Behind The Lens with Brittany O’Brien

Photo by Josh Lippi

Brittany O’Brien is a freelance photographer who grew up in Santa Rosa, California. Brittany made the move to Oakland, California (about an hour South of her hometown), her homebase when she’s not on the road touring with bands like Hippo Campus, Finish Ticket and K. Flay. We recently got to sit down with Brittany to discuss her distinct style of photography, what life is like as a touring photographer and advice she has for up and coming photographers who are trying to get their names out there. Read the interview below:

How long have you been doing photography? What originally drew you to it?

I’ve been “doing photography” since I was in middle school pretty much. I’ve been professional and full time for almost two years.  I was the friend in middle/high school who always documented everything. Seriously — I had an album on Facebook for every event. A point and shoot camera in my pocket at school every day. Senior year of high school I joined yearbook and started learning a bit more about the art of photojournalism.

Hippo Campus

What is your favorite part about being a photographer?

Freedom. No rules. You can literally make whatever you want into art.

Fitz and The Tantrums

If you can remember, what was the first show you shot? What advice would you give to your former self?

I have two answers here:
1) First “show” I technically shot was senior year of high school on assignment for the yearbook. My friends were in a jazz quartet and they were performing and I was put in charge of photos for the evening. I loved it. Auto settings and all.
2) Years later…my actual first concert that I got a photo pass for was Walk the Moon at the Masonic in San Francisco. I remember putting my sticky on and taking a picture of it in the bathroom. Though I found out later I only got clearance to shoot the opener (The Griswolds) and was kicked out of the pit before WTM started.
To my former self I’d say: I’m glad you got yelled at. Every show you learn a new skill. That night I learned I can’t be handed what I want, I have to work towards it.

 twenty one pilots

Out of all of the photos in your portfolio, which photo is your favorite and why?

Hard Question. It changes often. Right now I’d say this shot of K.Flay in Los Angeles. It’s my favorite because it’s 100% authentic..the color, her expression, the positioning of the shoe… it was just a moment I saw- this power stance of sorts…and was determined to capture it in a unique way, which I think I did.

K. Flay

You’ve done touring work with Hippo Campus and K. Flay, among others. I’m interested in hearing more about what life is like as a touring photographer? What’s the day to day of tour and what are the pros and cons?

Being a touring photographer is very fun but very challenging. The day to day changes every day. You have to wake up knowing that you are going to be creating. You are on the clock to make art. Some days you just don’t feel it in you, but still have to find inspiration. Overall though, it’s so rewarding. You travel with people that you (hopefully) enjoy being around and document it the whole time. That’s a huge pro. Other pros include meeting new people, trying new food, laughing all the time, experiencing the randomness of life. The cons… not having regularity at all, your eating/showering schedule, feeling homesick, being tired all the time.

I love touring and am glad I’ve been able to experience all types – from doing overnight drives in a van in the snow to riding a double decker bus across Europe in the spring. It’s important to work hard in the field and grow as you tour.

Finish Ticket

How would you describe your photography as a whole and do you think that your images represent who you are as a person or do you try to keep your personality out of the images?

This is a rad question. I would describe my photography as nostalgic. I strive to have each image represent a real moment. Capturing candid life and creating portraits out of live music are my favorite things to do. I like to bring out either rich colors or deep black and white tones in my photos and never deal with filters. The more natural a moment the better. I think my photos are 100% me. I’m choosing what images make it to the artist or make it to my social media, usually reflecting how I feel at that time. I have a very picky process from shooting to eliminating to editing to delivery… so they have to pass the “my art is a representation of me” test before they make it to the world.

Hippo Campus

I try to keep these features away from social politics, but I have to mention the topic of women in the music industry. For many young girls starting out, it can be discouraging seeing so many men succeeding so effortlessly. Now that you’re in the industry, what are your thoughts on women in the music industry? Do you feel that there is a lack of female representation or rather that women need to know the right places to look in order to find jobs?

I’ve had a very positive time in the music industry as a woman. Of course… the field is dominated by men… but the men I’ve met are open and embracing women joining the ranks. All the artists/bands I’ve worked with have been nothing but supportive of me. It’s incredible working for an artist like K.Flay who hand picks her team based around people with integrity and a desire to work with those  who are less represented in the industry. The more artists that work towards hiring a diverse team, the sooner we see an even playing field.

Imagine Dragons & K. Flay

When shooting, what is your typical gear setup?

It varies! A Nikon d850 is my body of choice, generally accompanied by 14mm, 20mm and 35mm lenses.

I am a huge fan of your portrait work. What are your tips/tricks to shooting successful, visually interesting portraits?

Thank you! This is a tricky question for me because most of my portraits happen in the moment. I’m not much of a planner when it comes to my work. I see something special or a weird location and make it work. A big tip from me is don’t compare your work to others. Especially in the moment. Don’t try to remember what someone else did an copy it… just experiment! Nothing is wrong when it comes to art. Think outside the box!

K. Flay

I ask a lot of photographers this — do you prefer shooting shows in clubs/venues or at festivals and why?

Venues!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Festivals are H A R D. At least to me. The aesthetic of a busy festival stage really throws me off creatively. I always think and study the stage while shooting looking for an opportunity to try something new, but this is much easier at a show indoors that was built of a specific artist.

Foster The People

What advice do you have for up and coming photographers?

Work hard. You have to practice. If you’re working towards music…go to local shows weekly! Meet local bands, get involved in the scene. It’s great practice and you’ll also meet like minded people who can help you succeed. Don’t compare yourself to others – really find your own path in photography and don’t be afraid of that. ALSO – gear doesn’t matter.

Interview by Jess Williams

You can keep up with Brittany O’Brien on social media by following her on Twitter and Instagram and you can check out the rest of her portfolio on her website, here.


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