right into my lens with crazy eyes before he was bounding off.

Over four years since making this image, even after all these years, it's still one of my favorite live music shots.


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