I had the privilege of interviewing event photographer, Tony Cottrell. Tony has photographed for Insomniac Events, YourEDM, and has worked with artists like Brillz, Knife Party, Snails, (and even was personally flown to shoot by R3HAB!). Let’s get into it.
TrapStyle: How did you get you start taking photographs? Did you start right away with event photography?
Tony Cottrell: Yes I got my start in event photography–rave photography to be specific. When I first started shooting club events towards the end of 2012 in Scottsdale, I was paid. It wasn’t much. I was a novice.
TS: What was your first show that you couldn’t believe your were photographing? How did it feel to get that call?
TC: Beyond Wonderland 2013 for R3hab. I shot for him at Axis Radius and he was so impressed with my photos that he flew me out the following weekend to San Bernardino to capture his performance. This is what grew my hunger for festival photography.
TS: Who’s your favorite artist that you’ve photographed?
TC: Knife Party. Not only are they my favorite artists in general, they bring so much crazy energy every one of the events they are at. Typically during a KP set the production is at its peak with lasers, confetti, cryo, lights, etc. That tends to lead to pretty awesome photos.
TS: Who’s the top artist that you want to photograph but haven’t had the chance to yet?
TC: I would love to work personally with Skrillex. I have photographed Jack U and Diplo but never Skrillex alone. Going on tour with him would be absolutely epic as well. Deadmau5 would be a close second.
TS: When you started to photograph big name festivals, was there anything behind the scenes that surprised you?
TC: When you’re on the festival grounds its chaotic and over populated, behind the scenes is a different world. Its calm, there is food, and every DJ is backstage in their trailers. Its almost surreal walking through the first time seeing artists moseying around without an entourage.
TS: What event company have you been happiest working with? How did they accommodate or show that they valued you?
TC: Steve Levine Entertainment holds a spot in my heart. They are the first company I worked for and they led me to a lot of opportunities with huge artists. They had me shoot the majority of their club events and would let me shoot literally any event they were part of if I wanted to.
Tony’s Tips & Tricks
TS: What’s your current rig look like?
TC: Right now I have a pretty basic setup:
Body: Canon 6D
Accessories: Canon 430ex II Flash
TS: If you could splurge and spend a lot of money upgrading one part of your rig, what would it be?
TC: Lenses. My next purchase is the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS ii.
TS: What mistakes do beginning event photographers make in their photographs?
TC: Unless they have worked with their camera prior to event photography, one common mistake is shooting in full auto. Also taking 5000 photos at an event is not a good thing and should be avoided at all costs. Focus on money shots and delete anything that isn’t. If you display 67 photos of the stage from the same angle with the same lighting in a different position, people will not take you seriously.
TS: What mistakes do beginning event photographers make in working with promoters and finding opportunities?
TC: When talking with promoters it’s very important to know the right person to speak with. Never start off asking one of the ticket salesmen to get you a media pass. Instead inquire about the press rep or media personnel and go from there. Spamming people will put a bad taste in their mouth about you and they will most likely blacklist you.
TS: When should event photographers start charging for their work?
TC: There is no specific time to start charging. I would say when you feel you are good enough to be paid for your work would be a good time though. I think some people think they should be paid for their time regardless, but as most services you will not be paid if you are less than sufficient for the job.
TS: How do photographers get noticed by big-name festivals?
TC: Working for the press leads to opportunities for the bigger festivals to notice you. Having a publication that receives millions of visitors monthly can get you into pretty much any event.
TS: What does a typical big-name photo contract look like? How should photographers expect to deliver their work to high-profile clients clients?
TC: Typically a few pages with a lot of terms and conditions. Depending on the specific contract they may have a deadline to submit photos. In the past, I have had to deliver to the client an entire photo gallery 6 hours after the event . Typical delivery time is under 24 hours though, which is manageable unless you are working with multiple clients nightly like I usually do. It gets crazy at times. Photos should always be uploaded to a source like Dropbox before sending so the images aren’t compressed by the email at all.
TS: As a self-taught photographer, what are some resources that you used to up your game? Where can other photographers gain technical & practical knowledge about their craft?
TC: Best thing to do is befriend other photographers that are like-minded. They can be your biggest resource. Exchanging knowledge and learning new tricks is key to any craft and even more so with photography. I tend to learn better from trial and error and for those like me I would say grab a camera and go shoot, see where you went wrong, and fix it. YouTube is also a great resource for finding tutorials on how to gain knowledge about photography.
TS: What is a fairly inexpensive rig or component that you would recommend starting event photographers to purchase?
TC: Assuming they have a starter kit camera (t5i w/18-55mm) the next purchase should be an external flash. The built in flashes on those cameras are not good enough to get good photos in dark settings. Although I never use my flash on stage, there are many of times where I need it backstage or for attendee photos. You can get a generic external flash for super cheap although I recommend sticking with your DSLR’s brand, Canon, Nikon, Sony etc.
TS: Who are your favorite photographers & influences?
TS: How can music fans take better concert photos on their smartphones?
TC: I would encourage fans to put their phones away and enjoy the show, let us capture the memories! 🙂
TS: What’s the importance of having a photography portfolio page?
TC: On a scale to 1-10 this is an 11. Trying to get work without any work displayed can be useless. Starting off shooting a few events for your portfolio is a good route. Update frequently!
TS: How should photographers start to grow their portfolios?
TC: The problem with that thinking is that people will offer you work. Even though I am a professional in the industry, I seek out a lot of my work. So with that said, if you are unable to grow your portfolio its not because of lack of work, its lack of motivation to find the work.
TS: Should event photographers look for contemporary gigs like weddings or portraits when they are not photographing concerts?
TC: Wedding photography is a whole different monster and is extremely complicated. If someone is not experienced they should stay far away to avoid disappointment and potential lawsuits. Portrait photography can be a doable gig outside of event photography.
TS: How were you introduced to electronic music?
TC: Cosmic Bowling…2000…Darude- Feel The Beat
TS: Who have you been listening to recently?
TC: RL Grime, Alexander Lewis, and Skism.
TS: What was the first electronic music concert you attended?
TC: Aside from my kid raving days.. My first real electronic show was the first show I shot at, Tritonal and 12th planet in February 2012.
TS: Any DIY photo or travel hacks?
TC: I made a diffuser from a styrofoam cup in the past.
TS: Favorite book?
TC: I prefer reading articles online or in magazines.
TS: What do you listen/read to when traveling?
TC: I listen to trap and dubstep or heavy metal while traveling. Typically read anything about new technology.
TS: How has electronic music impacted your life, other than your career?
TC: Without my career I don’t think I would be as enthralled in the community as I am now. Everything I do currently is based around electronic music .
You can find Tony Cottrell at