Carlos J. Matos
The Scoot Inn, Austin, TX
Time / Date:
11:10 AM / March 13, 2014
Camera Body: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye
Shutter Speed: 1/500s
Focal Length: 15mm
I have a confession to make: I never planned to become a photographer. My seemingly rocket-fueled journey from full time desk jokey to making images for a living was more or less accidental; the product of circumstance and unexpected opportunity.
I was new in town, just beginning to explore what the Live Music Capital of the World had to offer. When you live in a city like Austin and all your friends play in bands getting involved in some capacity is unavoidable. It wasn’t long before I started photographing shows for fun, then for friends, then for friends of friends. Next thing I knew I was on a bus headed to Gainesville, FL to shoot one of the biggest punk festivals in the country as part of their official photo team. Five months later I was on assignment covering SXSW for an Austin, TX music publication.
So there I was: a greenhorn with a media pass tasked with photographing the craziest music event in the world. My primary assignment was to capture the legendary Converse/Thrasher Death Match: 4 days of non-stop punk, hardcore, metal, hip-hop, and skateboarding spread over two stages and a custom skate park built for the event. Heaven, basically.
Given the immensity of SXSW, I knew there would be a lot of cameras pointed in the same direction taking a lot of similar-looking photographs. One way or another I was determined to make at least one or two truly standout images; one or two images I could be genuinely proud of.
My SXSW experience kicked off with LA-based hardcore outfit Trash Talk at the outdoor stage on a sunny Thursday morning. These guys were all brutal intensity, motion, and speed; easily one of the wildest bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of photographing. Lead singer Lee Spielman alternated between hurling himself into the crowd and violently thrashing around stage with his bandmates. The outdoor stage itself was wide yet relatively compact, with maybe 4 feet of pit space between the band and the crowd. You’d have to be lacking a pulse to not get swept in the action.
After several failed attempts trying to track Lee from stage to crowd and back, I opted to find a corner with a solid angle and wait for the right moment to grab a few wides of the band. I never found what I was looking for; instead I got a face full of dreads and an image I had never dreamt of making.
SXSW is a marathon. Other than staying hydrated, I knew that packing light would be a requirement if I wanted to last past the first 12-hour day. My entire kit for the week consisted of a single 5D Mark III, a 24-70mm f/2.8, a 15mm f/2.8, and a 600EX flash.
Making the Shot:
Sometimes the best laid plans falling apart yield the best results. I was on the hunt for wides, shooting with a high shutter speed to freeze the band’s erratic movement and rolling my aperture as the they moved in and out of the sunlight. Close ups weren’t even on my radar at that point; I was shooting with a 15mm, after all. Suddenly I was swirling in a mess of dreads and sweat, the lead singer’s face inches away from my camera. I had barely a few seconds to get something, anything, in focus and make a few exposures before he moved away. I’m still amazed his hair didn’t mess up the AF.
Editing & Processing:
I edit and process in Lightroom 90% of the time unless I have the benefit of time or require Photoshop for a specific purpose. For SXSW I edited everything using a basic five stage process: download, label green all usable images (in focus, well exposed) and delete the rest, parse usable images and flag the best composed, apply necessary post processing, and upload to my editor.
I am a fan of high-end editorial images and try to recreate that style wherever possible. After making a few basic curve adjustments and cropping where necessary, I move into localized brushes where I do the majority of my post processing work. In addition to dodging and burning I use several custom brushes I’ve created for skin, eyes, hair, and other detail enhancements. This particular image incorporated about a dozen separate brushes to create the final look.
I’m still in the process of wrapping my head around this whole photography thing, still finding my vision. To be honest I’m not entirely sure where it’s all headed. The only thing I know for sure is this: I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had doing anything else in my entire life. The experience alone is more valuable than gold.
Enjoy yourself and stay humble. Sometimes things are going to move faster than you can keep track of, other times they’re going to move painfully slow. Don’t succumb to frustration. Always take time to appreciate and enjoy what you’re doing. The more you stop to enjoy it the more passion you’ll to sink into it, and the better your work will be for it.
I see photography as an experimental and collaborative medium. There’s so many elements to play around with it’s almost overwhelming. I am just starting to discover and fall in love with portrait photography, particularly the works of Gregory Heisler and Chicago-based portrait photographer Nick Fancher. People who have mastered the art of producing remarkable images using minimalist techniques. I consider myself fortunate to be acquainted with several talented locals who are always open to experimenting and trying something new. We’ll be spending the next few months working on a number of self-produced projects. I’m really looking forward to it, it’s gonna be a good time.
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