Hazy Eye Music Media is proud to present another interview in a series of interviews I’ve been conducting with some of my favorite concert photographers. I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone and have begun picking the brains of some phenomenal photographers. My interviews in this series focus on “local” concert photographers. That is photographers around DC, MD, and Northern VA. The DMV as we call it.
Anyway, check it out! I, Andy Jillson, was fortunate enough to chat with Lisa Walker. Lisa is an extremely talented photographer and travel blogger. I met her last summer at a Slayer farewell show at Merriweather Post Pavilion. She shoots festivals, world tours, small gigs, and has traveled overseas on assignment for a NatGeo travel blog. Her work is amazing. Continue reading below for my full interview with Lisa A. Walker. All photos copyright and courtesy of Lisa A. Walker (Shots from the Dark).
AJ: Hi Lisa! How are you?!?
LW: I am doing ok! I hope you are doing well during this crazy time. 2020 really feels like some kind of a Stephen King novel, right?
AJ: Can you introduce yourself and tell us your general location and where you primarily shoot shows?
LW: I am Lisa A. Walker and I live in Washington, DC, but currently spending quarantine with my Mom and family in a rural part of NJ. I typically shoot most live shows in DC. I am one of the house photographers for IMP which represents the 9:30 Club, U Street Music Hall, the Lincoln Theatre, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Echo Stage, and The Anthem. Just thinking about it makes me so sentimental right now. I just hope and pray these venues can make it through this pandemic.
AJ: You’re definitely among the most talented concert photographers around DC, MD, and VA. When and how did you start shooting concerts and reviewing live performances?
LW: You are much TOO kind but thank you for the compliment. I basically started shooting shows the day I decided I needed to figure out a way to support my live music “problem/addiction.” A co-worker suggested I apply to go to a festival as press, photographing and writing about the event for our travel blog at Nat Geo. Best advice ever! Press meant at least getting into the show or festival for free and photographing and writing about it were definitely not “work” as far as I was concerned. I think this was back in 2012? I went to the ACL Festival in Austin, Texas, with friends and covered it for Nat Geo.
AJ: What inspired(s) you as a photographer? Why photograph concerts?
LW: Energy, emotion, color and light really inspire me as does music in general. I love music and I love going to see live music, I always have. One of my first shows was camping out as a teenager to see Bruce Springsteen up here in NJ. I also learned how to play music at a young age thanks to my Dad. I started piano lessons when I was about 5 years old, then I accompanied the chorus in grade school and high school, and the clarinet in the band for about 8 years as well, (don’t tell anyone)… and then goofing around with a guitar as I got older and now I actually play the bass in a little local group in DC. Well, it’s really just “band practice” but we would meet up every Tuesday night at my friend Shabu’s house/basement. We’ve never played in public, at least not yet, and we basically do covers but, it’s super fun. I really miss those guys right now.
AJ: What are some of your favorite venues to photograph in DC, MD, and/or VA?
LW: My absolute favorite is the 9:30 Club. It’s like my “church”, my place of worship. And then of course The Anthem, the light is so darn good, Merriweather, U Street Music Hall and DC9 because it’s so small and intimate.
AJ: When and how did you become a contributing photographer for National Geographic? Do you travel as a photojournalist for Nat Geo or other news/media outlets?
LW: Well actually, I wasn’t hired on at Nat Geo as a photographer, I work in the book division as a project/production manager but, I sort of became one while I was working there. It actually started with that first festival. I then continued to contribute some stories/articles/photos to a Nat Geo Travel blog called “Intelligent Travel”, and then some of my images got picked up/used in some of our books and a calendar. I started to contribute to our Nat Geo Music group, which led to photographing a festival in Morocco a few years in a row and more photo shoots around DC. This led to becoming a staff photographer for the SXSW and Bonnarroo Festivals and then I got hired to shoot one of our Nat Geo Travel guides so, that was super exciting. I have also contributed to a few different websites/blogs such as Culture Collide and another called Living Life Fearless. Just before this pandemic I was hired by the Washington Post to shoot Marc Anthony at Capitol One Arena so, that was very cool. I was looking forward to hopefully doing more for them but, you know what happened after that. I would actually just love to be as hired photographer/writer to travel around the world and photograph festivals/people/cultures internationally; however, I haven’t quite figured that one out yet.
AJ: What are a few of your favorite experiences traveling as a photographer?
LW: Traveling to Morocco and shooting a cultural music festival has definitely been a real highlight for me. And it was everything about that experience that I really cherish. The journey of getting to that coastal medina, the people I met, the lifelong friends I have made, the incredibly vibrant energy, the smells/sights/sounds, just absolutely amazing.
AJ: What type of camera equipment do you normally use when shooting shows? What are your preferred lenses and camera settings?
LW: I mostly shoot Nikon. I have a few cameras but my go to is my Nikon D750 (I did pick up a Panasonic Lumix last year… a “fancy” point and shoot which is smaller but still packs a punch with the Leica lens and video). And I have the standard 17-24, 24-70, and 70-200mm f2.8 lenses. Camera settings definitely vary but, ISO is anywhere from 600-3200 or more depending on which venue and I typically keep my shutter speed around 200 or slightly less. Just depends on what I am trying to achieve with the images.
AJ: How do you edit your photos? Any particular editing programs or techniques you regularly use?
LW: Well, I mainly use Lightroom and I typically try to shoot with the best exposure that I can so there is very little time spent editing photos if possible. I always do a first pass and rate/rank my images and then go back and sort though the “best of” pics to edit and export. I try to do this within a 24-48 hour time frame, which is pretty typical for shows with the exception of wire images that might be needed that evening or within a few hours.
AJ: What were the first 3 shows you obtained photo passes for? How were you able to obtain the photo passes? What were the experiences like?
LW: First three shows… hmmm… I was shooting more international bands back then for the Nat Geo Music website and FB page so, I think Tinariwen was one, a very cool desert blues band from Mali. The Roots was another at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD, and Jimmy Cliff! Just recalled that show. It was so great. I think I was really excited for each, a little bit nervous, and definitely not prepared for the light changes, how to move around the pit, what the best camera angles might be, etc… You learn so much by doing when it comes to shooting shows. It’s so quick and on the fly. And really the photo passes were through Nat Geo Music. I got really lucky on that front. They shut down that division down back in 2013 or 2014? So, it was short lived but, it gave me shooting experience and contacts which ultimately just led to more opportunities. One thing really does lead to another. So much of shooting is like that.
AJ: Any photographic or musical projects planned for the near future?
LW: There are definitely things I want to do but, it’s been so tough lately as you well know. I was really hoping to get to a few international events this year so, hopefully next year.
AJ: When and where was the last show you photographed? What bands were playing? What do you remember about it? Anything particularly interesting about the last show you covered?
LW: The last show I covered was The Refused at the 9:30 Club at the very end of February 2020. Post hardcore Swedish punk rockers and it was AMAZING. The energy was incredible. The fans were really excited and the band was pumped. At one point the lead singer was in the middle of the floor and carried back, crowd surfing that is, to the stage.
AJ: How have you been staying active/keeping yourself busy since coronavirus altered our world?
LW: Well, I am still working remotely for Nat Geo thank goodness. And I spend a fair amount of time walking outside when I can, enjoying the wildlife up here, seeing family, doing yoga, helping out my Mom and occasionally getting to the beach.
AJ: What have you been listening to? Any particular artists and/or albums you’ve recently discovered or rediscovered?
LW: Well, I kinda have a crush on the Fontaines D.C. (Irish punk rockers from Dublin City not DC) and they have a killer new album out, A Hero’s Death. Apparently it was just about to surpass Taylor Swift on the UK charts this past week but, then she released a new album early. Ha! Go figure.
AJ: Are you a record collector? If so, what are a few of your most valued/loved records? If not, do you collect something else?
LW: Well, I do have a lot of old records. Most of mine are from the 80’s but I do have some of my Dad’s from years ago. I have so many that I haven’t collected too many recently but, occasionally I love to pick them up at flea markets/Eastern market/etc… I got a really sweet Ray Charles oldie but goodie not too long ago. The collection is such a wide range of music. Classical to Queen, Credence Clearwater Revival, Michael Jackson, Emmy Lou Harris, Prince, The Cure (Standing on a Beach), Thomas Dolby (The Flat Earth), Bruce Springsteen, Run D.M.C., Led Zeppelin, and so so many others. It’s fun to get into it and “discover” the finds.
AJ: Have you watched or read anything interesting lately?
LW: Well, I had to stop watching the news. Just too damn depressing. A friend turned me on to a show on Netflix called “Somebody Feed Phil” and it’s the perfect blend of food, travel, silly humor, gorgeous locations/filming, and more food, goofy laughter, etc… It’s fun and uplifting and a great way to imagine yourself in another location/destination.
AJ: What are your best memories/proudest moments of being a photographer?
LW: Oh wow. Well, nothing beats being up close and personal with a band. And then getting to photograph artists that you really love/admire, such a great feeling. It was hard not to be a “fan girl” when shooting Dave Grohl. I got to photograph and interview one of my favorite bands, Frightened Rabbit, at SXSW one year and I was actually a bit nervous as well as excited. Luckily I was able to record most of the interview so I could go back and listen to make sure I caught everything. Scott Hutchison, the lead singer, very sadly commited suicide just a couple of years ago, which was heartbreaking, but I was grateful that I had that opportunity to meet them and sit down with them.
AJ: Any funny, embarrassing, or awkward moments while in a photo pit?
LW: So many! Can’t tell ya how many times I’ve tripped over my own feet or the barricade. I’m a little but clutzy from time to time. But one moment does stand out. It was when I was in Morocco. I was shooting something called “Fantasia.” It’s a display of men on horseback, in traditional Berber/Arabian desert knights clothing, that race about a half mile or so in unison and then shoot off gunpowder muscats and come to an abrupt halt. This was taking place on the beach in Essaouira, Morocco, and we were standing at the end of the beach where the horses would stop. I was with a group of photographers/festival staff and we waited and watched as the horses charged toward us, full speed ahead, and then shot off their muscats just before stopping maybe two or three feet in front of us. I instinctively dropped to the ground for cover and the crowd of onlookers all started laughing at me. I felt so foolish but hey, I live in a city! The sound of gunshots, not to mention charging horses, definitely calls for a quick duck and cover.
AJ: Top 5 best concerts you’ve photographed?
LW: Slayer for sure (which included Lamb of God), IDLES, Willie Nelson, Foo Fighters, and Maggie Rogers/and or Florence and the Machine. Oh wait… and D’Angelo, Amyl and the Sniffers, Gogol Bordello, The Kills, and so many others.
AJ: Top 5 all-time favorite bands/artists?
LW: This is SO hard. Well, the bands I like to listen to are not always the bands I like to shoot the most. But, I will say that some of my band crushes have been Frightened Rabbit, Frank Turner, Trombone Shorty/Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Nawlins in general, really loving IDLES and Fontaines DC as of late, and of course, there are so many classic artists like Bonnie Rait, Led Zeppelin, Billie Holiday…
AJ: What artists are on your bucket list? Who do you dream of photographing one day?
LW: Well, I always wanted to photograph Chuck Brown and Prince. Both who are sadly gone now. I was scheduled to photograph In this Moment but it was canceled during quarantine. And then the artists I wasn’t “allowed to shoot” at various festivals like Childish Gambino and Pearl Jam. At this point, I would just be happy to photograph any artist or show period.
AJ: Anything you want to add to this interview? Any last words for the readers?
LW: That is was such an honor to be asked to do this interview, thank you so much! And that I miss everyone and that I can’t wait for all of us to be together again at a live show. Dreaming of that day/night. Until that time, just hoping that everyone is safe and well.
AJ: Thanks Lisa! Fin.
Be sure to check out Lisa A. Walker’s official website, Shots from the Dark, to view more of her work. Check out these other amazing photos by Lisa…