Who: Serena Solomon, photographer
Serena Solomon is a young and talented American photographer living currently in Turku, Finland. She photographs gigs, tours and promo pics for artists and bands in the heavy metal scene.
1. At first can you tell us and the readers about yourself? Where are you from and when did you move to Finland?
I’m Serena, originally from Florida and was living in Arizona before I moved to Finland in August of 2014. I became interested in Finland many moons ago through the music, and visited multiple times between 2007 and 2014. Over the years I felt more at home in Finland, not only because of the initial draw of the music, but the mentality and culture also drew me in and I somehow felt more myself here than in the US.
I’m currently finishing up my masters degree in Popular Culture studies with a focus in music (something like cultural musicology or ethnomusicology) at Turku University. My thesis looks at the international presence within the metal scene in Finland and how it has had an affect on the scene.
I also work part time at a bar, and “work” for two metal media websites ( www.DarkArtConspiracy.com and www.NordicMetal.net ) as a photographer, as well as doing the occasional interview and gig review.
2. How did you get into photographing in the first place? What’s the thing that interests you in it?
When I was like ten years old, I was really into weather photography. Living in Florida, there were great opportunities to shoot storms and hurricanes. As I got more into music and eventually got involved with a website called Finnish Underground, the opportunity arose for me to start photographing bands and even conducting interviews. I think the first gig I shot officially was Apocalyptica in 2010.
Shooting gigs is quite a challenge. It’s always different. One gig is rarely ever the exact same as the one before. The venues, crowds, bands, genres, etc. change per gig whether you’re shooting at the same venue constantly or shooting the same band day after day. Sometimes a venue wont have a photo pit, sometimes the lighting will be really crappy, sometimes the musicians will be constantly moving or you’ll have to work around big set pieces or costumes that cover their entire face…But there’s always something new to learn, a new obstacle to conquer or an old one to learn to work with.
3. What kind of photography work do you do mainly?
I mainly do gig photography, lately I’ve been branching out into promotional photography as well and would love to do more of that. For myself, I also enjoy going out and exploring nature with my camera. Abandoned places are one of my favorite things to photograph outside of music, but they’re hard to come by.
4. Is photographing your profession or are you doing it as a hobby?
It’s a hobby that I occasionally get paid for 😀
5. What are your goals with photographing?
When it comes to gig photography, my main goal is to capture the passion or emotion of the musicians/artists. To portray the same feeling an audience member would gather by being at the gig in a still image. If someone who wasn’t at the gig looks at a photo of mine and tells me they feel like they were there, then I’ve succeeded.
It’s also a great to be able to give back to the band, give them something to share and remember the gigs from the perspective of the audience. At festivals, I also really love capturing the mood of the festival itself by including photos of “festival life” and people who are attending the festival (specially camping festivals).
6. What kind of gear do you use? How much does good photography equipment matter in taking good shots? Would you recommend for someone interested in photographing investing straight away in good gear?
At the moment I’m using a Nikon D7200 and three lenses (Sigma 50m f/1.4 EX DG HSM, Sigma 17-70 f/2.8-4 DC Macro HSM, and Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 EX Apo HSM).
Of course, good gear won’t give you an eye for composition, a talent for capturing interesting subject matter, or experience in shooting whatever it is you’re shooting, but of course, it makes taking an aesthetically pleasing photograph easier. I guess it depends more on the people looking at the photo. What’s more important: a lesser quality photo with more interesting subject matter or a higher quality photo of something less unique or interesting?
I think it makes more sense, if someone is starting out with photography, to start out with more basic “amateur” level gear. Get a feel for what you like to shoot and how interested you are in continuing with photographing and go from there… Certain cameras are better for different subject matters too.
I think the one I use at the moment is considered “semi-professional” and I really can’t afford more. I personally also look into buying stuff used. Camera equipment, like other electronics, go out of date quickly so you can find good quality used stuff for half the market value because the owner wants the newer version. It’s a pretty expensive hobby, specially if it is mainly a hobby and you’re a student 😀
7. Have you studied photographing or are you self taught? What has been the hardest part to learn?
I was on the yearbook photography staff and took a few film photography courses in high school and planned on studying it in college but I wasn’t interested in all the art theory classes involved in getting a minor or major so I dropped it.
8. What areas in photographing would you like to develop next?
I would like to get more experience with band promo/portrait photography, working with models, etc. I would also like to learn more about photo editing. At the moment I use pretty basic versions of Lightroom and Photoshop and don’t edit my photos too much. But again, the newest versions of these programs are quite expensive, so I do what I can.
9. What kind of heavy metal music is your favourite and what meaning does music have all in all in your life?
Lately I’ve been listening to a mix of melodic doom and black/pagan metal, industrial and gothic stuff. Occasionally melodeath and folk metal as well as things on the fringes of metal like neo folk, gothic, alternative, rockabilly, etc.
Music has been a solid constant presence in my life. Both my parents were musically inclined and there is no doubt it has constructed the path of my life thus far. I’m living in Finland initially because of music, studying music related things and have adapted my early photography hobby in a way which allows me to experience live music and integrate in the music scene in ways others cannot.
I’m not even sure I’d still be here if it wasn’t for certain music which helped me through numerous incredibly difficult times in my life, those moments where you feel the music is the only thing keeping you afloat. Music has also been a huge part of my social life. Most of the people I know, and are close with, I’ve met through music somehow. I think music is also a great way to connect with other people, specially if you’re socially awkward like me 😀
10. Free word.
Just always remember to credit the artists who’s work you use/share. There is a human behind it, who put lots of time and effort (and money) into the work you are admiring, and a lot of the time, even though it doesn’t have monetary value, being recognized and gaining the exposure from the work is the only compensation the artist will gain from the work being shared around the world online.
More about Serena and her works can be found from:
Thank you for the interview!
Interviewed and edited: Aili Viitanen