At just 15 years old, Sam Lichtenstein got her start in music photography. Taking a point and shoot to local venues in her hometown of Sarasota, Florida, Sam got to practice the art of live music photography. Since moving to New York City three years ago, Sam has had access to loads of opportunities including working at Universal Music Group where she’s worked with Sigrid, Fall Out Boy, Aminé and more!
When did you start to show an interest in photography? What was it about photography that drew you in?
When I was around 10 or 11, all I wanted was a little point and shoot camera so my friends and I could mess around and take silly photos. As I was finishing up middle school, my art teacher let three students in the class experiment with film photography and the darkroom process, and I was one of the students chosen. I developed a love for film photography, and decided I wanted to try my hand at digital photography as well. I joined my high school’s yearbook staff where I became photo editor my sophomore and junior years, and I took photo classes at the local art college in my town. I loved (and still do love) the fact that photography lets you capture a moment and freeze it in time. You can look at a photograph and remember so much about that tiny moment: where you were, who you were with, etc. I think that’s something really incredible.
When, where and what was the first show that you photographed and what was that like? Looking back, what advice would you give to your young concert photographer self?
I think my first show I shot (without a photo pass) was a local We the Kings show. I grew up a town over from them, so they were always putting on shows around me. I decided to bring my camera when my friends and I attended the show, and I was up front so I was able to take photos. My first real show was Warped Tour, which was absolutely insane. I was so clueless and looking back, I’d probably cringe at my former self! I still shot on automatic and I was very shy. I would tell my young photographer self to take a deep breath, and to be more assertive. Just because someone has been shooting longer than you, or is older than you, or shoots for a more established publication than you, does not mean they are better and are entitled to get in your way. Do what you have to do to get your shot, but be respectful and courteous.
Never Shout Never
Out of all of the photos in your portfolio, which photo are you most proud of and why? What is the story behind it?
I haven’t gotten to shoot many shows recently, but I did shoot Fall Out Boy at Elvis Duran’s Summerbash a few weeks ago for my internship. I was able to shoot their show and capture moments before they went onstage, and I got a shot of Pete smiling as he was getting ready to play. I’m proud of that photo because you can see the excitement in his smile, and I’m proud that I got to the point in my career where I was able to have access to these kinds of moments.
Fall Out Boy
To get into gear a little bit, what is your typical shooting setup? What camera, lens, etc?
I’ve always been a Nikon gal, and I currently shoot with a D810 and a 24-70mm lens.
How would you describe your transition from a music photographer in Florida to a music photographer in New York City? I’d imagine it’s very different, perhaps less competition in Florida?
There’s definitely less competition as a music photographer in Florida, but there’s also less shows. A lot of bands don’t make it down to Florida on smaller tours, or if they do, they choose venues without photo pits, which is another obstacle in itself. I love that there are so many venues to choose from in New York City, but it can be discouraging when you get rejected from so many shows because the lists are always full.
The Chain Gang of 1974
You’ve spent the last year working at Universal Music Group in the creative department. What has that experience been like? What are you able to tell us about that?
Working at UMG has been a crazy and amazing experience. I’ve been working directly with their photographer, who is a badass woman photographer I admire so much. I mainly shoot events and live shows, as well as assist on set with photoshoots for the artists represented by the label. I’ve gotten to learn so much about the music industry, and about working with a creative team. If working in the music industry is something you’re seriously interested in, I would highly recommend trying to find an internship or job at a label. You have access to so many departments and so many people who are full of knowledge and helpful advice!
Panic! at the Disco
What advice would you give to any up and coming photographers who are reading this article right now?
As lame as this sounds, learn your equipment and what it can do. That being said, remember that a photographer is more than his or her gear. It takes talent and a good creative eye to make it in this industry. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely doable.
Interview and Photo of Sam by Jess Williams