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© Ute Reckhorn

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Paul L Carter: Photographing the Music Industry with Lensbaby


  • 4 min read

Paul L. Carter is a Music and Landscape photographer based out of Los Angeles. He recently took the time to tell us a little bit about his career, experience with Lensbaby, and more. Read the full interview below.

(Win Butler of Arcade Fire)

What drew you to concert photography?

Since I was 12, I spent most of my free time attending concerts. I was always trying to get closer to the show. Of course in the 90s it was easier to slip to the front since moshing was a thing. I've always been drawn to music teetering back and forth between documenting the process and creating. No matter what I'll always be involved in music.

What is something that you must have in your bag when shooting events?

Ha. Tricky question for photographers. Seems like we MUST HAVE IT ALL. For shooting live, my style requires getting close and tight to the subject so I've got to say a 70-200. I also use a 2x extender w/ the Lensababy 50mm/80mm to get the effect, but up close.

(Kendrick Lamar)

Your website bio says "usually on excursions around the Southwest". What is is about the Southwestern United States that drew you in and keeps you going on these excursions?

The terrain around the Southwest is magical. Parts of it seem like you're on another planet. My love for it started when I would make trips back home to Houston. Although that stretch of I-10 can be mundane, things can change once the sun goes down. Eventually I started branching out into Northern Arizona and New Mexico. Finally one day a friend invited me to a festival in Denver. The roads from L.A. to Denver are a photographer's dream. Seems like there's something to see every 100 miles or so. Just get the Roadtrippers App and give yourself double the time you think you need.

What advice would you give an aspiring photographer who wants to do what you do, travel the world shooting concerts and festivals?

It's a bit cliche but I find the key is creating your own style. Photography is actually like music. There are so many variables. By now it seems everything has been done but you can pick and choose different elements to create something unique. One other thing I've learned in entertainment is to be polite but pushy. Ask then ask again. If it doesn't happen then do something in that same realm on your own. It's strange what gets picked up these days. The best thing you can do is just keep creating and you'll naturally find your niche.

Outside of musicians and concerts, you have some amazing photos on your site. What can you tell us about your other work?

Well thank you. Some of my favorite things to shoot are plants. I'm obsessed with texture, symmetry, and patterns. To me that's what nature is, depending on how close you look. I shoot a lot of people and plants so I enjoy the similarities in the human body with other items in nature. Two of my favorite artists are Karl Blossfeldt and Edward Weston. They created beautiful compositions from objects that we wouldn't normally find appealing

(Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine)

How were you introduced to Lensbaby lenses, and how have they helped you evolve your photography into what it is today?

A close friend/mentor gave me his before my first trip to New York. It was the perfect time to receive such a gift. In school we had to learn off of 4x5s so I was always interested in selective depth of field. I've never really been excited about shooting landscapes but Lensbaby changed that. When shooting live, I've always liked motion and blur. Most crisp/clean images don't do much for me. The selective focus adds things to the image that otherwise wouldn't be there. A good example are some macro shots that I have been messing with lately. The ring in the eye would not be possible without the flex/warp of the Lensbaby. Also, the butterfly takes on a completely different shape. These things aren't even possible with tilt-shift software.

Shooting all of these shows/festivals must make for some interesting experiences. Can you share an interesting (PG-Rated) story that may sum up what it's like to work with these (often eccentric) musicians?

Hmm. I would say things are pretty tame these days. Also there are those pesky NDAs (nondisclosure agreement) that we sometimes have to sign. Entertainers seem to be more cautious now that everything gets documented and can be twisted around. The fans are still into the spirit. I still see kids line up for days just to be in the front. It's great to see that excitement and joy for performances. Now if they would just put their phones away.

(My Morning Jacket)

As a bonus question, I noticed while looking through your portrait folder, you see countless musicians and live shows and then just a photo of Val Kilmer. There must be a story there...

Ha! Yes, I do shoot actors from time to time. I believe that was for a Spanish film festival that he was judging. He had just started a Mark Twain project so he was starting to dress the part a bit. I had heard that he could be somewhat of a pain with photos but he was great. With actors, I'm cautious to bring up characters they played especially when it's old projects. I think Doc Holiday is what came to mind first but soon after the shoot I remembered Willow, which is one of my favorite movies. I kicked myself for not telling him how much I loved Madmartigan. Oh well, next time.

You can check out Paul L. Carter's website here.

You can follow him on Instagram here.

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