Meet Wade Spencer – an incredibly talented visual artist with a passion for music and education. I met Wade through a car enthusiast forum almost a decade ago; here’s a closer look into the creative side of his life.
Where are you from?
I grew up near Canton, Pennsylvania and have traveled around the US quite a bit on short-run tours with bands. I enjoy being active in the outdoors so living in the middle of nowhere is a good fit for me but I love to travel so being on the go a lot keeps me sane. I start to get a little twitchy if I’m home for too long.
What’s your favorite place in the world?
So far I really love Nashville. I’ve done a few photo shoots and music video shoots there and every time I go I’m amazed at how passionate everyone is, no matter what they do. Everyone is just totally on fire for their job whether they’re a musician, lighting director, or photographer. It’s a fantastic creative vibe in that city and it’s so easy to dial up talented people to work and collaborate with.
What’s on your “bucket list” of ideas to create?
I’d love to do a full run tour with a band and produce a photo book of the best moments from the tour – on-stage, off-stage, days off, etc. I have a great time producing the day-to-day tour videos when I’m out with bands and I’d love to put that in photo form.
You shoot a TON of events – can you talk about the difficulties you face with concert photography, and how you overcome them?
One of the most difficult things about concert photography is the ever-changing conditions. Unless you’re really familiar with a venue or a band’s set you can’t predict what the show is going to be like – but that is also what makes it so much fun. The lighting, crowds, and the band’s performance are always different. It’s truly run and gun shooting, I love it.
Looking through your live event photos, I’d be thrilled to have captured so many awesome shots in the moment. How do you manage to lock your focus in on your subjects in those critical moments?
Spray and pray! A good camera body and a fast focusing lens helps. When I first shot with a 5diii I joked that it had a concert photography mode, because one of the AF modes is “For subjects that change speed and move erratically”. Also, you’ve only seen the photos that didn’t end up in the trash 🙂
How are you able to shoot so many events? Is it mostly through your network, your employer, or do you actively promote your services through other channels?
I don’t shoot nearly as many as I’d like to, but I hit what I have time for. I covered for the Tunelab Upstate NY website when it was active and I shoot any band I have a connection with that’s near me. Working for a record label gives me some opportunities to shoot as well. When I first got into music photography I thought to myself “how cool would it be if some day a record label flew me around to photograph their bands?” Then one day it just happened.
A tough one – What are your favorite three photos you’ve taken? What’s the story behind each of them?
Yeah, this is a tough one! In no particular order:
While they were playing “Angel’s Son” I captured this shot of Lajon holding a fan’s hand while the crowd was singing the lyrics. I showed the kid the shot on the back of my camera because I thought he’d like it. He stopped me after the show and asked how he could get a copy so I got his number and promised I’d send it to him once I got through the all the photos.
I was super busy the next day but I knew this photograph would mean a lot to him (and I wanted to see it myself), so I took a few minutes to find and process the photo and then texted it to him.
He replied “Hell yes man I’ll never forget this moment. I know how badly losing Lynn affected everyone in the band. Sevendust kept me from committing suicide at a very young age when my parents got divorced so any comfort I can give to them however brief a moment it is I’m glad to pay them back in that way.”
Looking at the picture and reading his text gave me chills, but I am so glad I was able to capture this moment for him.
The photograph is dark and grainy, but to me it’s rock and roll.
Drummers are always tough to photograph. Most of the time you can’t see them very well due to cymbals, stands, their sticks, or other band members blocking them or they’re making a weird face as they’re playing. This guy is one of my favorite drummers to shoot though: with the hair, the tattoos, and the raw energy he puts into a set I always get great photos. This is probably my favorite drummer photo I’ve ever taken.
This is an older one, but has always been one of my favorite shots. This was back during Uproar Festival (anyone remember Uproar?) and I was out with a band that playing on the Festival so if I had some downtime I’d shoot some of the other bands. After seeing P.O.D.’s set a few times I knew he was going to jump into the crowd. I had a 15mm fisheye lens on and practically dove over the barricade with him while holding the shutter button down. The other photographers looked at me like I was nuts but I bet they didn’t get shots like this!
Tell us about your career. How did you get into it?
I bounced through a few different majors in college before ending up as a Communication major at Mansfield University. I’ve always loved music so I naturally gravitated toward music videos for my independent projects. I approached a couple regional bands that were based in my area about doing music videos for them and I was hooked. With a background in video it was an easy transition to learn photography as well and I immediately applied it to music and started covering live shows.
What’s your favorite type of shooting and why?
I really just try to work in the music industry at this point because I’ve learned that’s what I’m best at. I despise weddings, but I’ll enjoy the occasional corporate or educational job once in awhile. I think music will always be my specialty. I like the energy in it and challenge of it.
What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?
Get out there and shoot often and try different things. I was a member of a local photography club a long time ago and one of the exercises an instructor gave us was to lock ourselves in a room until a roll of film was gone. It was a great creative exercise that would make you think about how to make ordinary objects in your kitchen or wherever become interesting. If someone wants to get into music photography the best thing they can do is make friends with some local and regional bands and do some work for them. Don’t expect to get paid much but use that as motivation to get better…and you never know when one of those bands might blow up and take you with them.
What is the best thing your subjects can do to make the most of a photoshoot?
Ha, not screwing around during a shoot would be great. It’s great to have fun but it’s frustrating when you have a band made up of five knuckleheads and in EVERY picture at least one of the knuckleheads is doing something stupid.
Who do you want to give a shoutout to (models, MUA, stylists, retouchers, photographers, etc)?
Definitely MUAs/stylists, and especially a certain one named Sara Morral. She was my favorite co-creator, an incomparable stylist, and my rockstar dudebro. Tragically she passed away last year but she taught me the importance of working with a stylist, loving what you do, and many other life lessons. I’ve never met anyone who had such a passion for life and creativeness, and she was always up for a brainstorming session over a few cocktails. She worked with me on countless video and photo shoots and her love of creativity and life was infectious.
What’s a deal breaker for you when deciding to do a shoot?
If a band has absolutely no ideas or no creativity I have a hard time getting excited about a shoot (whether it be a photo shoot or a music video).
What do you think is the biggest thing holding you back in your photography?
Up until a month ago I would’ve said time, but I’ve recently left my boring 9-5 job so I can dive into this full time. It’s scary but I’m confident that I’m good at what I do and will succeed at it.
What are 3 tips you have for aspiring photographers?
Buy equipment when only when you can’t do what you want to do without it, but spend the money on good equipment so you only have to buy it once.
Don’t listen to the haters – you do you.
Backup, backup, backup. Hard drive crashes will happen.
What kind of gear do you have? What’s your favorite and why?
I shoot with Canon gear and my favorite piece has to be 85mm F1.2L lens. Good god that lens is beautiful.
What’s one post-processing tip you’d like to share with other photographers?
STAAHHHHPPP maxing out the clarity slider.
What is your most life-changing event?
Probably Sara passing away. That girl was such an inspiration, a great co-creator, and a close friend to so many people.
What has photography done for you as a person? How has it changed you?
I’ve always been a creative person and it’s really helped fill that creative need. After every shoot I really just feel like that need has been met…for a day or so haha.
Thanks for the interview, Wade.
Personal Site: http://www.wadespencer.me
500px profile: @wadespencer
Insta profile: @wade_spencer
Facebook page: facebook.com/wadespencer99