Interview: Josh Timmermans
We have been fortunate enough to cross paths with Joshua Timmermans, one of the top professional concert photographers, on several occasions this Fall. Joshua is a professional photographer based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. Always known for the relentless pursuit of iconic images, Joshua will not stop until he has exceeded his demanding standards. Joshua was kind enough to share his story in a recent interview with us. Check out his entire portfolio at www.NobleVisions.com.
You have been able to take your passion and turn it into a career. At what age did you get started with photography? At what point did you know that this could be a viable career path?
JOSH: In terms of photography I have always been interested in the art since I was a child. I had relatives growing up that were into photography and capturing moments, so I was exposed to the craft early on. Early on in my career, I was deeply entrenched in the graphic design field. I worked in the marketing and advertising industry for quite a few years. Operating a small graphic design company in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I started incorporating much more photography into projects. I then lived in Hawaii for about 5 years, and the advertising and marketing company I was working for paid for continuing education. I took advantage of this by studying photography at the University of Hawaii. Living in the Hawaiian archipelago, I focused a great deal of my work at the time on landscape photography. After I moved back to the mainland, I refocused my graphic design and photography business. In doing so, I began to create show and event posters for bands and performers. As I produced designs for bands, I also began to go out and photograph the live concert experience these bands were delivering to their fans. As my business grew and progressed, I found that the demand for my photographic eye was growing quicker than any other aspect of my business. Coupled with my insatiable love for music and the live concert experience, my business is now completely dedicated to live entertainment and concert photography. It has gone from a strong passion, to the absolute forefront of my life.
I feel extremely honored to have, and to continue, to work with professionals in the industry who tirelessly dedicate themselves to their craft while setting a high standard for the results they produce. Surrounding yourself with professionals that continue to raise the bar, and set the standard in their industry, is something I am extremely passionate about. Working for publicists, publications, magazines, newspapers; that’s really where it started in terms of my growth as a photographer. My professional focus has progressed from that type of work, to now working directly with artists, bands, management, and promoters. Over the past few years artists in the industry have informed me of their interest in working together directly. This direct working relationship fosters the development of personal relationships that facilitate a high level of comfort between photographer and musician. In turn, this type of approach encourages a mutual artistic respect and relationship that aids in producing iconic images of the band. The past 3 years the focus has been working directly for the artists, for their management, and promoters that are delivering music to the fans.
We live in a world that has attempted to simplify the art of photography. As a professional photographer, what have you done to differentiate yourself from others?
JOSH: That’s a great point. With all of the technology and apps that are out there, anyone can call themselves a photographer. For me, its not necessarily about the equipment you’re using. It’s about your eye for capturing the moment. Understanding the band members nuances, and the slight indicators that tell you something special is about to happen. Being able to pick up on those subtle visual cues and movements is key to producing images that capture the emotion of the moment. Having great equipment, or tools in your tool belt, allows you to capture certain moments that would otherwise be difficult in challenging shooting conditions. However, at the end of the day, it’s about your eye and your ability to compose an image that evokes emotion.
The other aspect of my work that entails a great deal of discipline, and an understanding of photographic technology, is the actual editing of my photographs. Your iPhone’s and apps like Instagram have certain settings for nighttime, or filters you can apply that will create a feel to the image. I’m not hitting one button and applying a filter to instantly make my images appear that way. I’m trying to produce images in a way that reflects the moment and mood of the show at the time I captured the image. It’s taken 6-7 years of dedicated trial and error to develop my photography style through tedious editing sessions. Each catalog of images I produced from a specific shoot or performance goes through a lengthy selection process. Before I even start the editing process, the top images have to be selected. Once I have my “A” list of images chosen, I will edit each image individually. On a typical shoot, I spend 7-10 minutes editing per image. If I produce 40 final images from a show, I will have spent anywhere from 4-6 hours of editing those chosen images. Editing photographs is a craft in itself. It’s not a matter of pressing a button, but it’s about developing a style of editing that you dedicate years of time to.
What was the first nationally touring band you ever went on tour with? How was that experience and what did it teach you about your profession?
JOSH: I have done quite a bit of roadwork for specific bands and management. I usually do not work an entire tour for a band, due to my busy schedule and demand from a wide variety of musicians. If I was to say there is one band that has given me the ability to explore my creative side due to repeated exposure it is Widespread Panic. I have always admired their approach to creating music and the way in which they present it. There is an artistic understanding between the band and myself that has given me the ability to push my creative process. In terms of being able to pursue my passion fervently and progress professionally in the industry, I owe a great deal of the growth to exposing myself to a wide variety of genres of music. Different genres of music have diverse approaches to the live performance aspect of being a musicians . A punk band is going to move around the stage at a faster pace than say a four-piece string band.
Photographing Elton John on stage performing behind a piano is going to be a much different experience than photographing a Pearl Jam performance. Pearl Jam band members will be jumping around and much more active. Understanding the difference between genres of music in relation to their stage presence has allowed me to improve and develop my skill sets as a live entertainment photographer. Continuing to learn from these experiences and being able to anticipate a musicians next move only furthers my ability to capture split second moments that happen on stage. You learn to look for things like the reflection of the light off of a certain artist instrument, or visual cues musicians give one another, or even anticipating the lighting directors next move. Studying these types of details during a performance has helped me develop my skills immensely.
How does the process/agreement between you and an artist or talent agency work when you agree to work an event or tour?
JOSH: It really works differently for every specific situation. One important aspect about working for anyone is that I retain the copyrights to every image I take, or it’s a shared copyright agreement. If I work for my wire service, Zuma Press, my work gets shopped around the world to all of the major media outlets. I don’t shoot for the wire much anymore due to my direct relationships with artists and managers, but I did shoot Forecastle Festival in Louisville, KY this year for my wire service. The festival understands that my job is to go out and photograph all the acts performing. Once that day finishes, I upload the images to the wire services pool of images. That pool of images is then put out on the wire. This gives any major publication the ability purchase licensing rights to utilize a specific image or set of images for their article or piece they are publishing.
I can also be hired directly by an outlet like Rolling Stone, Billboard, or online publication like jambase.com. They hire me to go out and cover a specific band or festival for specific piece or coverage of that event. Mostly these days I am working directly with the artists, artist’s management and promoters. The artists, management or promoters pay me a specified amount to come out and capture the event or show. With festivals, you get paid a specific rate to be the house photographer for the event. Depending on the scope of the work I could just be shooting the photos, while at other times the workload could include organizing a team of photographers, shooting photos, all of the editing, posting to social media sites and organizing the database of images for future uses. Festivals pay for travel, lodging, and the scope of work that is completed. Ideally in these situations, the work starts once I leave the house, during the festival, and return travel. Basically I am compensated for all of my expenses, travel, and work by that festival, band, or promoter.
When did your agreement with Cloud 9 Adventures begin? Can you elaborate on which events this will send you to on a yearly basis?
JOSH: I first need to comment on the Cloud 9 Adventures organization. Over the years I have developed a strong professional and personal relationship with Mark Brown, managing partner for Cloud 9 Adventures. In addition, the Cloud 9 Adventures staff have quickly become a second family to me. I essentially spend my entire winter with them now. The team is comprised of some of the hardest working professionals I know, who are also at the top of their game in their respective industries. We are a team comprised of booking agents, promoters, marketing gurus, artist relations specialists, travel logistic coordinators, various production teams, merchandise specialists, medical staff, photographers, videographers and audio engineers. We all work together in harmony to produce some of the finest music destination and cruise events in the world. Without this talented team and the tireless dedication of everyone, these events don’t happen. I met most of the Cloud 9 staff at Widespread Panic’s first Panic en La Playa in Mexico. Shortly thereafter the Cloud 9 Adventures management team and I discussed how we could work together to utilize iconic photography to help elevate and grow the brand. After a few months of talks, we all came to the realization that we both have the same extremely high standards and expectations for the work/product we produce. That partnership developed three years ago, and we continue to work together today in growing the businesses at an exponential rate. Cloud 9 Adventures has added many events since our relationship started. We worked together on all of their events last year, and will continue that relationship in their upcoming 2014-2015 season that kicks off in December. This year Cloud 9 Adventures events include Dominican Holidaze the first week of December in Punta Cana, DR (Umphrey’s McGee, STS9, Disco Biscuits). The following week our team flies to Mexico for the Strings and Sol event. Directly following Strings & Sol, we host the Closer To The Sun event, which is a brand new destination event featuring Slightly Stoopid, G Love & The Special Sauce, Citizen Cope, and several others. After that we have a break for the holidays before picking back up on Jan 3rd. We then work our first cruise event of the season called Holy Ship, which is followed by the extremely popular Jam Cruise. Holy Ship will feature two cruises this year as well, one in January, and the other in February.
Shortly after Jam Cruise, we head back to the Dominican Republic for Panic en la Playa Quatro with Widespread Panic. We then quickly head back to Mexico for My Morning Jacket’s One Big Holiday with Band of Horses, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Dr. Dog, The War on Drugs, Dawes, and a few others. Most all of Cloud 9 Adventures’ events are sold out, or are very close to being sold out, which is huge. Our core team of photographers consists of Dave Vann and myself. During Jam Cruise and Holy Ship we bring on additional photographers. They are both such big events that we need additional professionals to help provide the photographic content necessary to thoroughly cover the event. We are responsible for photographing every aspect of the events, not just the music. Being able to work with such talented professionals, in a tropical environment, in the middle of the winter, is an amazing opportunity. One I cherish and do not take lightly.
As you travel and tour with various artists, what is the personal interaction like between yourself and the artists?
JOSH: That’s really one of the key aspects to a variety of my successes in this industry. In order to capture the moments I am seeking, I have to be committed to developing strong relationships and mutual artistic respect with the artists. I am committed to ensuring that every artist I interact with feels extremely comfortable being around me, specifically when I am constantly in their personal a professional space with my camera and gear. There has to be a profound level of respect and a strong personal relationship with one another if you want to produce iconic candid and live concert photographs. Developing that personal relationship with the artists should always be natural and not forced. That’s always been my philosophy. I like to operate in the shadows when photographing, and at the same time allow the artists and my interaction and development of a relationship to happen naturally. I want to not only capture the live performance moments, but also the candid moments that these artists are experiencing in day to day life. In order to do so, the relationship the artist and I have developed over time is what allows me to capture the personal moments away from the stage . I am honored and take much pride in the relationships that I have developed with artists all over the world. These respectful personal and professional relationships with artists allow me to achieve the high standard of results I expect out of myself and my work.
How much of your time is spent traveling throughout the year? Is there any particular time that you set aside for your personal life, or does it all depend on the demand?
JOSH: Travel and logistics are a big part of what I do because I am working with so many different artists all over the country. It’s one of the struggles with my business; making sure the travel aspect works into contracts and that it is financially feasible for my business and the entity I am doing work with or for. I do spend a lot of my time on the road, as it is part of the music and photography industry. I don’t mind it most of the time. However, I do miss my family quite a bit when I am on the road for long stretches. I love what I do though, and travel is simply part of the process. Summer concert season/festival season is certainly one of my busy seasons. The Cloud 9 Adventures events have now made my winters just as busy. I try to take the month of November off, as well as the latter part of March / early April to recharge and work on office matters. Sometimes you need to take time off, regroup, see your family and those you love. Even though I set those months as “time off”, they are certainly not set in stone. If a gig comes along and its worth the time and effort, I’m all over it. I am certainly ready for some downtime this November though. It’s been an insanely busy 6 months!
Have you reached a point that you are always working when attending a live event? I would imagine that it would be tough to not capture the moment.
JOSH: It’s very few and far between. A lot of time when I’m not working, I like to get some peace and quiet with close friends and family. If there is a band that I have a great deal of respect for, and I know I don’t have to work, I will absolutely go out and attend as a fan. It’s one of the reasons why I started doing this in the first place. Being such a big fan of the music is one of the factors that drives my passion for live concert photography. Going to a show and just being a fan reminds me of why I do what I do. However I must say, ninety percent of the time I do that, I wish I had my camera with me. I feel naked with out it.
You’ve had the opportunity to shoot countless festivals and work with such a great variety of artists. What are a few highlights that stand out the most?
JOSH: Coming from a fan’s perspective, Roger Waters playing “The Wall” at Wrigley Field really stands out for me. But there are so many. I could go on and on. Photographing Robert Plant at Forecastle in Louisville was special. Photographing Elton John is a highlight. Recently though, Roger Waters really stands out the most. You think of the legends like Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples, BB King. Photographing legends like this really hits home for me. I’ve been blessed to photograph a wide variety of artists and genres of music. Being exposed to such a diversity of artists has really shaped my live concert photography skill sets. It also gives me a different appreciation for music as a whole. When I look back on the past 10 years of my photography work, I feel like I’m capturing an entire era of music as a whole, and not just one genre . That’s what I’m most appreciative of and enjoy most about what I do. You can’t just stick to one genre, and I think that comes from my intense appreciation of music as an expressive artistic medium.
Everybody goes to a concert and wakes up the next morning with at least one moment ingrained into their memory. They’ll remember those individual moments from each particular show for the rest of their life. I’ve dedicated myself to trying to produce at least one image that represents that moment for each person that attended that particular show.. I’ve always told myself to capture enough moments throughout countless spots in the venue so that everyone who wakes up in the morning will have at least one image that they can remember or relate directly to. Hearing feedback or comments from fans when they say things like “Wow, I remember that moment!” or “Unbelievable photo! I can’t believe you captured that It’s like I am reliving the concert right now”, those type of comments really make it all worth it. After all, all these photographs I take, they are truly for the fans.