Ben Zucker, a photographer from the Central Coast of California, grew up loving music. It had such an influence on him that through the years that he transitioned from playing concerts to photographing them. Ever since then, he has been photographing anything that catches his creative eye, occasionally touring with numerous bands. Today, you can catch him on tour with alternative band Night Riots, photographing their every move. He took some time to sit down and answer our burning questions about tour life and the common misconceptions about photographers.
At The Barricade: If you could take your art in any direction without fear of failure or rejection, where would it lead? What new things would you try?
Ben Zucker: If I could take my art anywhere without fear of rejection, I would definitely try to do more combat photos. I really like mixed martial arts and I believe that the behind the scenes and training can be really interesting, kind of like bands behind the scenes. I’m not necessarily afraid of rejection but it is something I haven’t done yet that I plan on doing in the future. I think my knowledge of music photos and how I broke into this scene will definitely help with breaking into that scene. Start by taking photos of friends, then of their friends and just building from then on.
ATB: What is one thing you wish you knew when you started doing photography as a career?
BZ: I don’t really know if there was something I wish I knew before I started photography because I feel like you have to go through those awkward years. I spent so much time over-editing photos and testing out different things, but I really believe everything is a lesson so it just depends on how you learn from it all. I don’t like the photos that I took when I started but I learned a lot from just going out and shooting anything all the time.
ATB: Some photographers say that what they do allows them to see the world through a different lens (literally and figuratively). How does what you do affect the decisions you make in your everyday life?
BZ: Sometimes I feel like I see things through a lens all the time, not just when I’m taking photos. The other day I saw a man on the street and framed the image in my head but I didn’t have my camera with me and wasn’t thinking to take out my phone. Anything can be a scene and a composed image. Sometimes I’ll zone out of a situation and visualize it as if it were a photo or a movie. On a different note, this job really does allow me to see parts of the world I’d never seen until I started to tour and I’ve learned so much that I couldn’t have learned from staying in one place.
ATB: You’ve toured with Night Riots for quite a while, also doubling as their merch guy. What made you sure that you wanted to tour with them?
BZ: I’d gotten to know the guys in Night Riots for a while because we are from the same small town in California and I had been doing random photo or video things with them for a bit. I still felt stuck in life for a while and didn’t really know what I was doing with photography. I was working a comfortable job that wasn’t too hard but was constant, but when I got the call from Rico, the drummer of Night Riots, asking me to leave in a week for a month long tour I only hesitated for a few minutes before I said yes. I almost got so comfortable that I lost sight of what my ultimate goal was even when it was starring me in the face. It was a dream of mine to tour as a musician and then as a photographer so maybe it felt to good to be true, but it definitely was not. It was real life and it felt amazing.
ATB: I’d imagine that joining Night Riots tour after tour takes you to some pretty amazing places (Mexico in particular). Do you have any cool stories about the places you’ve traveled to?
BZ: I feel like I have a ton of cool stories from the road but because the people I travel with are some of the coolest guys in the world. If you’ve been to a show or met them, then you know what I mean and if you haven’t, then what are you waiting for? Mexico City was an amazing experience but I also remember a random time when I fell asleep in the van and Travis waking me up in Arkansas because the gas station was selling Butterfly Knives and he knew I wanted one. I think I remember that just as much as anything in Mexico. It’s the little things like that, that really stick out. As cheesy as it sounds, these guys have always pushed me to do things I was maybe scared or uncomfortable doing and its always paid off. Even the worst days are the best days because everyone is so rad to be around and has a lot of mutual respect for me and each other.
ATB: What kinds of responsibilities come with joining a tour as an official photographer for the band?
BZ: There are a lot of responsibilities that come with joining a band as their photographer. I can only speak for myself but you’re rarely just a photographer. I’m the only crew member, so anything they need, I’ll be trying to help with. Luckily I tour with guys that have worked so hard to get where they are and haven’t had much help so they will definitely help me a lot but they give me my fair share of things to do. With photos I have to think about their vibe as well as things that are interesting for that moment but also beyond. On a different level I’ll think about what might they want when they are retired and looking back on these moments, so there are plenty of ideas to keep in mind when just doing photos. When you go on tour as a photographer, there is never really a bad time to take photos. Every band and objective is different but for the most part, you’re documenting their life in that moment, so I always try and keep my equipment out and ready.
ATB: What is something people assume about your career that isn’t necessarily true?
BZ: A big thing that people assume about my career that isn’t totally true is that they need to go to school for photography. I get that question a lot and I hear that question get asked to many other photographers. It isn’t like going to photography school is bad, the more you can learn the better, but is it needed? I don’t think so. A lot of the job has to do with skill but it also has to do with your personality, and who you know. When on tour, I’m essentially living with 5 other guys and I’m with them all the time, so if I’m exhausting to be around, then they will find someone else. It isn’t that shallow but obviously no one wants to hang with someone that has a bad attitude because that will make the road so much harder. Some people have different personalities and that is totally fine, I don’t want to pretend like the road is always just a bunch of insanely happy smiling people because it isn’t. I’ve met way more awesome people than lame people though and I’m really thankful for that.
ATB: Personally, I’m a huge fan of every aspect of concerts and music in general, and my biggest dream is to tour with a band like Night Riots as a music journalist. Since you started out in the industry as both a fan and musician, are there still times when your inner fanboy comes out and you have to mentally pinch yourself to see if you’re dreaming? Could you share some advice about breaking into the business?
BZ: On the road, mostly in the van, I try to sit there and look at where I am physically and mentally and appreciate how far I’ve come and the great opportunities I’ve had. I try not to take anything for granted because you can’t get too comfortable with this career. If I could share any advice for breaking into this career or really any photography career, it would be to first really learn it. Go out and practice, learn the ways around your camera, try different styles. You can figure out the jobs and the shows and all that but learning your camera and trying to shoot in different settings and scenarios will only make those jobs easier. You’ll never stop learning, from other photographers, movies, or music. Take all the inspiration in and let it fuel you. I’ve met so many amazing people, I feel inspired everyday by them to always strive to inspire others around me.
For anyone that wants to talk more about this, please come out to a Night Riots show and talk to me at the merch table!
If you could photograph and tour with any band, who would it be?
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