As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Alexx Calise caught up with OUR favorite photographer, Anabel dFlux, to talk about photography; her start, inspiration, favorite places to shoot, etc.. What we got was also a masterclass in how to be a professional in an industry where things change at a moments notice.
When did you know you wanted to be a photographer? Did you always have an eye for it, or was it more of a learned skill? I have always been artistically inclined, with my mother fostering my creativity since I was very young. I was drawing before I could write. I, myself, knew I would want to do some kind of art for the rest of my life pretty early on. However, it wasn’t until I was 10 years old that photography really landed on the map for me. I was gifted my first camera at that age, having never been introduced to photography before. That act certainly ignited something in me. I remember running around photographing everything I possibly could with my little red Target-brand point-and-shoot camera and how proud I was of some of the shots I got back then.
As for having an eye, I believe that being a creative is something you’re born with. You have to be susceptible and inclined, as there are certain aspects of art that cannot be taught. I have always had an innate sensitivity to composition, aesthetic, color theory, and the arrangement of elements. What can, and should, be learned is the “how” component. The “how do I do this?” factor. That’s the learned skill.
What was your official FIRST photography gig? Was it a concert? Portrait session? My first official photography gig was photographing a dog! A very cute Alaskan husky. I actually worked exclusively as a canine photographer for the first year of turning my passion into a business before I got thrust into the world of music photography.
You obviously have a huge passion for animals in your photography, especially wolves. Where do you usually FIND these beautiful, exotic animals, and what made wolves specifically your animals of choice? I sure do! Animals are a big part of my world, and I have dedicated much of my life to them. Between animal shoots, having my hand in doing charity work for shelters and sanctuaries, and my own pets- much of myself revolves around these creatures.
My work with exotic canines is potentially the most unique and interesting twist in my life. Something that most definitely happened on a whim, sprinkled with a bit of luck, I fell into the world of wolfdogs (commonly, but by scientific standards improperly, called “wolf hybrids”) which then led to my work with actual wolves, various species of foxes, coyotes, tigers, and other animals. Through social media I was randomly connected with a lovely family that owns high-content wolfdogs (an animal that is mostly wolf. Fun fact, most zoos have high-content wolfdogs). The exotic ownership world is very, very small, and through this lovely family (the Lumgairs), I was introduced to many other people within that world, including breeders and facility owners. So I never looked, nor needed to find, any of the animals I work with. I was either introduced, recommended, or sought out. I do feel incredibly lucky about this.
Of all the animals I have had the pleasure of meeting, I fell deeply in love with wolves and have a very strong admiration for the individuals whose entire lives are dedicated to the wellbeing and conservation of our natural world. Though I love all animals, I connect strongly with canines, and feel like I have a common language with wolves if that, in any way, makes sense. I use the photographs to debunk myths surrounding the animals, encourage the public to step up and protect their wild counterparts, and to raise funds for conservation.
I know this is probably a difficult question, but what is one of your favorite photographs from your collection, and what about its composition makes it your favorite? his one is tough… however, I do have one photograph that just speaks to me on a slew of levels. Several years ago, I captured a portrait of one of my favorite high-content wolfdogs Rogue, owned by the Lumgair family. This was a candid snap at a magazine shoot we participated in. The image is titled “Night” and is a part of my fine-art series of prints.
This one is for all the aspiring photogs out there. When is it a good idea to do TFP (trade for print) shoots, and did you have to do those a lot when you first started out? Every artistic profession requires a level of ‘paying your dues’ so to speak. These dues tend to be difficult waters to navigate, and explaining how to do this properly is a delicate matter. As a general statement, trade sessions are good for portfolio building, education, bringing a personal collaboration to fruition, and genuine exposure / resume addition / increasing credibility. It’s easier for me to explain this by breaking the answer up into sections, so prepare for quite a few words ahead.
If you lack a solid portfolio, or a portfolio at all, TFP photo sessions are an excellent way to build that book very fast. Portfolios are of the utmost importance in this industry, and ensuring you have a solid body of work should be one of your top concerns if photography is to become your profession. You will likely find yourself doing several TFP shoots when starting out for this reason.
The educational aspect of TFP shoots go hand-in-hand with portfolio building. TFP sessions are a great way to learn, try something new, and experiment with your craft. You don’t want to go into a client session unprepared, nor should a paying client be your guinea pig.
As for bringing a personal collaboration to fruition, art is for yourself as much as it is for others. If you have an idea, and that idea jives with another person, a collaboration is a great way to keep yourself creatively motivated and inspired. These tend to be TFP shoots by nature.
Now… the final point is quite a contentious topic. Exposure has become such a deeply hated word in the artistic world, and I admit, it stings me too when I hear it. This is due entirely to abuse and misuse in the art world. I am in full agreement and stand firm with everyone being paid their worth. Unfortunately, the world isn’t idealistic. This is where there is a fine balance between encouraging the end of improper practices and looking out for yourself and your needs. Keeping that in mind, if you want to make it as an artist, you need some business sense behind you as well. Approaching what you do from the perspective of marketing, branding, and other fundamental business concepts- there are certain TFP shoots that you should do for exposure. These shoots tend to involve a certain level of prestige, in which your participation really will put your work in front of a broader audience. As well, partaking in higher caliber sessions will build a trustworthy reputation and your credibility in a highly competitive industry. Finally, adding several heavy hitting names and recommendations to your resume can aid you in standing ahead of other applicants if applying for work.
A good example is a TFP shoot I did when I was seventeen years old that gave me a major leg-up. For confidentiality I cannot disclose which session I am referring to, but to drive my point, I received recommendations and endorsements from several significant figures in the European music world, which led to my now consistent work with a slew of major musicians from Norway, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, and England.
All of this being said, I did want to mention for the aspiring photographers out there: Just because a photo session is a trade shoot, doesn’t mean that your professionalism should fly out the window. You do need to treat this session like a job, which means being punctual, on your best behavior, and delivering upon your end of the bargain. I cannot stress this point enough. Trust me, it will bite you if you don’t put your best foot forward.
As for myself, yes, I most definitely did my share of TFP shoots in my early years! I do not currently do TFP shoots however.
You’ve obviously been around the block now, and your music portfolio is basically a who’s who of the rock music world. Which artists gave you some of your best photos? Haha, thank you! I totally knew this question was coming, and I am still hopelessly unprepared for it. So I’ll divide this question between live shots and promotional imagery.
With concerts, at the risk of sounding a bit pretentious, the honest truth is that you’ll likely get better photographs from the artists that you have a personal relationship with in regard to ideal poses, camera interaction, and a strong familiarity with what they do. Those shots tend to be considered the best. That being said, I’ve had a gem of a collection of shots with musicians I have never actually personally met.
To answer the question, I adore ALL of the artists I have photographed. These are just a small sampling of the bands that include materials that have been validated as my best work:
IAMX, Behemoth, HIM, Nightwish, Avenged Sevenfold, Motionless in White, Cradle of Filth, and Apocalyptica.
As for promotional sessions, any artist that has a big personality or unique idea will likely fall under the viewer’s “best” photograph category. Some of my favorite sessions were with Within Temptation, Athanasia, Empyrean Throne, Epsilon Zero, Zeistencroix, Corlyx, Madlife, and The Dark off of the top of my head.
For all of the photography buffs out there, which camera do you normally shoot with? I love chatting about my gear! I own several cameras, all for different purposes. My primary camera is the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, that is the one you will most likely see me using for music photography. My secondary backup is the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. I also have a Canon EOS 7D Mark II for animal photography, as that is Canon’s sport line camera. For shoots of significant scale or an exceptionally difficult set up (such as extremely low light), I’ll borrow the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II from Canon Professional Services (CPS). However, the camera body is only half of the equation. The lenses I use for professional work are the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM II, Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM II, and on occasion I will borrow the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM from CPS. I have a “muck around” lens I use from Lensbaby, which is the Burnside 35 f/2.8, a fully manual artistic distortion lens from a company that only makes fancy art lenses. If you’ve seen my MGT photographs from the Los Angeles stop of the tour or my album art session for pop vocalist Jessica Bari, the Burnside is what I used to capture those shots. As well, all of my lenses are equipped with filters from an awesome New York company called Tiffen, with two of them also sporting Tiffen Variable Neutral-Density (ND) filters for all of those daytime band sessions when the California sun is particularly harsh.
What is your all-time favorite lens to use? As much as I love all of the lenses in my arsenal, my heart has always been captivated by the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II. Fondly known as the “walk around lens” by professionals and hobbyists alike, the 24-70mm is a lens that offers diversity and functionality, and its range makes the 24-70mm lens a remarkable companion for a vast array of photo shoots. You can easily go from a wide angle to a zoom with this beauty, acclimating as quickly as your subjects change. This lens also allows you to capture a large variety of shots per session without the need to consistently change your lens. It’s awesome to be able to throw one lens into my bag and go on an adventure rather than having to carry my entire kit, and we have been on many, many endeavors together. My one complaint would be the aperture only sitting at f/2.8, as I really do love the look of the creamy bokeh from any lens with an aperture of f/1.8 or lower.
How many shoots do you think you do in a typical year? Oh boy… if you count every concert shoot and every photo session, last year I did nearly 700 photo shoots. It’s only June at the moment, and I’ve already done 100. This number may sound outrageous, but I do offer mini sessions for those on a tighter budget or individuals who only need a few images, which can fill up my schedule quickly. I do work 7 days a week, for the majority of the year. My poor social life is well aware of how tumultuous my work schedule is…
What was the longest shoot you’ve ever been a part of? Music video behind-the-scenes sessions are always the longest, through doing these I have learned how to be a multitasking pro with eating and shooting simultaneously ha! The longest was likely working the Black Veil Brides BTS for Goodbye Agony and Heart of Fire (directed by Patrick Fogarty), as those two videos were filmed consecutively. If we are talking about a photo shoot that I ran, the longest was a really wild clothing catalog shoot that ran 13 hours. With concerts, I worked photography at Mayhem Festival for several years in a row, and that was always an early morning to late night dying-in-the-summer-heat-shooting-a-lot-of-bands-in-a-row gig.
How many photos do you typically shoot in say a 1 hour portrait session? It is session-dependent, but I do have a reputation for being an exceptionally fast shoot. As such, I have managed to fit many looks into a single hour, which can produce up to 2,000 shots or more (which the client then culls and selects from). As well, the way that I work my shoots is that I have my subject consistently moving as I rapid fire my shutter, I find that this produces more natural looks, especially in those that are a bit uncomfortable in front of the camera. I got this idea from watching how the RED video camera worked when it was first announced, and how notorious Vogue became for their magazine covers being stills from the RED video camera. Where most people were gawking at the fact that a still large enough resolution to print could be nabbed from a video, I noticed the benefit of a relaxed subject in consistent movement.
In addition to shooting in some fairly large venues, you also on occasion shoot in smaller clubs. How do you get so many awesome photographs in sometimes poor light conditions? You are right! I actually quite like the character of smaller clubs, though the lighting (and lack thereof) can be a major nuisance. Although photography as a whole is dependent upon the photographer and not the camera, poor light conditions are one of the few times in which your gear really is the most important factor as it’ll hinder your capability. You really push your cameras and lenses to the limit in these situations. The other key factor is how knowledgeable you are about post processing. Though I could go on for hours on this very topic, the key takeaways are the following:
- Have a camera that has a powerful sensor with a manageable amount of noise at very high ISO.
- Have a camera that has a very powerful auto focusing tracking system paired with a fast lens if you aren’t quick with your manual focus.
- Have a camera with a fast FPS (frames-per-second) as burst mode will be your best friend.
- Use a lens that opens to a wide aperture of a minimum of f/2.8, as the wider the aperture, the more light is let in.
- Be thoughtful on what aspects of difficult lighting situations you can remedy or save in post processing, as that can affect what shots you are able to capture. I teach a whole class on this through www.DeliquesceFlux.com.
I just have to ask. As a photographer, how do you feel about all these camera filters on Instagram, Facebook, etc? I personally don’t mind them, but to each their own. I feel many forget that the concept of filters for photography is not a new practice, forms of filters existed back in the film / darkroom days. Everything is just digitized and the average person can access it all now. I understand the irk that photographers feel when their work is re-edited by someone else, whether it be due to a filter being thrown on or otherwise. You have to remember that each photograph is a reflection of the photographer and their professional work. However, I don’t usually mind, for me, when I create art for someone else, I want THEM to be happy with their investment in my work. If that happiness stems from wanting to add a quirky filter, they may.
From a business perspective, I often throw filters on my photographs or make minor modifications to differentiate between the photograph being released on, say, Instagram, and the same image being put up on a different social media like Facebook. From a marketing standpoint, it aids in me keeping track of where my images are shared from and provides additional insight on user interaction between my various accounts.
Which program(s) do you usually utilize for editing and retouching? I am an avid Adobe user, my editing is primarily done through a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop! That being said, I have strayed away from Adobe when it concerns editing RAW format, and use the ON1 software for that. I had the pleasure of meeting the team behind this program while working at this year’s WPPI (Wedding & Portrait Photographers International) Convention in Las Vegas and the software impressed the heck out of me.
Your work is definitely a bit on the darker side (which I love!). How would YOU personally describe your style however? How did you find your own voice through your photography? Thank you so much! I feel my subjects influence the output. I am quite diversified, and my working style will shift to adapt to the subject’s wants, needs, and aesthetic. As I do work most in rock and metal, the aesthetic of these genres tend to be on the darker side. As well, my own personal style of being (between my attire and my interests) are a bit more gothic, so I suppose I have an affinity for producing that look based on my own likings. However, my animal and pet photography is usually quite vibrant with very saturated color schemes. I find it hard to describe my personal style, other than it seems to be recognizable enough for people to pick up on ha! I am very attracted to shallow depths of field, like, really shallow. f/1.2 level of shallow. To the point where I do so many photo shoots in that aperture parameter that I was booked to teach an entire photography class on how to work exclusively with an f/1.2 aperture!
As for finding my voice, I find that topic to be really interesting to talk about. I have a difficult time believing that you necessarily find it, I feel your ‘voice’ in art is something that finds you, so to speak. As artists, whether you’re a photographer, musician, painter, makeup artist, whatever kind of creative you are- you will always put a part of yourself into everything you make. You will also always showcase your own personal vision, aesthetic, and ideology in it all. That’s organic, it’s innate, and it’s something you won’t really notice until you step back and see what you’ve done and be able to find yourself in the pieces.
Which photographers do you really admire? Excluding historic figures, I have a list of photographers that I admire within every niche of photography that I love. For exclusively music photography, my most admired photographers have always been Ville Juurikkala, Paul Harries, and Ross Halfin. I actually had the pleasure of being introduced to Ville Juurikkala by Jyrki (Jyrki69 / The 69 Eyes) and my good friend Molly Edge earlier this year, which was likely the first time I have ever had a real “fan” moment, haha. Such a nice and lovely lad, and I sincerely appreciate the knowledge and advice he passed along that evening. Ville has done outstanding work with my friends in MGT, as well as long-time subjects HIM and Apocalyptica, and I sincerely urge everyone to go check out his work if you aren’t already familiar. As a general consensus, I love music photographers whose work attract viewers because they capture a spark in their subjects, rather than because the subjects have a level of fame or popularity. That is something I aspire to cultivate in my own work, capturing something deeper and something more human. My other deeply admired photographers include Chad Michael Ward, Maja Rokavec, Rachel Lauren, and Valentina Kallias. I like photographers that have a very distinct look to their work.
You recently did a photo shoot with our mutual friend, Chad Michael Ward, who has worked with Marilyn Manson, New Year’s Day, Dave Navarro and an assortment of awesome musicians. How was it being in FRONT of the lens this time? Yes! Chad is an awesome human, and an even more awesome artist (and I know you share the same opinion!). I had admired his work for many, many years. Through a couple of more high-profile jobs I secured and a minor directional career shift, I was in desperate need of headshots and he was the first person I thought of. Being in front of the lens was quite the experience, and one that I didn’t take lightly as I spent quite a few months making sure that all of the components came together perfectly. I waited several months for my very good friend and incredible makeup artist Gaiapatra to be in town to work on my face for this shoot and come be some friendly support.
I think every photographer should become a subject to gain a better perspective on what the clients are experiencing (and where you can improve your own working set up!). I had never done a photo shoot with a high-caliber industry photographer before (believe it or not) and it was a great experience. Chad is brilliant at direction and so easy to feel comfortable with. As a client, suddenly being the center of attention, I understood how nerve-wracking a shoot can be. But as the shoot progressed, my self-assurance began to build. I completely felt the cathartic effect that photography can bring forth. It’s amazing how much confidence a photo shoot can inspire, and if anything, that drives my motivation even further to give that feeling to others.
The ten photographs I received from the session with Chad are my absolute favorite, and I can honestly say that was the best investment I ever did for myself outside of investing in my photography business.
These days, do you also have to write your own articles in addition to photographing events when you work for a music publication? I’ve been seeing a lot of that these days. To preface my answer, I do have to bring up the fact that the music industry has changed (and is changing) from what it was. This change has a ripple effect. It doesn’t just effect those that actually create the music; it impacts every facet of the music world. One such facet is music journalism and photojournalism. What went from individualized roles have become a need for individuals who can be a one-stop-article-shop. This is due to a multitude of reasons, one of which is budgetary constraints within the publication and another being the over saturation of concert photographers and there not being enough credentials to go around. In the case of working in Los Angeles, the music hub, acquiring a pass for a concert can be difficult, let alone two passes for two individuals to attend a show from the same publication. So a photographer writing their own articles is a common, normalized occurrence.
What advice do you have to give to aspiring photographers trying to break into music photography? How does one start getting into these coveted shows to photograph bigger artists? My biggest pieces of advice are the following:
- Put your most professional foot forward, because that will make or break your opportunity. Yes, the music industry isn’t known for always being the most proficient workplace, but that doesn’t mean that you should base your behavior around the conduct of others. Trust me, being the reliable one in the room will impact you in a significantly positive way. If you wish to work personally with musicians and not just with the team behind them, you’ll quickly find that thinking you’ll only do photography is a fallacy. You will do so much more than snap some cool shots, and being reliable will come in handy. As will multitasking, so get a move on that too.
- Ambition speaks volumes, and actions will speak louder than your words. Let your determination and ambition lead. That being said, stepping on toes isn’t cool, and you don’t need to cut someone to get anywhere. Which leads to my next piece of advice…
- BE NICE. Yes, kindness is still important. This is an industry built on relationships. Be kind, be polite, be honest, and be genuine. That will get you so far in this industry, and in life as a whole.
- Finally, never stop learning. Dedicated 100% of yourself to always improving your abilities, growing as an artist, and advancing your skillsets. There is always a way to progress. The quality of your work will determine whether your career has longevity or not.
- As for how one starts getting into coveted shows, I really wish there was a simple answer to this. The truth is that there just isn’t. You can find your way to the same goal with a thousand different methods. Some get there through working for publications, others meet someone, some cold contact and pitch, etcetera. Just to stress this repetitive point though, this really is an industry built heavily on relationships and quality of work. Anyone can be introduced, but it’s your art’s value, demeanor, and ability to work that will keep you there.
What is your favorite historical photo? I have always been madly in love with the surrealist photograph “Dali Atomicus” by photographer Philippe Halsman. Halsman was very close friends with painter Salvador Dali, and the two had the most fantastic collaborations. For a bit of history on Atomicus, the photograph was inspired by Dali’s painting “Leda Atomica”, and I absolutely adore how reinterpretations between mediums come to culmination. To add to the cool factor of this photograph, it was conducted with all practical effects, a lost art in much of today’s world. You have to remember that this image was taken in a world without Photoshop, and much of advanced manipulation in the darkroom was either extremely difficult, impossible, or logistically impractical to do. With the help of various assistants (including Halsman’s wife and daughter), it took 26 (or something along those lines, I can’t remember the number exactly) takes to get that one masterpiece of a shot.
To just throw it out there, as far as history is aware, the cats were completely unharmed… they were just understandably irritated. But please, don’t throw cats for the sake of art… or any animal for that matter. I may love this photo for what it is, but I really don’t condone tossing animals around!
Lastly, on a completely unrelated note, you have just about the coolest unicornesque hair ever. How often do you have to dye those gorgeous tresses, and which colors/brands do you usually stick with? Thank you! My hair, funny enough, has become a part of my photography brand, so I’m stuck with it now! I am extremely fortunate that my childhood best friend is an insanely talented hair stylist by the name of Konstantine, based out of Indulge Salon in Walnut Creek, CA (Northern California). I am originally from Northern California (though I have lived in Los Angeles for 16 years), and travel up north frequently for work, so I will always swing by and get my locks worked on. If it wasn’t for my roots, I wouldn’t have to dye often, as my hair holds the color well. I get it done every two months. Purple is “my color” so to speak, but lately I have been adding blue and doing a purple-to-blue ombre. We use Joico dye!