The Explorers Tour: He’s With the Band

On-stage with Neil Schwartz

Everyone can relate to going to a great concert. Music always has a way of tugging at emotions. But often, those cell phone videos and pictures taken in the heat of the moment don’t look great. That’s where Neil Schwartz steps in. Considering we just released our Music Issue, seems pretty on-brand to have Neil work with us and MPB. With their help, we sent Neil some gear, gave him a backstage pass, and sat in the green room to take a peek at what it’s like to be a music photographer.

If you could shoot any artist, event or show, past or present, who/what would it be and why?

Neil Schwartz: There are so many shows, artists, and events to choose from. Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Black Keys, Bruce Springsteen, I could go on and on. Every single band or musician on that list has played a significant role in impacting my life. Not only am I a photographer, but I also went to college for music, so it’s always been an essential part of my life.

A male drummer warming up with a dark background
Hayden Lamm warming up from the first couple of songs. He is notoriously known for getting very hot from going hard on the drums. He plays his drums to the full extent of their ability.

Explain to us how you capture the feeling and energy of an artist or live performance in your work? Are there certain things you look for when trying to capture these moments?

NS: When I shoot a show, I mainly aim to tell a story. There has to be context. Anyone can take action shots, but I always ask myself why I’m covering this show. I want moments that convey emotion, passion and energy. 

I try to focus on the relationship between the artist or band and the audience. From showing detail shots of setlists and gear to pre-show shots of band rituals and fan interactions, and show shots of the concert itself, there’s a range of emotions I look to convey. 

The pre-show rituals particularly interest me. Every single band has their own way of getting ready to take the stage, and documenting their unique process really shows the care and love that each musician has for their craft. 

A black and white picture of a man tuning a guitar in a green room backstage
A black and white image of a man leaning back while playing the guitar with his eyes closed

During the concert, I try to focus on tight shots of each band member, and attempt to get unique vantage points from the stage. I love to take pictures of the band/crowd interaction, whether that be a shot of the singer and the crowd or just one of the crowd itself. I always look for the raw emotion that music brings out of people. I’m just trying to bring the audience a vantage point that they don’t have access to necessarily. 

After the show, I focus on the context of the show similarly to the pre-show. I want my audience to see the incredible hard work that my clients put into their craft. I love capturing when my clients interact with their fans, friends, and family.

A man playing guitar kneeling down towards a crowd, who have their arms reaching out
Documenting the relationship between the audience and the band is one of the most critical aspects of concert photography. It gives the viewer context to what is happening.

How did the MPB gear assist you in your shoot? Is this something you would recommend to other photogs and those just starting out?

NS: The gear that MPB sent me worked perfectly. They provided me with a Sigma 35mm lens (autofocus) and a Leica M 50mm lens (manual focus). Photography gear can get pretty expensive, so what I love about MPB is that they provide artists the opportunity to try different gear without breaking the bank. It’s always a bit of a risk buying used gear, but MPB removes that risk by selling quality-tested gear that’s approved for use. 

I went with the 35mm and 50mm lenses for a couple of reasons. Firstly, both lenses are incredibly sharp and work well in low-light situations. Secondly, I knew that the venue was smaller, so I wouldn’t need to have any longer lenses. Since my goal for this shoot was to focus on detailed shots, both of the MPB lenses provided exactly what I was looking for.

A man holding a guitar singing into a microphone with a black background
Two people playing a guitar and a bass with a drummer in the background on a stage
A bassist looking at their instrument with mic stands in the background
A black and white picture of a man kneeling while playing the guitar
Dean’s signature move when performing a guitar solo. He gets on his knees and adjusts his pedals to create various sounds. 

Favorite show/artist you’ve ever photographed? Describe the energy of the scene and why it was your favorite.

NS: This past year, I worked with a music festival called M3F (McDowell Mountain Music Festival). It’s the largest music festival in Arizona, and people come from all over the country to attend it. The energy was unbelievable. M3F hosts such a variety of artists, bands, and musicians, so there’s something for everyone. M3F itself is also known for being very age inclusive, so that made it a fun shoot.

Is there a message you want people to take away when viewing your photographs?

NS: Passion. I want my viewers to see my photos and visualize themselves at the show or concert. When they see my images, I want people to get excited about going out to see their favorite band or artist. That’s what really matters. 

A man singing into a microphone while playing a guitar
Another example of an image conveying so much information. You see the sweat, the raw passion of him belting the lyrics. 
A black and white photo of a woman playing bass in the foreground with a drummer in a tank top in the background
I titled this shot “Don’t Stop” because, at this moment, the band was playing a very fast song. You can see how focused they are on staying together. 
A pouch containing drumsticks
A black and white picture of a bassist playing while looking out into the crowd
A black and white image of a sign reading "I just want to say thank you for playing the way you play"

What parallels do you see between music and photography?

They allow all types of people to come together and enjoy something communally. Music and photography break down barriers and bring people together, no matter each person’s background. You don’t need to speak the same language to enjoy music or photography. They really both are universal art forms that can reach anyone, anywhere.

An image of a drummer looking forward right before a concert starts
Moments before the band started their set.
A black and white picture of a drummer playing with their mouth open
Classic Hayden.
A bassist with a hat on playing while leaning into the crowd

Interested in more about Neil? Check out his social and his website.

Band: The Joeys (Dean Cheney: Guitar/Vocals, Logan Cormany: Bass/Vocals, Hayden Lamm: Drums)