Insider Tips From Pro Music Photographer Shane McCauley

by Shane McCauley

From shooting for music labels (Universal/DefJam, Warner Music Group, Mad Decent, Columbia) and publications (Rolling Stone, The Fader, Vice, Nylon), to traveling the world with Diplo, as well as publishing a book with the famed DJ, 128 Beats Per Minute, Shane McCauley documents music and life. For many of us, music is life; subsequently, we seek to carve out a space in the both physical and digital world of the industry.

Here are tips from McCauley for all the pit-standing, side stage-snapping, all-access press pass-wearing shutterbug hopefuls…

1. Read these blogs so you can always stay up-to-date with what’s new in your field:

2. So you want to go to college…

I’m gonna give it you straight: Going to a 4-year institution to get a degree in photography is the biggest waste of +$100,000 ever. If you do take business classes, video editing and post-production classes, web application classes, but better yet, don’t go to college at all. I have messed with a lot of cameras and lighting and spent 10 years working as a photo assistant for some of the best photographers in the world. I learned a ton that you just can’t learn in a classroom. Much of photography is just having problem solving abilities.

3. Develop your own style and stay positive.

Figure it our by trial and error. I have gone to shoot to discover that someone forgot to pack a cable, rendering most of the equipment useless, things break all the time. It is important to know how to take the lemons and make lemonade.

4. Make the purchases you must make.

You need to spend a little bit, but stop here: Photoshop, lenses, Final Cut Pro and Alien Skin (especially VSCoOfilters packs)…hard drive back up and a solid DSLR!

Out of all the stuff I have used the most reliable tool I have is my Canon 5D Ark II. I’ve shot with Mamaiya cameras also, and occasionally I still do shoot medium format, but only in portrait session situations. The Canons are way faster and more versatile. It really is important to invest in great lenses. You won’t get the same result with the $200 lens that you will with the $1,500 lens. I always shoot with Zeiss lenses or Canon L Series Glass.

5. Technique, technique, technique.

  • If you aren’t shooting with natural light, make it look that way.
  • If you aren’t already doing video also, you should start.
  • Live Shows vs. Studio: Stay away from fish eye lenses, avoid using your flash, and know that shooting in the studio can take years to make right.


I rarely work with assistants, so I have a system worked out for getting my stuff where it needs to be on time. Meeting the deadline is always the most important thing. Hungover? No one else’s problem but yours!

7. Draw the line between “favor gigs” and “paid gigs.”

Favor gigs have to be something that I would actually enjoy shooting or it has to be an opportunity to make something really special. Do not fall for the “this will be really great exposure for you” line.

8. Promote yourself.

Just a few years ago, not many photographers were taking Social Media seriously. There used to be something that was mysterious about being a photographer. I have been working in photography since before the Internet (gasp!) so the way a photographer markets themselves has changed dramatically in the last few years. You need to show people what you are doing all the time. There is a saturation of photographers out there. I take time out of my day, everyday to post new images to my Tumblr and to my Twitter feeds.

9. Persistence is KEY.