A Day To Remember, Bring Me The Horizon, Metallica, All Time Low, Paramore, Ed Sheeran, Slipknot, Drake, The 1975, Twenty One Pilots, 30 Seconds to Mars, Letlive, Florence + The Machine, Pvris, Tonight Alive, Muse, Of Mice & Men, Panic At The Disco, Blink-182, Rise Against… the list goes on and on. Adam Elmakias has been an official photographer for A Day To Remember for more than seven years, he is selling his merch, he is more famous than some band members, but he is also unselfish when it comes to sharing his knowledge about photography. Everyone that is into this type of photography must have heard at least once about him, but if you are not familiar with his story, you can meet him through answers in this interview. Read how he got into the world of photography, which moments were life-changing for him, how does it look like to be almost 365 days a year on tour with some of the biggest bands and artists of today, but also with which artist would he love to work but still haven't had the chance.
Hi! First of all, how many times have you seen A Day To Remember live?
Adam: Too many to count. I’ve been on tour with them since… 2009. It’s a lot of shows. Maybe 200.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us some random fact about you?
Adam: I’m Adam Elmakias. I’m a music photographer based in San Diego in the US. I work with bands, and I tour with bands sometimes. I am bald. I have a cat - his name is Mark, I love him very much. I like healthy food. I’m in London right now.
How did you get into music photography and photography in general?
Adam: I started shooting when I was 15 or 16 and living in Madison, WI. I took some self-portraits for a school assignment and a counselor I was working with closely at the time loved the images. He was a photographer himself, so he encouraged me to continue and helped get me involved in it. After a year or so, I had a camera that I would take with me to local concerts. It allowed me to get into shows for free as long as I gave the promoters the images. It was a treat for my music-obsessed broke-ass teenage self. Plus, I felt cool! I did everything I could to network and book shoots with bands as they came through town, and eventually, a couple of bands were nice enough to take me on tour.
After high school, I went to college for a semester to try it out, but it wasn’t really for me. My photography career reached a point where I couldn’t do both anymore, and then I moved to San Diego a year later. I figure if I’m only going to be home once in a while, I might as well live in the most beautiful place in the country. For a few years, I was touring a lot with bands and photograph what they do every day. The images are turned around within 24 hours so the band can share them on social media, and they keep a bunch to themselves just so they can have the memories. The bands I work closest with I have been working with for the past 7 or 8 years, so I’ve had time to really get to know them and learn how to capture their personalities.
I’m 26 now, and I still tour sometimes, but not as much as I used to. The last few years, I found out that I enjoy teaching - so I had the “Anyone Can Be A Photographer” Workshop at Warped Tour last summer, and All Time Low was cool enough to let me have interns to help me out on their recent UK arena tour. It’s so refreshing seeing young photographers so excited and eager to learn, I’m hoping to do more of these in the future cause I learn a lot from them too.
How often do you look at your early work and how do you feel when you see those photos?
Adam: I don’t really ever look at it on purpose…. it’s more when I have to go look up images from the past… maybe because someone has died, or maybe because someone needs a photo from 8 years ago… and then I get lost. I will just start looking through them for hours. Some, I don’t even remember taking- others can take me back to that exact moment.
What gear do you typically take on a concert?
Adam: I have my main camera Canon 5D MKIII and the Canon 6D, I’ll also have a 3rd remote camera set up in the venue if I’m allowed. I use fast lenses; you can’t shoot a show without ‘em. My list of gear always changes but you can check this page for the most up to date.
When you look back at your career what stands out as major highlights?
Adam: First van tour: The first time I convinced a band to take me on a full USA tour. We were in a van, and it was a dirty month, but I learned more about life in than I had the entire year before it. Moving to San Diego: I moved on a whim. It was intended to be a visit to my sister in San Diego, but after traveling the states I realised how much more the USA had to offer. I didn’t have much in Wisconsin aside from my best friends, and my job didn’t rely on where I lived. So California it was. Plus a girl made me angry, and that means a lot when you are 19, haha.
First time going to Europe: The first time I got to tour outside of the States was a big deal. I wasn’t able to have the band cover my ticket cost, but my dad was nice enough to pay for half of my plane ticket there. I was 20 at the time and had ran my bank account to zero once again. Just like my first USA tour, I learned more on that tour that I ever could have imagined.
Changing career to be happy AKA touring constantly: 2013 was the first I toured almost the whole year. I was tired of press shoots and needed to switch up my career or photography was going to start to burn me out.
FIRST TIMES are always the most fun, and I try to make as many first time experiences as I can. Sometimes this involves changing up my entire career, but I’ll do whatever it takes to stay happy and motivated to keep learning!
What are your most memorable portrait/promotional shoots?
Adam: I loved photographing Jack from All Time Low in a bathtub, it was super last minute, but those are my favorite- and it very much represents him.
Do you prefer concerts or festivals? Is there a big difference for you as a photographer?
Adam: The big difference being, if it’s a concert, it’s the band’s show and I have more freedom to get the shots I want, I don’t have to worry about the places I can’t shoot from since I already know what’s going to happen. If I’m working with a band that’s playing festivals, more often than not, I have to work with the festival’s shooting restrictions. I’ve done overseas festivals in the past, where the security guard was telling me to get out and I had no idea what he was saying, things like these that could happen and I have to keep it in mind.
You have a lot of offers now. How do you choose bands to work and tour with? What are your main criteria?
Adam: I don’t really choose the bands I work for and tour with, I do but not the way you think, the band and I both have to choose each other… it’s really like a marriage. The bands I tour with the most, like A Day to Remember, All Time Low, Pierce the Veil, I’ve worked with them for a few years before they took me on tour, it was a gradual progression in our relationship. There are bands and artists that I want to work with, but first, we have to be friends, we have to have some kind of personal relationship, and it takes time. I’m never hired by a label or a company, other than the person I’m shooting for. I want to know the person I’m photographing - that’s the way I like to work. Being on tour with a band is like being married to 5 dudes at the same time, you spend A LOT of time together, it’s a really intimate situation, so we need to get along, and it takes time to learn how to be on the road. There were some situations that didn’t work out because I wasn’t a good fit for the artist/job and that’s okay.
I’ve also had to turn down some full tours, not because I was picking bands to work with, but I wanted more time off the road and to myself to learn and grow. When you tour as a photographer you are basically getting paid to participate in someone else’s life. I mean, it is your life – but you do not get to make any of the decisions on what goes on. You just go with it. That has been a really hard thing for me to do for an extended period of time.
No matter what you do and how much love your job sometimes you just get tired of it. Is this case with you too? Is it hard to not know on which continent you are or what day it is?
Adam: That’s why I like to stay healthy by eating healthy and working out, whether on tour and off tour, so my mind’s healthy. I take breaks and time off. If I’m feeling burned out, I’ll try to do new things so I could keep going.
You recently launched 'Your Music Photographer' magazine (I still haven't had a chance to put my hands on it, but I promise I will as soon as I get the chance!). Can you tell me something about this project and how the whole idea came together?
Adam: There were these photos that I really liked, but publications don’t publish them, and I just wanted to make a magazine for myself and for fans, so I did! I spent a lot of time working on it, and I am really proud of how it turned out, and the support for it has overwhelmingly positive, and I’m excited to keep making them.
Is it weird to call this your job? Did you ever think that one day you could go on tours, take photos and get paid for it?
Adam: High school me didn’t know what I wanted to do; I just wanted to do whatever I enjoyed so I went from there.
As much as music photographer sounds like a lot of fun (and most of the time it is), do you sometimes just want to leave your camera aside and watch a concert like a 'normal' person from the audience?
Adam: Maybe once a year. If I toured with John Mayer or Eminem, I would probably do it every night- at least for one song.
You basically made a brand out of yourself (hands down). You are even more popular than some band members. What do you think is the main reason for that?
Adam: The bands have great fans, and I just happened to be working for a few bands with a super supportive fan base. It’s cool because I’ve always wanted to be a frontman in a band but I can’t sing haha.
It seems like you mastered 'social media game.' How important do you think it was (and still is) for you and your work to get to people that way?
Adam: Thank you for thinking so! Social media really helped me to get my brand out there and show bands the value in having their own photographer, but it also took me some time and help to really get the hang of it. And I’m still constantly learning about what works and what doesn’t on social media. Like recently I was nervous that people won’t be interested in what I have to say if I’m not touring or making content, but they are super supportive when I take time off to live my life, people are cool and great like that.
The digital age seems to have made it possible for anyone to become a music photographer. How do you make yourself stand out from the crowd? How hard is it to be recognized with so many competitors in the same profession?
Adam: I don’t think there’s an absolute formula to stand out from the crowd... you just gotta keep shooting and do the work. It takes time and a lot of hustling and networking, there are no shortcuts, you can’t cut corners.
And what is the weirdest thing that happened to you on stage or tour?
Adam: I don’t know, so many things have happened! Jack Barakat of All Time Low is always fun; he kissed my head during a set, here’s a video:
First workshops, now a photographer intern for All Time Low concert contest... It's so amazing that you are sharing all the things you have learned with other people and that you are helping them pursue their dreams!
Adam: Thank you! I didn’t have a model of what I wanted to do when I grow up; I’m happy that kids now know what’s possible and just getting everyone stoked on photography.
Is there a band you really want to photograph, but you still haven't had the chance?
Adam: Not a band, but the artist I really want to work with is Eminem. He’s a legend.
What tip do you have for anyone starting in the concert photography biz?
Adam: Start shooting and keep shooting. Start locally. Learn all the technical stuff - you can find them all online now. Network a lot and be a good person.