Secrets of cool musician photos

by Dave Carew

Jamie McCormick remembers it vividly: the moment that changed her life.

“I went for a day-long hike with a tour group in the Atacama Desert in North Chile, and we were heading up a huge sand dune to see sunset over La Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). I was shooting down the side of the sand dune, capturing people’s footprints in the sand, when I looked up ahead of me.”

As she did so, she saw a young man walking across the sand dune. This was the moment, the image. She snapped a photo of him, and, in doing so, changed her life.

“I looked up and saw it, gasped a little bit, and shot what I saw,” Jamie says. “And then I started to realize—after three weeks of traveling and shooting and writing—that I wanted to do that [professionally]. So I jumped in head first.”

Underground Nashville recently met Jamie at the Liahonaroo music and arts festival, where she served as official photographer. We were curious about her job: What does it take to create outstanding photos of musicians performing?  We asked Jamie.

UNDERGROUND NASHVILLE:  What is the MOST important thing to be mindful of when taking shots of performing musicians?

JAMIE McCORMICK: The most important thing is angle. Making a photo look interesting, and like nothing they’ve ever seen before. That will distinguish you from all the “friends with cameras” who could take an easy, simple photo of them for free. Standing out and taking a new, unique shot requires seeing the scene a little bit differently.

UN:  What distinguishes GREAT shots from just so-so ones?

JM:  The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” was first said, and has achieved permanence, for a reason. Photos have a sound to them. They tell a story. You can certainly just point a camera in the direction of the stage, and—if you have decent equipment that you use properly—probably get a decent, usable shot. But photography is art, and art is not about usability or pragmatism. It is about detail and communication. My job in shooting live music is to make the photos sound and feel like the performers they represent; to showcase the unique details of that performer or particular experience. It should be their sound and style in microcosm. If you can tell me the genre of the band from my photo, then I have accomplished something.

UN:  What would the average non-photographer be surprised to learn about taking photos of performing musicians?

JM: The lighting in most venues is awful, because the camera doesn’t see and adjust the way the human eye does. Getting well-exposed photos, without the harsh and photo-destroying wash-out of a flash, is by far the biggest challenge of shooting live music performances. You have quickly moving people who are very spread out from each other, making for a wide depth of field, and they’re all in low light conditions. It’s a trifecta of lighting concerns that often handicaps what you are able to shoot.

For more information about Jamie McCormick, visit 

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter.” He also is a freelance book editor, publicist, seminar and workshop leader, journalist, and advertising/marketing/public relations writer.

Do you want to help homeless people in Nashville learn culinary arts and other employment skills that provide a specific, effective path off the streets? Please visit  Please also consider coming to ParkLife, the benefit concert for Lambscroft, to be held in Sevier Park in 12South on a Saturday in August or September (date TBA soon). Thank you.


Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective, offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew




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