PHOTO © DAN SAVINELLI
Stage Presence: A member of the band Skillet salutes the crowd as pyrotechnics blast off behind. “I absolutely love shooting their shows because there’s so much energy and stage presence,” says Savinelli. “All that excitement and the adrenalin of the crowd results in better shots.”
Backstage Pass: Connecticut-based shooter Dan Savinelli gives us an all-access look at building an identity as a concert and event photographer.
Jessica Gordon: When did you first pick up a camera?
Dan Savinelli: In my late teens, I purchased a friend’s Nikon FE with an all-in-one zoom lens. My favorite thing to do was gallivant around New York City shooting black-and-white photography.
JG: Where did you study photography?
DS: At the Paier College of Art in Hamden, Connecticut. However, college wasn’t my only influence; a good portion of my education was self-taught—following blogs, looking at others’ work, playing in Photoshop, online training, workshops and practice. The most important stage of my learning has come from assisting—you learn everything from top to bottom. It’s something I highly recommend every photo student try, even if it’s an unpaid internship.
JG: What has been your most memorable shoot?
DS: It was my first concert shot for a promoter—I was a volunteer production assistant, setting up and breaking down shows and doing the dirty work. After the promoters got to know me, I asked if I could shoot one of their next shows. I sent the promotion company’s founder and president jpegs from the show in the middle of the night and within minutes got return e-mails that were so complimentary and said how very excited they were about the job I did. It was an overwhelming response, which felt good, especially since it was my first concert.
DS: Shooting Skillet, a band signed to Atlantic Records. I absolutely love shooting their shows because there’s so much excitement, energy and stage presence, not to mention amazing pyrotechnics, huge explosions and lights. All that excitement, energy and the adrenalin of the crowd results in better shots.
JG: How have you defined your identity as a concert shooter?
DS: When people look at my work as a music photographer, I want them to say, “Wow, that’s what I missed by not going to that concert.” When I achieve that, it gives commercial value to pictures—bands and management like pictures that make people want to go to their shows. I try to capture the personality of the performer—freezing the prized moments of the concert in images is the ultimate goal.
DS: A fairly good amount—cameras do not see with the colors or in the depth that your eye does. The pictures at times can look flat, the blacks are unflattering and the lighting dim. I don’t manipulate concert images, I enhance them. I try to use all different Photoshop methods to bring maximum enhancement to the images, while keeping it real to what happened.
Photo © Dan Savinelli
JG: What’s been the single most useful tool in building relationships with bands, agents, promoters and so on?
DS: I think the most useful tool is one’s attitude. This applies to professional commercial photography as a whole, not just the music world. Over the years, I have worked with art directors, designers, directors of photography and so on, asking them this very question myself, and their answer is usually that they would rather work with an easy-to-work-with person who has a good portfolio more than an egomaniac who has a perfect portfolio. A humble approach, a good attitude and respect for others you work with will take you a long way. Mix integrity with your talents.
DS: At the concerts I shoot, I give bands Internet resolution shots with my Web address on the bottom of the photos. They can only use them for promotion on Facebook, Myspace and their Web site. Because my Web address is on the bottom, it usually drives a lot of traffic to my site—I’ve found this to be the most effective.
JG: Tell me about your relationship working with commercial and editorial photographer Joe McNally?
DS: Incredible and educational; the whole experience started in an unusual way. I was a carpenter and painter, and was building a set for Joe’s self-produced video lighting series. The building of the set got cancelled, but they needed an extra photo assistant for the shoot, so they brought me on. It was pretty surreal to get to work for and learn from one of the world’s top shooters on a personal level.
JG: Where do you hope to take your photography next?
DS: One big direction I would like to go into is unit stills photography. Unit stills photographers work alongside the film crew and director as a movie is being shot, taking all the pictures used in the promotion of the film. Concerts and unit stills are similar in that you’re capturing the action, and the energy of the production. One of my big dreams is to move toward a movie-based career.
CAMERA: Nikon D3s
LENSES: AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D
AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4 G
LIGHTING: Nikon SB-900 AF Speedlight, Pocket Wizard Plus II
MEDIA: Sandisk 8gb Extreme Compact Flash Cards
ADDITIONAL GEAR: Manfrotto 055 CXPRO4 Tripod, Acratech GP Ballhead, Manfrotto 682B Monopod, Really Right Stuff L-bracket
BAGS: Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Bag (The best concert bag, bar none!), Pelican 1510f Rolling Case