Seattle ‘Rocktographers’ get their chance to shine in the spotlight


We live in an era where  technology provides the opportunity for just about anyone to shoot decent pictures. Anyone with a few hundred dollars can purchase a digital camera or smartphone which produce high quality images, providing instant gratification to a broader audience. Just visit Facebook or any social networking site and you will see walls plastered with photos from everything from sporting events, to parties, and concerts.

That said, there is a big distinction between taking pictures and producing stunning photographs. Most folks with a digital camera can take great pictures, but a world-class photographer captures the spirit and emotion of a particular moment. A great photographer’s work will make the hair on your arms stand up.

A science as well as an art form in its own right, concert photography is exciting, fun, and challenging, but not always glamorous. For the higher profile shows, concert photographers can be herded into the photo pit like cattle to shoot the standard 1 – 3 song maximum, and then rustled straight out of the venue.

Unlike studio photography, concert photography offers a different set of challenges. Without the ability to control the environment, concert photographers are at the mercy of the light person. With the lighting situation constantly changing and some artists in a state of perpetual motion, getting stunning high-detailed photos can be difficult – but a great concert photographer is almost always able to get something special regardless of the external circumstances.

Sometimes photographers have to work under unique and difficult conditions, and become part of the story itself (click link below).


After a show, it is off to a night of tedious photo editing into the wee hours of the morning to meet the deadline(s).

Love and passion for music drives rocktographers. There’s nothing like the feeling of  shooting a show, then going to your lap top to see what you captured. It’s kind of like opening a birthday or Christmas present.

Some photographers’ work is so good that it gets picked up by national publications such as Rolling Stone (quite an honor). Sometimes artists use the photographs taken of them on their websites or Facebook pages (hopefully having gone through the proper channels and giving credit). Some are able to make a living or at least supplement their income through their work, but it’s not easy to monetize.

The best concert photographers put in thousands of hours of shooting, editing, and studying to hone their craft. Like many musicians, most rocktographers work day gigs and toil in obscurity for little or no financial reward. They do it for the love of the game, in the name of art.

This Thursday, April 4, some of the best Seattle photographers will get their chance to shine.

The Triple Door will showcase the work of Seattle’s top 20 concert photographers in the Musicquarim Lounge.  Throughout the month, guests of the Triple Door will get a ballot with their bill and will be asked to vote for their favorite image.

The event was inspired and driven by SMI contributor Mat Hayward. He developed the event so that the spotlight could be shined on the incredible concert photography talent found in the Seattle area.

SMI contributor, Rocktographer and event organizer Mat Hayward

SMI contributor, Rocktographer and event organizer Mat Hayward

It’s no secret that Seattle is well known for producing some of the world’s most renowned musicians and rock stars.

But there’s this really incredible underground community of photographers that have shot them over the years.  Seattle’s concert photographers have had access to so many incredible shows, garnering both incredible stories and tips to share. These individuals are what this event is about.

-Rocktographer Mat Hayward

One of the biggest rewards that I get in covering shows is meeting some great people with a common passion. Not only are they extremely talented, they are some of the nicest folks you will want to meet. The photographers who are participating in the event help raise the bar for those of us that pick up a camera. They inspire me on a daily basis. Some of the rocktographers such as Mat Hayward, Jason Tang, Mocha Charlie, Xander Deccio and Dan Rogers are contributors to SMI and have had their work showcased right here. (Complete list and links of participating photographers below)

One of my photos will be on display at the event as well. From the bottom of my heart, I have to say that I am humbled, honored, and excited to be participating in the 1st Annual Rocktographer Happy Hour at the Triple Door. 

Event organizer Mat Hayward shares his thoughts on the event….

SMI: How did you come up with the idea for the event? 

Mat Hayward:  I think the first seeds of the idea for the rocktographer event started to sprout at Bumbershoot last year.  It’s one of my favorite weekends to be a photographer.  Not just because of the great music and the vibe of the event but because of the interaction with the great photographers in the area. 

I thought about reaching out to Bumbershoot to see what it would take to get a booth for a group of photographers to sell our prints there when the lightbulb turned on in my mind for this event.  

Each month the Triple Door features an artist.  Their work is displayed throughout the musicquarium.  Last year I was fortunate enough to display my work on the walls.  It turned out to be a great success as the venue is perfect for music related imagery.  Once I pitched the idea, everyone jumped on board.  How cool is it to feature not just one concert photographer but 20!

SMI: How did you get involved with partnering with The Triple Door for it?

Mat Hayward:  Photography feeds my soul.  Wild Ginger feeds my family.  For my entire life I’ve been passionate about photography.  Unfortunately, shooting concerts is not a particularly lucrative endeavor. 

In addition to being a photographer I am also the General Manager of the AMAZING Wild Ginger at the Bravern in Bellevue.  The Triple Door is part of the same company that owns Wild Ginger (Seattle & Bellevue).  We work closely with each other.  The General Manager at the Triple Door Jason Lock as well as the owners of Wild Ginger Rick and Ann Yoder have been extremely supportive and enthusiastic about this project. 

SMI: What are you most looking forward to at the event?

Mat Hayward:  What am I looking forward to the MOST?  Hanging out with my pit-mates in a social setting instead of the dark photo pits we normally see each other in.  I often tell my wife Lea about the characters I encounter at shows.  She has met a couple people but it will be nice to introduce her to the group and to share a cocktail or two with my friends.

SMI: Any plans to make this an annual or semi-annual thing? 

Mat Hayward:  I would love that!  It’s been very well received so far.  I’ve gotten quite a few emails from photographers that want to participate.  I definitely think there is room for more events like this in the future.

SMI:  What is it that makes this photographer community special?  

Mat Hayward:  There is a core group of photographers that are passionate about music and photography.  As the months and years go by and our portfolios continue to expand it feels to me like we have a little less to prove so to speak and instead of being pushy in the pit and competing for prime spots we tend to look out for each other.  Something as simple as common courtesy can go a long way to making the concert experience more pleasant. 

Tapping someone on the shoulder to let them know you need to get by instead of barging through and potentially ruining a good shot.  Offering to give up a prime spot to another shooter once we’ve got the photo we are after.  Things like that happen more often than not now.  In addition a lot of us support each other through Social Media by tagging, liking and ultimately helping to promote each other.  It really is a great community.

SMI: You have shot a lot of shows and artists. Do you have a particular event or artist that really stands out? 

Mat Hayward:  The main event for my concert photography career was shooting Jane’s Addiction last year.  I hope that most people have had a moment with music in their life that stands out as a defining moment.  For me it was a Jane’s Addiction concert in Portland, OR back in 1989.  It was a surreal day capped by the best concert I’ve ever been to and they have been my favorite band ever since. 

Getting to shoot them at Bumbershoot was extremely exciting for me.  Some of the other shooters were teasing me because I was singing along to every song and dancing around like a teenager while snapping pics.  I posted the images and a write up on the Live Music Blog at  

The next day Perry Farrel Tweeted a link to it.  I was pretty stoked to say the least.  That’s why I’ve chosen a photo from that concert as my Rocktographer print.Other shows that stand out to me…A band called the Bosnian Rainbows ( played at the Triple Door during the 2012 City Arts Festival and blew my mind!

Seeing Reignwolf ( for the first time during the Capitol Hill Block Party last year was pretty intense.  Something that really stands out to me in separating a good show from a great show is authenticity.

I don’t care if they are technically perfect on stage or even drunk off their ass (Perry Farrel at Bumbershoot).  What matters to me is that the band pours their guts into a show.  They rock out and give 100%.  Not to look cool but because they need to get it out.  You can tell when a band is going through the motions to collect a fat paycheck and when they are genuinely into the crowd and the music.  The band that stands out the most in that regard is Cage the Elephant (  I’ve shot them a couple of times now and they leave everything on stage.  Their shows are raw and powerful.

SMI: Any big shows coming up that you are going to be shooting? 

Mat Hayward:  So far 2013 has been a fast and furious year intense shooting.  January, February and March were jam packed with shows. 

It seems to be slowing down a bit this month as Coachella and Sasquatch are on the horizon (I’m not shooting those).  Though there are some good End related bands headed this way that I hope to shoot…Alt J, Alex Clare, Of Monsters and Men and MGMT are some that stand out on the schedule. 

That is what is great about being a concert photographer in the Seattle area, there is always something exciting happening!

Not only is he a multi-media journalist, he is also an accomplished musician. He is the founder of SMI and drives the creative look, feel and branding for the publication. His years of writing, arranging, and performing live music in a variety of genres inform his ability to communicate the message and the mechanics of music. Roth’s work on SMI reflects his philosophy that music is the universal language, and builds community. He believes it has the power to unite people of every race, religion, gender, and persuasion.