Lindsey Blane is a multi-talented photographer and cinematographer from Vancouver, Canada. Her work has been viewed millions of times and has been featured in publications like The Alternative Press and The New York Times. In this interview with Photographer Tonight, Lindsey talks about building a career in photography, embracing new creative formats, and developing long-lasting relationships with artists. We hope you enjoy and learn something new!
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started with concert photography.
From a young age I was determined to be in a band or tour, and I picked up a guitar before I ever got serious about photography. I’ve always been fascinated by music and the music industry since I was a kid. Some of my earliest memories are of watching (and re-watching) live performances of Spice Girls and Shania Twain that someone recorded on a VHS tape for me. Avril Lavigne was also a huge influence at the time - she released a live performance DVD of one of her first tours, which also featured a ton of documentary footage of her journey and travels. The fact that people could travel the world and get to play music blew my little mind at the time! As time went on, it became clear pretty quickly that I was incredibly average at playing instruments, and my passion started to shift towards photography.
I always had hand-me-down cameras (both point and shoot and digital) from family members, and would document any of my vacations, hangouts with friends, or even the general mundane day-to-day things around me. I first picked up my mom’s old film camera (a Nikon FM - I still have and use it!) around the age of 13 or 14, and I quickly became fascinated by photography and learning the technical elements of how to expose and compose image properly. Eventually I got my first DSLR when I was 16, and would primarily take portrait photos of my friends and document the world around me.
I was lucky to attend a lot of concerts growing up, and it wasn’t until I started attending local all-ages shows and seeing other photographers at these events that it clicked - I could mix my two passions together and start photographing live music. I think around the age of 17 or 18 I started bringing my camera to the local shows I went to, and started meeting people and bands through these events in my local community.
What was the first show you photographed? How did you get that opportunity?
I can’t remember precisely what event I photographed first, but I do remember a few different levels of “firsts” on my journey as a live music photographer. The all ages shows I used to attend when I grew up in Victoria, BC were definitely my first “in”, and I would pay for a ticket to these events and bring my camera for fun. I’d post the images on Facebook and tag the bands, and somehow my work started getting attention. I also brought my camera along for fun to a festival I attended in 2011, and got some images I was really proud of at the time. Shortly after, I worked with another photographer who was part of the festival photo team for Rifflandia Music Festival - this was a huge eye opening moment for me as I had no idea that such an opportunity or job existed! I was then determined to figure out how to get proper media passes and accreditation for events.
As I grew up in a smaller town on an island, we didn’t always get the biggest shows coming through town. I spent a lot of time traveling to Vancouver, BC to attend shows for fun. The first real photo pass I got in the big city was for Refused at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver, BC back in 2012. I was taking photos for a smaller publication, and I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to be approved to photograph such an iconic band. From there on, I spent a lot of time traveling back and forth between Victoria and Vancouver for shows, and photographing anything I could while also juggling university and multiple jobs.
Is photography your full time job? If not, what else are you up to?
I’m incredibly lucky and grateful to have successfully made a career as a freelance photographer, videographer, and now director, and I’ve been at it full time since the end of 2018. Two things became clear to me pretty early on: if I wanted to make a full time career out of it, I couldn’t live on an island, and I needed to adapt and learn video as well. After I graduated with a visual arts degree, I worked 30 hours a week at a camera store while juggling freelance work and constant travel back and forth to Vancouver for new opportunities. I eventually moved back to Vancouver in early 2018 and that’s when things really started to take off, especially because of the connections I had spent time making with other local artists before I moved.
The majority of my work comes through word of mouth, which I am extremely fortunate and grateful for. I primarily work on my own, and have built the majority of my connections organically through people in my local area. I’ve been fortunate enough to establish long-term working relationships with quite a few artists, which has frequently lead to other opportunities and a pretty steady stream of work. These days, the majority of my work consists of creative promotional shoots for artists, producing and directing music videos, working for (and leading) music festival photo teams as well as touring, when the right opportunities arise.
It’s been incredibly important to me to ensure I have consistent work at home in Vancouver, which gives me the freedom to travel or tour for work when the right opportunities present themselves. I see a lot of photographers or creatives get stuck in the trap of ONLY touring, and not having a consistent source of income when they are home (wherever that might be!). It’s incredibly easy to get burnt out in this industry without time to rest or reset, so I try to balance my time as best I can between traveling, and being home to spend time with my cats and my friends. I think it’s pretty impossible for any creative to find a perfect balance of work and play, so it’s pretty much always a work in progress.
Have you have to overcome any barriers or obstacles in your journey as a photographer? If yes, could you share what those were and how you worked past or are working past them?
A lot of people don’t know this unless they know me in real life, but I actually have pretty severe hearing loss! I lost a good portion of my hearing when I was 3. I’m incredibly grateful for technology and the improvements in hearing aids over the years - I can hear most things as close to a “normal” level as possible (though my “normal” will always be different!). The irony of being a music photographer with hearing loss is not lost on me. I do my best to take care of my ears, get regular hearing tests to make sure I’m not making the damage worse, and wear extra ear protection at shows - which usually means walking around with super dorky earmuffs on hand. If you see me at a show and I don’t hear you, it’s me, not you, I promise!
PS. Wear your earplugs!!!
In addition to your incredible photography you’ve also worked on some very cool music videos. Can you talk a bit more about your cinematography?
I definitely took more of an interest in photo before shifting into video. They do go hand in hand in a lot of ways, but also require different technical knowledge and skill sets! I dabbled more in creating live event recaps at first (and I still do!), which became super handy for touring. The unfortunate reality is that most artists would prefer to bring someone who can do both photo AND video on tour.
As time went on, I started picking up a lot of behind the scenes photo work and becoming more interested in the process that goes into music videos, including the logistics of building a crew, and more importantly using storytelling to bring the visual world of a song to life. Music videos felt like a natural progression of my work and interests, and a good way to also make use of my love of art and set design. Growing up, I also did a lot of painting and drawing before I became immersed in the world of cameras.
Lately, my focus on the video side has mostly been directing and art department/set design. I go into every project with a pretty clear vision of what I want things to look like, and work closely with a few incredible DP’s on both the cinematography and colouring to bring the final visuals to life. As I’ve expanded my experience in music videos, I’ve met so many incredible people along the way. I have a regular crew I love working and collaborating with to bring these music video projects to life. We can’t all be good at everything, and the importance of collaborating with your peers can’t be stated enough!
You’ve worked with artists like Lights and Xana many times on different projects. How did those relationships start and how have they evolved over time?
The importance of maintaining a local network can’t be emphasized enough! I first started working with Lights in 2018, when her management I had met previously reached out to ask if I could photograph her shows in Vancouver. As we live in relatively close proximity, the work relationship expanded from there. We began collaborating on magazine covers for Rock Sound, which evolved into working on promotional images, album covers, music videos and finally, touring.
I first met Xana years ago, as we grew up in the same area and attended a lot of the same local shows. We weren’t friends at the time, but knew of each other and had a lot of mutual friends. Back in probably 2019, she was looking to start creating content for upcoming releases. We started working together and realized that we clicked on a creative level, and that friendship and collaboration has continued ever since.
It’s incredibly rewarding to work with artists on a long-term project or vision, and help bring their creative ideas to life. The evolution over time is truly mind blowing, and it’s so cool to be able to look back and see where these creative partnerships began, and the glow-ups and improvements over the years!
Your photos of Paul Simon were published in the New York Times, could you share how that opportunity came up?
This is kind of a funny one! Back in 2015 I was on a family vacation, and I got an email from an editor at the New York Times, asking if I was available to cover a show in Vancouver at Rogers Arena for the first show of a very well known artist’s comeback tour. At first I thought the email was a joke, and I had no idea how they found me. After some research I determined that it was a real request, and I jumped on the opportunity. At the last second, the artist pulled out of allowing photographers, so I ended up having to bring a point and shoot camera into the venue and photograph the show from my seat.
A few years later in 2018, one of the editors reached out to me about photographing the opening night of Paul Simon’s tour in Vancouver as it was most likely one of his last tours. Obviously I couldn’t say no to photographing a legend! I found a copy of the newspaper the next day, and I still have it somewhere in my house. It’s still surreal to see my images in print for such an iconic publication.
How has your work evolved to keep up with shifting creative preferences like the rise of short-form video, vertical formats, and TikTok?
With the majority of the work I do now, there is the expectation that the content produced will turn into some kind of vertical short form content. For shows or tours, this might be as simple as 30 second or longer snippets of songs or banter from the artist’s performance, or collaborating with the artist and intentionally creating more elaborate, humorous content. On a tour earlier this year with Lights, we focused on making these comedic “vending machine” transition videos as a reference to some of the other creative concepts throughout the era of her last album release.
I’ve recently been spending a day with artists to film a bunch of content for their TikToks - this could be concepts as simple as lip syncing to one of their tracks in an interesting location, capitalizing on trends, or finding a way to create engaging transition videos.
I spend so much time creating things for other people, and I will admit I still haven’t posted anything on my own TikTok! I do have some ideas up my sleeve, and I have a lot of behind the scenes content that would be incredibly fun to share. Because of the time spent creating work for other people, I do find it hard to motivate myself to do additional work and post things for myself… but I hope to change that soon.
Where do you find inspiration?
I follow a lot of music photographers online, and I love seeing others’ wins and successes! I’ll often save specific images, reels or videos I think are visually or conceptually interesting to reference for future ideas. If I know I’m photographing a bigger artist or artist I haven’t worked with before at a festival or show, I’ll also look at what other photographers have done recently to get an idea of what to expect and figure out how I want to tackle capturing their set.
If I’m planning a creative shoot or music video, I usually start with an initial idea or concept (either from myself or the artist I’m working with) and then start to build out the ideas, references and execution from there. I spend a lot of time watching music videos and I’ll usually create mood boards to help explain the idea or concept to other members of the team. As a video director, it’s also super helpful be to translate your ideas into visual references for the video treatment - this is what the client sees first before any of the work is done.
I do have an art school background, and I’m grateful for the time spent learning about iconic photographers who have shaped how I approach certain elements of my job. In particular, Gregory Crewdson’s attention to every little detail within his elaborate sets is a huge sense of inspiration, and something I keep in the back of my mind when focusing on the set design, lighting and building aspects of photo and music video shoots. I do also own quite a few photo books, and one of my favourites is actually by Chris Stein from Blondie (Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk). In addition to playing guitar in Blondie, Chris Stein is an incredible photographer and documented so much of Debbie Harry and the band’s rise to fame throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s New York music scene. I highly recommend any music photographer who is interested in or loves the documentary and storytelling aspect of the job to pick this book up.
What advice would you share with people just getting started with concert photography?
From a networking point of view, focus on your local connections before you begin to expand. A lot of my first experiences in live music photography were simply bringing my camera along to local shows, then eventually reaching out to local bands to see if they could get me in to a show in exchange for a few photos. It seems like a no-brainer, but building a local network means consistent work at home, and opportunities to build lasting collaborative creative partnerships! Most of my bigger clients or jobs have stemmed from working with a smaller artist and meeting other artists or managers while at a show, festival or tour with the smaller artist.
From a technical side, take the time to learn how camera settings work together (shutter, ISO, aperture) and how to create and manage an efficient workflow. Gear is not everything, but getting a camera lens with a wider aperture (such as an inexpensive 50mm f1.8) can help achieve less grainy images, and open up more options for composition and controlling the depth of field. At the end of the day, it really is all about the creative eye and vision, and the gear is just a tool - but making upgrades to your workflow or camera equipment where possible makes achieving your creative vision more efficient.
Also… make contracts a priority, and stay organized with accounting and taxes. This will save you so much time and so many headaches later.
What camera gear is always in your bag?
My go-to combination is the Canon R5 and 28-70mm F2 lens, usually with a Pro Mist filter! The 28-70mm lens is enormous and weighs a ton, but I love having the F2 in dark venues. It’s also incredible for portraits and eliminates my need to bring a prime lens, so I don’t need to cram as many things in my bag or Pelican case.
For tours, I usually bring a Pelican case with the Canon R5 and R6 bodies, Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8 lens, Canon RF 28-70mm F2 lens, and the Tamron G2 70-200mm F2.8 lens. I use Pro Mist filters the majority of the time, and I also have a few extras such as a star filter or some Prism Lens FX filters for moments that call for a bit more fun and creativity. I also bring a Canon flash and MagMod MagSphere for behind-the-scenes and portraits in often-dark venues. I hate changing lenses during shows, so I tend to shoot with two bodies and the 28-70 and 70-200 the most. I’ll switch to the 15-35mm for smaller venues or to get a wide shot from stage showing the crowd as well.
If I’m also doing video, I also bring a little rechargeable light bar, Rode VideoMic Pro+ and a DJI RS2 gimbal, though I do tend to shoot handheld wherever possible.
Do you have any projects, recently completed or upcoming, that you’re particularly excited for?
I have quite a few unreleased projects I’m excited to release when the time is right, including some promotional and album artwork images, and a documentary series I’m currently working on with an artist I’ve worked with quite frequently over the years.
Recently I had the opportunity to direct a video for Tessa Violet, for the title track from her newly released album ‘MY GOD!’. It was such an incredible experience, working with a big and talented team including some amazing dancers. Everything came together so well and I’m super proud of the final result.
I’m back at Head In The Clouds festival and Rifflandia Music Festival this summer, and super pumped to be part of the incredible teams documenting these events and bringing them to life. This year is actually the 10 year anniversary of the first time I was officially on the festival photo team for Rifflandia (back in 2013!). This event is where a lot of things really started for me, so it feels very full circle to continue to have the opportunity to manage the photo team for it the last few years.
Where can people see more of your work?
I’m notoriously bad at updating my social media (working on it!!!), but my instagram is probably the best place to view more recent work.
One last, very important question—what are your cats’ names?
Cosmo and Ivy! They tolerate each other… most of the time. Cosmo is the sweetest lil tabby guy (okay.. he’s not really that little though) who loves to be picked up and give kisses, and chase toys around the house. He’s going through his angsty teenager phase though, so he doesn’t like to cuddle right now - except for sneaking on my bed in the middle of the night and falling asleep at my feet. Ivy is my demon child who has warmed up over the years but hates being picked up and trusts very few people. Earning her trust and friendship has been a 10 year process, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.