Monday, May 27, 2013


by Jamie Goodsell
All images © Dana Distortion
photography website •
blog •

Photographers are constantly searching their minds and pulling out memories, ideas, thoughts, influences, beliefs and knowledge to compress it all through their eye. Our experiences compose our vision and the images that we produce are reflections of ourselves. Live music photography is all about moments, reflexes, emotions, angles, light, documentation, and making beautiful artwork. Anyone can take a live music image, but it takes a very special mind to be able to capture the moments that give depth and significance to the artist(s) on stage. Few have the vision to see the magic that exists in the most delicate openings at a live show and I am so fortunate to know and to have gotten the chance to interview one of my personal favorite live music photographers, Dana Distortion Yavin.


So you're from Tel Aviv, Israel...what was your childhood like there?
Amazing. It's really a good place to grow up because you get to be very independent at a young age. It's very children friendly. On the other hand, it's always in war so it's often not the best place. 

What made you want to come to the United States? 

I came to New York for the summer for two months and stayed for thirteen years. Just like anything else in my life, it wasn't planned and it just happened. 

When did you start becoming interested in film and photography? 

I think it kind of naturally happened, but I was always very visual. I always saw my life as a scene from a movie, it always had a soundtrack and I kind of look at myself from the outside. I saw stories in scenes, like in cinema and that's why I think I started with film and not with photography. I always liked photography but I think I kind of avoided it because of the math behind it. It always seemed very complicated to me how to operate a camera. I did take printing classes in the past and it was always a side hobby for me. 

You've achieved two film degrees...What did you learn from film school? 

I started film school in Israel and then moved to New York. I went to school not for them to teach me what to do, but for them to give me an understanding of what I can do. I just wanted to develop my emotions and I think that's what school really gave me. It also gave me the opportunity and the key to do it because I could rent very expensive equipment and I had wonderful teachers in every aspect of it. I really loved it, I hated high school but I loved film school. 

Who do you shoot live music for in New York?

It depends, sometimes I shoot for different bands or PR. I shoot mostly for Brooklyn Vegan and now I've started shooting for Rolling Stone

What's new with you? What other projects are you working on? 

I do a lot of other stuff. I do videos, I do portraits - which is something I'm getting more and more into. I'm starting a new blog right now where I'm going to be a little more personal about my self and my photography which I think I've been avoiding for a long time because of English mostly. Writing in English is not easy for me as much as in Hebrew, but I'm getting over it. I've got a new documentary film I'm working on as well. I'm constantly doing a million things but there's never enough hours for me to do everything I want to unfortunately. 

What kind of gear do you use for your live music photography? 
I use a Nikon D700 and Nikon D4 for camera bodies. As far as lenses...a 24-70mm; 70-200mm; 24mm; 50mm. The next one on my list is the 14-24mm which I'm dying to get. Of course better equipment gives you better results, but it's not what makes you a photographer. You need to develop your own style. Better equipment is not a solution to becoming a better photographer. 

So can you tell me how you started shooting live music professionally?

I was always involved in music in some way or another. I was always in the music scene in Tel Aviv, I always dated musicians, I always played instruments, I'm very into music. Everything I do almost in my life is music related. I've been djing as well for many many years, music is just a big part of my life. 

I never thought of shooting live shows for some reason and then I did a documentary film about Gogol Bordello, so I toured with them and shot video. I was at a festival in Texas and they asked me not to shoot video, so I had this little digital point and shoot and just started snapping shots and just fell in love with it immediately. That's it, that's seriously how I started...I just fell in love with it instantly and never put the camera down. I took it to all the shows I went to and started shooting and within a year I had quite a good portfolio, I think.

What kind of moments do you look for when you're editing your own work?
I think for your portfolio, it's the 5-10 first photos that count and they need to be the stronger ones. It's a combination of big names, great moments and something that shows something about you as a photographer. I don't think people really tend to look after that. A portfolio is to show your personality and your skill as a photographer. When I shoot music, I feel like I'm onstage with the band. I feel the show, the band and that's all I care about. What comes out just comes out, I never plan anything, I never want to expect anything. I enjoy every second of it and I never have expectations. You never know and that's what I love about it. 

For folks who don't know anything about live music photography, how would you describe it?

It's hard. I don't want to judge anybody, but I don't get photographers who leave after the first three songs (unless they have to of course). To me, if you don't really love live music, what the hell are you doing there? I know a lot of people who shoot music because the people are famous or because it's a challenge and I think the main thing about music photography is the music. The live show is for the audience, not for the shoot what you get and that's what I love about music photography. Trying to make the person hear the music when they look at your photo. One of the biggest compliments I get is when people shoot me an email and tell me, "Thank you for documenting the show because I really wanted to be there and you really made me feel like I was there for a minute."

What's your opinion of the idea of competition in photography? 
I do what I do you know, I never compare myself to other photographers. I really like seeing other photographers' work and I never see myself competing for a spot or a place or anything like that. I just don't see photography like that. I really think that it's such fun and hard work that if you're busy competing with other photographers you're probably in the wrong place. I think that if you have your own unique style and you're just doing what you're doing then that's all you need. What are we competing for? I'm just honored that people are looking up my stuff and it makes them feel something, that's all I care about. 

Can you tune everyone into the monetary side of live music photography?  

Most music photographers don't make their living that way, unfortunately. Photography is such an individual thing, you really let someone see your perspective on things, your point of view, your angle, your style. Photography to me is so much about style and that's why I spend so much time editing my images, it's aesthetic and passion. It's really everything in one photograph. If you don't do it for those reasons, you're in the wrong business my friend. If you want to make a lot of money out of music photography, I just think you're in the wrong business - what can I tell you? That should never be your drive to shoot music and I'm not saying don't make money off it if you can, but that's not the reason you should do it.

Who are some of your influences in photography? 
I really love Mick Rock and Bob Gruen. I really love Cindy Sherman and Annie Leibovitz, of course. I gotta tell you though, I'm influenced more by filmmakers than photographers for some reason. Filmmaking is a little deeper to me style-wise than photography sometimes. As a visual aspect, styles of films are much more remembered to me than photographs. 

If someone asked you how to become a live music photographer, what would you say? 

Grab your camera and start shooting. That's it, that's all it is. There's really nothing more than that. Get whatever camera you have and start shooting. Someone told me once that the best camera is the one you have with you and it's very true. I think starting out on such a shitty camera made me a better photographer. 

What do you think it takes to be a great live music photographer? 

I think a lot of it is natural instinct, and I think any documentary photographer needs to have good instincts and a good eye. I think those are the two things you have to have. If you don't have that then you're probably not going to make the best photographer (laughs). Things change so quickly and I think a lot of photographers fail where they doubt themselves. Insecurity is not something to have in the photo-pit. You can't have it, you need to be very determined about your next move and you need to be very spontaneous. You need to trust your instincts. 

What do you want to accomplish with your photography, Dana? 

I just want to do it for the rest of my life. Being able to shoot any single show I want. Always. Ever. I've done a lot in three years, I'm already doing what I want to be doing with my photography. I just want to keep doing it - that's what I want. 

Please check out Dana's website for more of her great live music images, films, videos, etc:

Thursday, May 2, 2013


by Jamie Goodsell
All images © Rob Howard
website •
blog •

I met Rob Howard at Bonnaroo in 2011. I was on assignment documenting the festival and morning yoga sessions were in full swing. I saw these two guys walking around together, both holding cameras. It was Rob and his agent Julian, who was playing photo assistant for the weekend. Rob approached me and introduced himself and I was immediately taken with his positive attitude, personality and outlook. Rob is the kind of person that you feel like you've known for years even if you've only just met. He exudes joy and a raw passion for taking pictures and the proof is in his work. I was just finding myself as a photographer when I met Rob and he had a big influence on the way I thought about photography. I highly encourage all of you to go to his website and take in the warmth. 


My first impression of you was your amazing positivity. What keeps you so positive? Is it the Canadian blood? 

I think there's a dash of Canadian for sure, but I also just think photography is so much fun and ever since I picked up a camera at the age of 24, I've never had a bad day taking pictures. I just seem to get a rush holding the camera and clicking away, I get energy from's just a bizarre thing. I love the ability of a camera to get me into situations with other people. It's just non-stop exchanges of energy and ideas and experiences with other people, all walks of life all around the planet. It never fails to blow me away where the camera takes me. 

What was it like growing up in Canada?

I grew up in both Montreal and Toronto - I moved to Toronto when I was 12. It was a very multi-cultural city, so I grew up with people from many different ethnicities from many different parts of the planet, and it was very inspiring because there would be kids in my class from Sri Lanka, Jamaica, South America or Eastern Europe. It just put the seed in my head that I really wanted to see where these kids came from and what the planet was all about. It inspired me to travel. Fortunately, photography has been such an extraordinary vehicle to do just that. Gosh, 140 and counting countries in the world's been a rush. And all 50 states which has been such a treat too.

Who influenced you to start taking photographs and when was the first time you thought to yourself, "this is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life?"

I was studying Literature and Philosophy at the University of Toronto and my little brother got sick with Leukemia. It happened at the end of the school year and I just couldn't focus on exams, so I actually dropped out of school and just hung out in the hospital with my brother as he tried to get better. He eventually did go into remission and then by the end of the summer I was ready to go back to school, but I wasn't ready...I wasn't emotionally ready. So I just decided that I wasn't gonna go back and a friend of mine had gotten into modeling and he was meeting all these cool photographers in Toronto and telling me all of these amazing stories and it just sounded really intriguing. So the two of us went to a pawn shop in downtown Toronto and bought cameras together, and immediately it just felt really good in my hands and I'd never thought about a career in photography or had even taken pictures. It was this instant epiphany, it was was just on a whim, it was very capricious you know, and all of the sudden I had a camera and I was taking pictures and I just loved it instantly, it was just so natural. It felt like I'd been taking pictures for many years. I started taking pictures of models at his modeling agency, and the funny thing is he went on to have a wonderful career in photography as well. His name is Michael Williams, he's a fashion and celebrity photographer here in New York. 

Can you tell me about your education background in photography? Where did you learn the basics?

I'm self taught. I never went to school for it. I always say I went to the school of hard knocks (laughs). I just taught my self how to print and process film, and I would spend days in the darkroom experimenting. After a year of that in Toronto, I decided to go to Australia, so I went to Sydney during the summer and started shooting there and learning about light. I spent a couple of years there shooting for fashion magazines and those were my first jobs. Then I moved to Paris and spent a couple of years bouncing between Paris, Milan, and London still shooting fashion. Through a friend of the family, I got a funny job to go to Morocco and shoot an arts festival for the Royal Family. It was for the government in a town called Asilah and I just started taking pictures of people, dancers, artists and all of these amazing things that weren't fashion and were just fun to shoot. I went down into the desert and up into the mountains, travelled all around Morocco that summer for about six weeks after the festival and just got a collection of pictures together. At that time I was living in Paris, and when I got back there after the summer in Morocco, I just shut down my apartment, moved back to Toronto and started working for a magazine called Saturday Night Magazine and they started sending me all around the world. 

What was the first job they sent you on? 

The first job that they sent me on was a two month trip to Tibet, and then they sent me to Borneo with this hunter-gatherer nomadic tribe. Next, they sent me to Egypt to do a story on the Sphinx and the Pyramids - the whole history of Egypt. With all of those photographs I collected from shooting for Saturday Night Magazine, I put a portfolio together and moved to New York and instantly got a job for Condé Nast Traveler magazine to go to Ethiopia for three weeks. That was my first big break in the states and I'm still on the masthead of that magazine to this day and still shoot for them regularly and it's just been a fantastic publication to be a part of. 

Were there ever times when you weren't getting jobs? 
Don't get me wrong, there were definitely dry spells but when that would go on, I always shot personal projects and kept things moving. 

Who were some of your influences for you in the beginning? 

The huge influences for me in the beginning were Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts, and Peter LindbergI'd say those three really taught me so many things. Then a little later, Annie Leibovitz. When I started shooting less fashion, I'd have to say Sebastiao Salgado. He had an enormous impact on me and I remember meeting him in Toronto and showing him some of my pictures. He was just so warm and enthusiastic about my pictures and very encouraging. His work has always had a big impact on me.

Who are some photographers you've been influenced by more recently? 
Two photographers whose work I find fascinating and inspiring are Ryan McGinley and Todd Selby. Guys who take initiative and shoot their own stuff with no fear. I dig that. 

What kind of photographer would you describe yourself as? 

Definitely more of just a photographer, I just love taking pictures. I'd say more now, I shoot advertising and personal projects. That's my passion to do personal pictures and shoot projects. Coming up with an idea and then fulfilling it over the course of days, weeks, months, whatever and just pursuing an idea to its conclusion for me is my passion. So it's not so much assignment driven anymore, it's more I assign myself an idea and then I go out and shoot it. And I shoot a lot of ads.

What are you shooting with these days? 

I've got so many cameras, I've still got about thirty film cameras. I've got two 1DX's and I shoot with a 24-70mm and a 70-200 and then I have a whole slew of others. I've got a couple of 24mm 1.4's; 35mm 1.4; 50mm 1.2; the 85mm 1.2; the 180 3.5 macro lens; all L series lenses but my two main ones right now are just those two zooms. 

Do you use any of your own lighting besides ambient light? 

I do...I often travel around with a couple of acute 600 packs by Profoto and I've also got a couple of Profoto 7b's. I love to blend strobe and ambient light, but mostly I just use ambient. I love what the sun can give us. Sometimes I'll just bring out the packs and make the sun jealous. If it's behind a cloud, it usually gets a little jealous and comes out and shines again. Usually I'm pretty lucky with the light...and I see it all of the time. I often see light before I see an object. I just love light so much. 

Could you break down the lighting in one of your images where you blended strobe and ambient light?

This shot particularly was actually shot with an acute 600 through the window. I play that trick a lot, I'll put a strobe with an umbrella or an octabank outside a window and pretend it's the sun and I play with that a lot. Also man, I use anything...I use HMI's, I use tungsten, I use flashlights, I use car lights, I use computer light, I use LEDs', there's just so many wonderful sources, I love fluorescent lights, I love desk lamps...there's just so many ways to skin a cat and it's fun to play. 

When you're with a subject, what's going through your mind? How do you get them just the way you want? What kind of moments are you looking for? 

I think the most important thing is to go into any situation (if you're going to their home or you're just entering their space) is to enter with humility, respect, and a sense of humor and just making them feel good about who they are. I think it comes from generally just digging people and I think it's really important to have an exchange, sit people down and talk to them and really, really listen. I find that helps a lot when it comes to taking pictures. If you can make them feel like they're special and that you really care, I think that goes a long way. 


What do you want your viewers to get from your images? 
I guess I'll start by saying what's important to me. Good light is important, I'm in love with beauty - to a fault sometimes. I sometimes admire other people who can shoot edgier than I do, but I just love beauty and color! Color matters a great deal to me and energy - whether it's sorrow, fatigue, or joy - it just has to be authentic. It has to be true, it has to feel true. I like the big moments and the small moments and the whole spectrum in between. I just like taking pictures.

What's the biggest mistake that you've learned from? 

I'll just say many and that I never stop learning. Every day I'm learning something new, it never gets old, it never gets boring, it's always a journey that's very much alive. I never feel dead. I never feel like I've learned everything, that I know everything, it's always fresh. I'm always learning. That's what's so cool about photography, it's just so alive. 

Can you tell me about shooting for Oprah? 
I had a three year contract with a magazine called Men's Journal and one of their editors moved over to O, the Oprah magazine, when it first started and she just thought of me for a shoot and I got along really well with Oprah. I photographed one of the very first issues of that magazine. I went down to South Carolina and went to Dr. Maya Angelou's house with Oprah and photographed the two of them together. Over the course of the last thirteen years she’s been so good to me and she’s introduced me to so many amazing and wonderful people and I’ve learned a lot from her and her work ethic. I’ve never met anyone who works harder than Oprah does. She’s extraordinarily smart and very dedicated to what she does. I’ve also been very impressed with everyone who works with her and for her. They've done so for many many years, she’s just a very loyal person and she’s been very generous to me and I feel very lucky.

I was really lucky to meet President Barrack Obama because of Oprah. We went to the White House last summer before the election and we got to spend the morning with both the First Lady and the President. It was such a nice energy because Oprah and the Obama's are good friends and the Obamas are just super cool people. We got to explore the White House together and hear a lot of wonderful stories, listen to the President's experiences being President. It’s a time I’ll never forget.

Can you describe your ideas and experiences from taking pictures at Bonnaroo?
When you go to a place like Bonnaroo, it’s really easy to take pictures because there’s so much. The most difficult thing is to edit how you’re going to photograph within a certain idea, how you’re gonna approach it rather than just shooting everything. You’ve got to come up with how to edit it in your own way to make sense of it and shoot it through a certain prism of an idea or a concept. So I came up with the idea of shooting the kids with a long lens to kind of separate them from everything that was going on around them. I didn’t just wanna take newsy pictures you know, I didn’t wanna set up a studio but I still wanted to separate individuals from their environment and focus on what they’re wearing, a sense of style, a sense of feeling and just isolate them from their surroundings and focus in on the kids, whether they were in pairs or individuals. That was one series I shot called Summer of LoveWe met so many amazing kids and everybody was really into it, so it was a great experience. I loved it!

Is there one image you’ve taken that sticks out in your mind?                         
One of my most iconographic images that is not on my website that had a huge impact on my life was a picture I did on 9/11 with the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center. I shot it from my living room window when I was living on Wall Street and Broadway. That whole experience had a huge impact on my life. It encouraged me to leave the city and spend more time up in the Catskills. It’s because of that one day that I now live a much more balanced life between rural and urban. That picture, I don’t show it…if you look up Rob Howard 9/11 it’ll come up on all kinds of different conspiracy websites and stuff. Some guy even did a movie about how it’s a totally fake photograph and that Rob Howard's a liar or something like that, which is pretty funny. But anyway, it’s a real photograph…I shot it with a Pentax 67 and I just happened to have a roll of black and white in it when the second plane flew over my building. So that one picture has just sort of stuck with me over the years.

By the look of your images, it seems that the subjects were all very comfortable with you being there. What are some ways that you create that atmosphere for them, especially if you don’t know them? What advice would you give to all of the aspiring photographers out there in the world?
Get people talking about themselves, don’t just talk about yourself and get rid of your ego…you just gotta be giving and make people feel good about themselves and ask them questions and listen to them, let them talk. And music, play music…it’s so good. I always travel with music. Be interested. Be interested in them and they’ll totally respond. I guess that’s the secret to it all. 

See more of Rob's vision here: