I sat down with Jim just as he got back in to town to discuss how he became a concert photographer. While no longer living in Pittsburgh, Jim grew up here and frequently visits to see friends, eat pizza, and photograph shows. Rarely without his camera, this interview was actually the first time I recall seeing him without it.
What are some of your favorite bands to photograph?
Here in Pittsburgh would be Eternal Boy. In Philly I enjoy taking photos for Summer Scouts. Doing the pictures for Green Day was “the highlight of my whole life.” Green Day and Blink-182 were really my mountain tops, my goals, and I met those right away. Sum 41 also, they’re really good dudes and gave me an all access pass.
Okay, I’ll stop, because I could honestly just keep going. I love all the groups I’ve worked with.
Do you have any favorite venues to work in?
The Fillmore in Philly is pretty much perfect as far as photography is concerned. The lighting is really nice and the stage works well as a photographer.
I don’t like shooting Starland (Ballroom, NJ). The photography just isn’t great and they use pink and purple lighting which is torture.
How did you get started with photography/concert photography?
Long story short, my aunt was diagnosed with Parkinsons and I was taking care of her as a home nurse and I really needed a hobby. So my aunt bought me a camera; it was a good starter kit and had the lenses and such to learn the basics with, which led to me taking hockey pictures because I also play hockey. I took hockey pictures of my buddies because I thought I could grab some cool ones and that got me started learning.
I got started in concert photography when New Found Glory and Turnstile went on tour. I got in touch through Facebook with New Found Glory about a photo pass and heard nothing back. I didn’t know what to do, so I sent a message to Turnstile who messaged back and said, “Bring us Nerd ropes”–like the candy. I was just like, “Are they fucking with me?” so I told them I would, because I was just going to be there since I thought it would be awesome. They came back with, “Sure, you need a ticket as well?” and I told them I didn’t, but when I showed up to the box office there was a photo pass and ticket waiting for me and it was surreal. I had just bought my nice new camera and I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know about the first three song rule, my lighting was off, and it didn’t help that it was at Starland.
From there I ended up pairing up with a local blog to get access to venues and ended up hooked up with the Yellowcard/New Found Glory tour. I got a picture of Chad holding up this little girl to sing with them and their media team found it on my Instagram and messaged me about really liking it. So now I get hooked up with a lot of the bands they cover as well to do pictures.
Growing up my goal was to play in a band and go to Warped Tour (with that band). I ended up asking a friend for Kevin Lyman’s email so I could request a photo pass, and that friend told me not to tell Kevin they gave it to me. I ended up with a photo pass and it has just been insane since.
I also shoot for Substream Magazine, so between that and Warped, I’ve just gotten super lucky.
How does it feel being Roger Lima‘s personal photographer?
The satisfaction that gives… it’s like your hero saying he likes your stuff! I’ve loved them since ’98 and I always liked Roger best. He’s like my Tom of Blink, because you know everyone either likes Tom or you like Mark, and Roger is my Tom. He photographs really well. It’s honestly just surreal.
I’d listened to Hello Rockview like a million times, I’d gone to see them a lot, and now I’m getting a personal Instagram message written out about me?! It was the craziest and coolest thing ever.
We even talked in person about it and he told me “I love your pictures” and I was just like, well, I love you and it’s just the craziest thing ever.
Before you were a photographer, you were in a band. How did that transition work out for you?
I was in a band for about a year and a half. We toured with the SpacePimps (now Eternal Boy) on their first tour EVER. The thing with being in a band is that you have to have 3, 4, whatever number of people to be on the same page and be best friends. I gave up on my band dream once that ended, but that music spilled in to this.
My playing and listening and appreciating and going to shows made it so I can anticipate their (the musician’s) movements. So being in a band really transitioned into photography for me. My photography has been way more successful than my band ever was. We were little and local and didn’t really make it bigger. But that knowledge it helps translate the music into my pictures, and people seem to like it.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into music or into concert photography?
The music scene is really hard right now. It’s kind of saturated so you have to be amazing like right off (but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it).
As far as photography though, have a band mentality. Have your equipment, expect not to make any money, but go to the show. Post your work, that’ll lead to getting work that will bring in money.
People think that just because I posted pictures I took of Metallica “oh you’re that much better”–no. I just got lucky.
Experience and feedback are worth so much more when you’re shooting, too.
Other than that, ask questions, get all of the info you can. You don’t need to go to school for it. I graduated from YouTube University. Seriously, look it up on YouTube. Go out and do it. Practice. Practice in every situation–the show, sports, just walking around. It all pays off.
What is your craziest tour photography story?
I haven’t toured exclusively with any groups. When I was doing a shoot for The Used there was this kid that came over the barrier and the security guard choke-slammed him to the ground. Bert saw it and he said, “What the fuck are you doing?” and almost kicked the security guard in the head. I got it all on video, though I only showed them (The Used).
I cried when I got approved for Green Day. I was doing my hockey laundry at the laundromat and I got the email that said, “Jim, you’re approved,” and that was it, that was the mountain top. All the goals I had, I did all in one year–Blink, Green Day, the Penguins. I did photos for them all.
Also doing Sum 41’s photos when they played in Pittsburgh. I had stage access and they did the light up and they see that every night they play but I got a picture of it and it was a totally different experience for me.
There’s just so many moments. You make eye contact with someone on stage and they know it’s you.
I don’t have any bad crazy stories.
What is your favorite local pizza place?
Pittsburgh pizza is the best. Oh man, shit, who would be first. Okay…
Number one, Angelo’s Pizzeria in Bloomfield.
Number two, Della Sala’s in Verona–it’s so fucking good. I’m probably going there after we’re done. It’s the first thing I eat when I come back, or Angelo’s.
If you have pizza from any of those three places, your night is going to be good. Della Sala’s is in kind of a garage, you’ll be confused. Just wait though.
Check out more of Jim’s photography on his Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Or catch him at a show. Rumor has it he’ll be at Punchline 20th Anniversary Tour show on Saturday, July 8, and at the Eternal Boy CD Release Show on Saturday, July 15.