Houston's Best Music Photographers: Jason Smith

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Back in June Rocks Off brought you Houston's ten best music photographers, as selected by a small panel of insiders and professionals. Now we'd like you readers to choose the best. Before voting opens, though, here's a little more about our finalists, in alphabetical order -- and a lot more of their spectacular photography. Best of luck to all ten.

Rocks Off: Tell us a little more about yourself. Jason Smith: By day, I am a music teacher at a private school. I teach kids from pre-kindergarten all the way up to eighth grade how to sing and play xylophones and other rhythm instruments. I also help organize mini-music-festivals in Houston like Yes, Indeed! last month at Continental Club.

I also play bass in a band called Alkari, which is currently on hiatus. Lastly, I am part of a nonprofit organization called Houston Mod which encourages people to appreciate Houston's mid-20th-century modern architecture and design. I love to stay busy. I can't sit still for long.

What inspired you to become a music photographer? A Houston woman named Kelley Cook used to photograph my early 2000s band, Strangelight, along with Pale and a bunch of other bands. I love her work. She photographed with film before digital became common. Then when digital became the norm I thought, "Maybe I could do this!"

In about 2009 I bought a used Nikon D80. I've been getting photo credentials by working with my friend Jeremy Hart at SpaceCityRock.com - an awesome music Web site. [We tend to agree - ed.] I've become kind of the default Space City Rock photographer and concert reviewer while Jeremy does all the previews and most of the album reviews.

Do you prefer concerts or portraits? Why? I mostly only do concert photography unless a band convinces me I should shoot their promo shots. I think of my shots as "action portraits" because I like to get up close. I like to photograph people doing what they love, not posing on train tracks. As a photographer I want to make musicians look the way I'd want to look onstage. I'm a musician myself, so I think musically through my camera.

What is your favorite camera(s) to use at concerts? How long have you had it/them? My only camera is a sad old Nikon D80. It came out in 2006 so someone else had it for two years before I started abusing it. I want to upgrade it so badly! I do love my 100mm Tokina lens, though -- that is my baby.

Everyone I photograph with has better equipment than I do. At shows in the pit and backstage where we gather before shows, I spend a lot of time envying the real pros and asking them what they like or don't like about their gear.

It's my goal to get a new camera in the next year or so. As advice to any young and broke aspiring photographers out there, don't let your lack of money stop you! You can get great photographs out of used gear. Then when you get better gear it will seem so much easier, or at least that's what I'm hoping!

What would be your ideal camera to shoot live music? I am very interested in the Nikon D810. I'm open to hearing anyone's opinions about what I should buy. I don't get paid much if at all for my photography, so whatever I buy will be a huge expense.

Story continues on the next page.

Do you prefer shooting at small clubs, larger venues or outdoor festivals? Why? I love all three for different reasons. In small clubs I will be photographing bands that are probably friends that I've made through taking their photos, or if they're not friends yet, I will make friends with them. Houston bands are always grateful that I'm taking their photos, so I love shooting small clubs despite the low lighting and late nights. Larger venues will have better lighting, and outdoor festivals will offer a lot of variety in the types of acts I'll get to shoot on any given day.

What is your best/hairiest photo-pit story? Almost every show has a funny story to it. One of the best for me was this year at Free Press Summer Fest. The jerks in security were tough on the photographers at FPSF this year. You wouldn't think it, but photographers tend to be looked down on by a lot of security people.

Some dude on a power trip wouldn't let me into the photo pit for Cage the Elephant, which left me downright angry! Instead of being in the photo pit, I ended up in the crowd surrounded by a group of absolute Cage the Elephant fanatics. Watching the show with them turned out to be much more fun than taking photos of the band might have been.

It was a great consolation prize for me when this young lady got up on top of her boyfriend's shoulders in front of me and then turned around to her friend with this "I LOVE THIS BAND" look on her face. I snapped the photo of her with my Samsung phone. Luck is a big part of photography. It became one of my favorite shots of this year so far. I hope she sees it online!

How often do you make eye contact with the performers? Has anyone ever called you out onstage? All the time. I spend almost half the time watching the band - especially if I love the band, and I usually only shoot bands I love. My friends sometimes call me out, like, "Hey, Jason's in the house tonight!"

What to you is the most rewarding aspect of being a music photographer? Lots of things come to mind. One is being on this list with nine amazing photographers (and a bunch more Houston photographers that I consider way more talented than me.) It's fun being in the photographer brother/sisterhood.

Another reward is when my friends make my photos their profile pics on Facebook. That's a real honor for me. Lastly, there's the reward I get when I look at a great photo and fill with pride that I was able to catch that perfect moment forever.


Violeta Alvarez Trish Badger Julian Bajsel David Block Victor Cervantes Greg Noire Josh Ortiz

Come back Wednesday, when Rocks Off will introduce you to finalist No. 9, Todd Spoth.


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