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In the Pits: A Q&A with Photographer Dietrich Zeigler

>> In the long run, it’s not the camera or lens that make the shot, it's the photographer and the photographer’s knowledge of the equipment that makes the shot. >>

My first camera was an old Canon AE-1 something my dad gave me from the pawn shop he managed. I was in community college, working part-time jobs and taking photos during various hiking trips. Looking back, I should have kept it up but the camera developed a light leak (this was well before Instagram made hipster filters to look like light leaks) and it ended up in the trash. I always fantasized about the exclusive access and introvert-encouraging photographers at concerts, fashion shows and events.

What is like to be behind the scenes but simultaneously in the middle of it all? I recently had an opportunity to ask Chicago-based pro photographer, Dietrich Zeigler, some burning questions about his career to help stave off my curiosity.

Crescent Louise: You caught my eye with a stunning Tove Lo shot from Lollapolooza this year, and I knew I needed to interview you. Please help me understand the correlation between musicians’ stage presence and photography. How do you get the best shots?

Dietrich Zeigler: When working the pits at festivals, photographers usually only get the first three songs to shoot, so stage presence is extremely important. We need our shot and we want the musicians to look amazing. So musicians: Please move around, don’t hide behind the microphone and give us some action!

Patience and timing usually gets a great shot. Although it is important to research the subject, environment and camera settings prior to shooting, you should always be ready for the shot and to get into your flow.

CL: I’ve been to a lot of shows with pyrotechnics, lasers and the works — and realize this probably proves difficult when flash doesn’t seem to be allowed. What do you do in bad lighting?

DZ: Learn the limits of the tools you have and always assume flash is not allowed. Since tri/monopods are not allowed in the pits either, I never shoot slower than 250, usually use a 2.8f lens or lower, an ISO high enough before grain effects the photo and always RAW format. From there, I edit like hell.

CL: Editing is very important, especially if you’re using a phone. What is your opinion on how a casual iPhone user can take great concert pics?

DZ: Always learn the tools you have regardless of what it is but don’t expect to get into the pits with an iPhone or have true, high quality photos.

CL: True. Do you ever have to use your phone? And do you feel like you’re cheating on your camera when you do?

DZ: I do feel guilty shooting with my phone when the subject is important and it would have been better with my camera. It does not make me feel professional, but when you don’t have your camera and the phone is the only option, you use the tools you have.

Learn the limits of the tools you have and always assume flash is not allowed.

CL: The right tools are very important to you. Tell me about your favorite piece of equipment.

DZ: So far it is the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 lens. This lens has served me very well in many adventures, from the runways of fashion week to the pits of music festivals. I did just get a new camera, so the lens might have some competition soon.

CL: Some people spend an entire concert trying to get the perfect shot; is it worth it? And do you stop when you know you’ve got it?

DZ: It is worth it if you want it to be, but I say this again: patience and timing is key. We never know when we will get the perfect shot. Sometimes it takes more than one concert before you get that shot. We are all rookies at some point — so don’t give up. I know many photographers that stop once they feel that they got ‘the shot.’ I like to make sure I get my shots.

In the long run, it’s not the camera or lens that make the shot, it’s the photographer and the photographer’s knowledge of the equipment that makes the shot.

CL: How do you decide who you’re going to shoot at a music festival?

DZ: If it is a packed day of music, plan your schedule right. Most festivals are in small areas with stages close together, which makes it easier to capture more artists. Covering Lollapalooza, however, is not so easy with stages nearly a mile apart. Pace yourself and prioritize a list. Sometimes I will toss out my list to friends and ask for feedback on who to cover.

CL: Feel free to share your list with me next time! So big question: Are you a music lover?

DZ: Yes, but more interestingly, I have gained much more respect for the industry, the music itself and those behind the scenes that make it all happen. Working music festivals has expanded my taste and exposure to new music, thus making me more of a lover.

CL: I like to say music is the backbone of our country but I know that entrepreneurship and the freedom to do what you love are huge factors, too. When did you know you were doing want you wanted to do career-wise?

DZ: Perhaps as early as high school I found my passion for photography. I would dream about working for Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated or National Geographic — traveling the world, meeting new people and capturing experiences. But the path for a job and future led me into interactive multimedia instead. My passion for photography never faded, so when I got into fashion and television, I was available to take the steps towards a career in photography.

CL: Good thing, too! What is your most memorable experience as a photographer?

DZ: Getting to meet and have a short photo session with Adriana Lima.

CL: What advice would you give to someone starting out as a photographer (or if someone who wants to meet Adriana Lima)?

DZ: Learn the tools you have regardless of what it is. Master manual mode, white balancing and what your lens can do. Study what others around you are doing, tools they are using and what they are experimenting with. Don’t hesitate to ask for help or advice. We all were rookies as some point. In the long run, it’s not the camera or lens that make the shot, it’s the photographer and the photographer’s knowledge of the equipment that makes the shot.

CL: What’s next for you?

DZ: I wouldn’t mind pursuing my dream for National Geographic. Hey NatGeo: I also have my Remote Pilot License, lets talk!

Zeigler said one of his biggest pleasures of being a photographer is sharing his work. He’s got four Instagram feeds that are definitely worth following: Music, Runway, Aerial and everything else. In the meantime, you’ll be hearing his whir and click from the pits.

[Featured image via Dietrich Zeigler]

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