Houston's Best Music Photographers: Josh Ortiz

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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. Josh Ortiz: I grew up in College Station, where I got my undergrad and Masters at Texas A&M. Got hooked on photography in 2005 during grad school after winning Cingular's (now AT&T) national "Raising the Bar" photo contest. Contestants were asked to submit shots taken of the "5 bars" in everyday life with their cell-phone cameras.

I submitted multiple entries trying to win the weekly $50 prize and instead was nominated as one of five finalists for the grand prize of $50k. I somehow won the national prize and I used my earnings to purchase my first two Canon cameras.

I moved to Houston after graduating in 2007 and have been here ever since working in healthcare consulting. My job currently has me traveling to different hospitals around the country as our firm helps them install and optimize their electronic medical records.

What inspired you to become a music photographer? I blame SXSW, which I first volunteered for in 2009, for getting me hooked on everything that is indie rock. After that first SXSW experience I came back to Houston wanting to check out other local bands and discovered Runaway Sun, Roky Moon & BOLT!, Wild Moccasins and the Tontons. During one of these local shows I first brought my Canon Rebel with a 50mm lens and took my first couple of shots.

I liked the results and just started bringing my camera with me to all local shows. In 2010 I volunteered again for SXSW and started unofficially shooting bands whenever I wasn't working. That summer I went to my first Free Press Summer Fest. I don't think professional cameras were allowed then, but I just snuck it in and had a blast shooting everything.

The last bit of inspiration I got (like I even needed more) was from Mark Austin, who hosted one of his first music photography gallery openings at Warehouse Live (in the pre-red beard days). I remember walking through the gallery looking at his shots and just being amazed. If I could one day get shots anything close to the quality of what he was capturing, I would be happy.

Do you prefer concerts or portraits? Why? Probably concerts, because I still shoot as a hobby. I have only recently started doing portrait shoots for friends so I could expand my portfolio. They are two completely different skill sets for a photographer to have.

With a portrait shoot you're totally in charge. You direct your subjects, pick the background, make sure that hair, clothing, lighting, etc. look right, and then you shoot. With a band/concert all of those options are taken away from you. The only question for me is how much am I willing to fight the crowd (I've never had a press/photo pass) to get closer. I put in my earplugs and then zone out as I listen and shoot.

What is your favorite camera(s) to use at concerts? How long have you had it/them? I started shooting with the Canon Rebel T1I and a few years ago finally upgraded to the 5D Mark III. My 50mm lens is still my favorite because it lets me shoot in poor lighting and still get decent shots. Once I'm done shooting I can throw it over my shoulder, grab a beer and just be another audience member. Two years ago I purchased a 70-300mm which I use for outdoor concerts.

What would be your ideal camera to shoot live music? I'm happy with my 5D. My current set of lens includes a 50mm, 16-35mm and 70-300mm. However what I've found at music festivals is that constantly switching between lens is a pain and you often miss the shot you want. So if I ever started getting paid for this I would probable invest in a second camera body.

Do you prefer shooting at small clubs, larger venues or outdoor festivals? Why? I've never had a press pass, so my shooting has been mostly limited to events that allow professional cameras or places where I can sneak one in. I still love the big outdoor festivals like ACL and FPSF, but I think I'll always be partial to the smaller indoor clubs where I first started shooting.

With spots like Continental Club, The Mink, Walters, Fitzgerald's you can get up close with the performers instead of watching them on a big screen. Shooting indoors you also get more interesting lighting with the performers bathed in red, blue or purple hues. I never shoot with a flash for shows, so half of the time that lighting is nonexistent. It takes a little more patience, but when I get the shot just right it's an amazing feeling.

Story continues on the next page.

What is your best/hairiest photo-pit story? I was volunteering/shooting in Austin for SXSW at a small bar with the stage set up in a fenced-off back patio. The bands that night were mostly playing grunge and heavier rock. I've had some exposure to mosh pits but not to the degree that I experienced that night. Trash Talk took the stage and the over-packed crowd went wild with all the usual pushing, shoving [and] jumping you get with a mosh pit.

Halfway through the lead singer, who had ripped his shirt off already, jumped out into the crowd and then the band started taking turns throwing themselves full speed into the crowd. This was all fine till the audience started climbing onstage so they could jump into the crowd as well. More than a few landed face-first in the dirt.

Then the crowd outside, still trying to get in, started climbing the wooden fence and trying to push through the gates. It was at this point that the bouncers got involved throwing people back over the fence and getting the crowd off the stage. I had put my camera up at this point out of fear of getting it crushed, so I don't have too many shots of the crazier portion of that night.

How often do you make eye contact with the performers? Has anyone ever called you out onstage? I try to avoid it if possible. Shooting shows for me has always been first about enjoying/feeling the music and second capturing a small moment of that on camera. Getting so close to the musicians where you're distracting them is the last thing I want to do. I do remember once getting too focused on my shooting at Continental Club that one of the band members jokingly waved their foot in front of the camera. I got the point.

What to you is the most rewarding aspect of being a music photographer? Being a photographer is all about capturing the extraordinary in everyday life. So when I go to concerts (even when I'm sans camera) I see the musicians and feel the music but I also can't help and notice everything from the colored lighting, the expressions, the performers' poses and even the sweat and how they all combine into brief memorable snapshots. Getting to combine these two areas that I love is exhilarating.


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

Come back Wednesday, when Rocks Off will introduce you to finalist No. 8, Jason Smith.


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