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Behind The Lens: Todd Owyoung

Behind The Lens: Todd Owyoung

Learn About The Incredible Concert Photographer Behind Some Of Music's Biggest Stars

This month we're taking you behind the lens of NYC-based photographer, Todd Owyoung! Specializing in music photography since 2006, Todd is obsessed with capturing rockstar moments — the moments that present artists larger than life at the peak of their performances. With a client list spanning across all genres and features in some of the largest media publications, Todd is a rockstar in his own right! 

Whether the venue is a 200-capacity club or Madison Square Garden, shooting for a major brand or on tour, Todd’s approach to live music photography is simple: “I want my images to put you in the front row.” Regardless of the client, Todd always wants to capture images that music fans love, remarking, ”I know that if I can make an image that a fan wants on their wall, I've done my job."

In addition to shooting shows, Todd is passionate about nuturing the next generation of concert photographers. In 2007 he founded, a website dedicated to music photography and sharing the tips and advice as he’s learned throughout his career. The site features over one thousand posts, ranging from articles on technique for concert photography to gear recommendations to advice on breaking into music photography. 

Read more about Todd's most memorable concert moments below and be sure to tune-in to Live Nation's Instagram TODAY at 12pm PT where Todd will be answering your questions! 


Btl   Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler, Aerosmith

This image is from Aerosmith’s 2009 tour opener in St. Louis and one of the favorite images of my career. I would shrug this off as a case of being in the right place at the right time, but it was only slightly more calculated than that. There was a long thrust extending out from the middle of the stage that cut the photo pit in half, so photographers could only go halfway down the stage until it deadended at the thrust. We were told about this layout in advance, so I made sure to try and be right behind the press escort going into the pit, so I’d be as close I could to the thrust. Beyond that, it was all up to Steven Tyler’s decision to sing directly into my wide-angle lens. As they say, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” After this show, the tour moved photographers from the photo pit to the soundboard, so this was pretty much the only time on this tour that this image could have been made. Out of all the images I’ve made in my career so far, this one is one that’s been in my portfolio since the day I made it. 

Btl   Avett Brothers

Scott Avett, The Avett Brothers

This image is from the very first concert I ever photographed at Off Broadway in St. Louis. Long before they were headlining festivals, the Avett Brothers were opening for a band called BR-549 — but for this show, they were playing to about 50 people in a small club. My best friend invited me to a concert and at the time, I had no idea who the bands were, but I figured I’d go anyway. On a whim, I brought my camera — I figured that if I didn’t like the bands, I could always entertain myself my making photos. As it turned out, the bands were amazing and I instantly fell in love with concert photography. It felt like being struck by lightning. The thrill of capturing performers on stage, the feeling that every moment was fleeting in front of the lens, the chase of freezing that one perfect moment in a still image… I was hooked.  


Btl   Questlove

Questlove, The Roots

One of my favorite pieces of advice I ever received is this: “Don’t forget the drummer.” I was backstage with a local band in my hometown of St. Louis before their show. The guitarist was playing chords and without even looking up from his guitar, he says to me, “Don’t forget the drummer. Photographers always forget the drummer.” 

Now, Questlove is probably the most famous drummer in the world and he needs no reminder to photograph him, but this little bit of advice has always stuck with me and it’s become a mantra of sorts for my work. Drummers are always at the back of the stage, dimly lit, obscured by their kit and in constant motion. There are much easier subjects than drummers on the stage. But for all those reasons, I also love the challenge of photographing drummers because when you come away with a good image of one, it’s all the more rewarding. This image of Questlove was made at the beautiful Fox Theater in St. Louis. I noticed there was a light behind Questlove and I crouched down to get a lower angle and line up his signature hair with the light to get this halo effect. As I did, Questlove just happened to look down at me to complete this image.

Btl   X Japan

Yoshiki, X Japan

The legendary band X Japan hired me as their official photographer for their performance at Madison Square Garden in NYC. It was really a huge honor to get asked to document this one-off concert, particularly because it had been a dream of the band’s to perform at this iconic venue ever since they formed as a group in 1992. I documented two days of rehearsals at the IZOD center in New Jersey leading up to the Garden show. This was the first time I’d worked with X Japan, so during rehearsals, I asked the band’s manager if there were any restrictions of where I could go or do during the performance. She replied that I had “carte blanche” to photograph wherever and whatever I wanted. With that in mind, I knew that the reverse images from on stage would be ones that were going to be important in telling the story of this show. 

This image in particular was captured during the show’s finale. I saw X Japan’s band leader Yoshiki moving to center stage and at that moment, all the massive confetti cannons at the front of the stage went off, just as he was falling to his knees. I love this image because I feel it captures the very climax of X Japan’s dream gig. It’s one thing to be in a venue and feel the energy of a show, but it’s often so difficult to capture that exact feeling in a single image. I would like to hope this one image does that for Yoshiki and X Japan. 

Btl   Jason Aldean (kick Shot)

Jason Aldean, Fenway Stadium

My brother Chris and I do tour photography for Jason Aldean. We first met Jason in 2009 when we were asked to photograph a campaign featuring him for Wrangler Jeans. My brother connected with Jason again in 2013, photographing his debut at Madison Square Garden and we’ve been doing tour photography for the Aldean team ever since. 

This image is from Jason’s performance at Fenway Stadium on a string of big stadium shows. Jason is a huge baseball fan so these kinds of shows are always special to him and by extension, always fun to photograph because of the massive crowds. For this show, I wanted to try to do something different, so I had my camera on a monopod on a remote release for the shutter, hoping that this vantage point would let me get eye level while still photographing from the photo pit below the stage. 

For the most part, Jason never really interacts with the camera when we’re photographing him, not before this and barely since. But for whatever reason, for this particular moment, Jason decided to kick out at the camera. I was using a fisheye lens which has a really wide field of view, but it was still all by feel without knowing the exact framing that the camera was seeing. 

Immediately after the moment happened, I took the camera down and immediately reviewed the images. I’d love to say this image was something we planned, but honestly it’s just a lot of luck of the right moment and having everything go just right. The next year, Jason used this image as the truck wrap for that year’s tour, so it was a real thrill to see this image blown up huge and featured so prominently on tour and for promotion. It’s a feeling that never gets old as a music photographer, seeing your images in use and printed large.

Btl   Jason Aldean (back Shot)

Jason Aldean, Ranger Stadium

This image is from Jason Aldean’s performance at Ranger Stadium in Arlington, TX in 2019. This was one of the last shows of the tour as I recall and it was the biggest show that year. Stadium shows like this are logistically challenging as a photographer. The stages are bigger, higher and because of the size of the venues, everything about these scale shows can be more difficult to work around compared to your arena or amphitheater gig. 

Still, there’s a specialness to these stadium shows and a huge part of that is the scale of the crowds. When there’s a sea of 50,000 people, it’s always a thrill to be part of a show like that and I love the challenge of capturing it. For that reason, a big reverse photo like this is always on the list to showcase the scale of these shows. 

There are always a few moments during Jason’s set where he goes out onto the end of the thrust like this. I’m very much a low key, behind the camera kind of guy, so the act of going out onto the stage in front of thousands is a very unnatural thing for me. But as a tour photographer, it’s just part of the job. I just have to keep in mind that no one in that sea of 50,000 people is paying one bit of attention to me — all eyes are on the man in the hat. Normally, I’m trying to stay out of the literal spotlight, but for these kinds of once in a lifetime shows, I’ll do whatever it takes to get out the image.

One thing that I love about this image and the images I make on stage like this is that it represents a lot of trust. It represents trust that my brother Chris and I have earned to be in this literal and metaphorical position on stage a few feet from an artist in a sold out stadium. It takes the trust of a band and crew and the management team to capture these images, and it’s something that we never take for granted. I’m very thankful whenever I’m in a position to capture images like this one of Jason for his team.

Btl   Semi Precious Weapons

Justin Tranter, Semi Precious Weapons

Justin Tranter and the band Semi Precious Weapons were one of the first bands that gave me amazing access. Justin has gone on to be one of the most successful and prolific songwriters of this generation, penning songs for everyone from the Jonas Brothers to Lady Gaga to Justin Bieber and Camila Cabello. But before that life, he was fronting the Semi Precious Weapons and playing the most thrilling club shows the one in this image. These shows were absolutely legendary and some of the most fun experiences of my life and the glam rock SPW played was so wildly fun to photograph. 

Younger music photographers always want to start off photographing big arena shows, but it’s the small gigs like this are the ones that taught me the most starting out. One thing I love about Semi Precious Weapons is this band went from sleeping on my couches when they’d play St. Louis to doing amazing things on their own. You never know who you might connect with early on in your career that’ll go on to be a star.    

Btl   Kiss

KISS, Sprint Center

KISS is one of those legendary live bands that music photographers love, and images like this are why — they’re such pros at playing to the cameras and making sure that every photographer comes away with amazing images. I love photographing with wide-angle lenses, especially if I can get really close to artists, because they make images that really make the viewer feel like you have a front row seat. I always want viewers of my images to feel like they hear the music through my images even if they were never at the show.

For this concert, I drove 4 hours from St. Louis to Kansas City just to photograph this band for three songs, then turned around and drove 4 hours back. The whole time I was heading home, I couldn’t wait to download the memory cards and see the images I made. Some photographers hate editing their photos, but for me it always feels like getting to finally unwrap a pile of presents like an impatient kid.

Btl   Jason Aldean (stadium)

Jason Aldean, Metlife Stadium

This is an image of Jason Aldean’s finale at Metlife Stadium when he was on tour with Kenny Chesney. While you think of music photography as mostly photographing artists on stage, a big part of my job is also capturing what it’s like to be there and showing the scale of these events. Paradoxically, that can mean not being as close as I can to the stage or the artist, and even going up to the soundboard or even the upper decks of a stadium to capture the scale and crowd for some of these big shows. 

In contrast to that view from the front row, it’s just as important to capture images that most fans are seeing, too — and that’s something much farther away. The beauty of these images is that they can show the production and scale in a way that’s challenging or impossible to do when you’re so close to the stage.

I’ve made prints for images of Jason’s band and often, it’s not the images of themselves on stage that they want, but the images like this that show these massive crowds. Those are the images that they want to hang in their homes. For me, that’s reason enough to make these images and something that I’m really proud of being able to give to my friends. 

Btl   The Weeknd

The Weeknd, iHeartRadio Festival

Big shows are always amazing because they have tremendous production. For the case of this image of the Weeknd performing at the iHeartRadio Music Festival, it was massive amounts of pyro. For one-off shows like this, where the special effects and setlist are going to be made for the show and not necessarily related to an artist’s normal tour production, it can be an extra pressure to capture the special moments as a photographer because you really don’t have a second chance. That’s in many instances unless you’re a tour photographer, but for big festivals like this, it feels even more true. 

One thing I always focus on is paying attention to the music in a set. Big effects are almost always tied to the music and for this set with the Weeknd, it was no exception. The pyro cues were synced to the beat and paying careful attention to the music made sure I didn’t miss this image. I probably missed the pyro the first time it went off and maybe even the second time, but I made sure I got the photo in the end, all thanks to paying attention to the music and making sure I nailed the timing. 

Btl   Jason Aldean (drummer)

Rich Redmond, Jason Aldean Drummer

Drummers are one of my favorite subjects and my friend Rich Redmond, drummer for Jason Aldean, is one of my favorite drummers to work with. There are so many variables when it comes to photographing drummers, from the angles to the lighting to trying to work around their constant motion. Getting in close in, if you can, solves a lot of problems, so when I have stage access, I always try to take advantage of it and to make images of the drummer and give them some love. 

In photographing drummers, I love the challenge of creating compositions that best show off how dynamic their movements are. It can be really tricky to get the right frame of a drummer when their arms are a whirlwind of action, but it also makes it so much more satisfying when you get just the right image. 

One of the things I love about doing tour photography for an artist is building relationships and friendships with the band and crew in a way that isn’t possible if you’re just photographing for a festival or as press. For an image like this, photographed with a fisheye lens that really exaggerates perspectives, I’m pretty literally in Rich’s drum kit and pushing the lens through his cymbals. One can only get this kind of shot with the approval of a lot of people during a show who trust you to do your job without getting in the way or being “part of the show.”

Btl   Mayhem Fest

Crowdsurfer, Mayhem Fest

Whenever I’m photographing a concert or festival, no matter if I’m working for a publication, a brand or the artist themselves, I always focus on making images that the fans love. I feel like the fans are my one and true client — I know that if I can make images that they love, I’ll have done my job. 

In addition, I love the energy of live music and a huge part of that is the crowd. Of course the performance on stage is special, but what I feel is a big part of capturing concerts is always making sure to photograph the fan experience. That means doing a 180º from the stage and photographing the fans. This image was made at Mayhem Fest and this fan had just crowd surfed and come over the barricade. I love this image because of this guy’s expression — you can tell he’s having the time of his life and for me, it captures the energy that we all love about live music. 

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