With over 30 years of experience under his belt, David Bergman, Canon Explorer of Light, knows a thing or two about taking photography risks and trying new things that make a big impact.
Last Friday, we sat down with David to discuss the ways he’s found success separating himself from the pack – including uncommon camera angles at major sporting events, how he’s used new tech to his advantage and why giving clients like Bon Jovi a little something unexpected has propelled his career forward.
- Actionable steps on how to step outside of your photography comfort zone
- Early career-making moments and lessons learned throughout David’s experience as a professional photographer
- Stories from Super Bowls, the NFL draft and what it’s like to tour with the likes of country music superstar Luke Combs and Bon Jovi
Cover image by David Bergman.
On-Demand Webinar: The Value of Taking Photography Risk with David Bergman
All your questions answered
Thank you to everyone for submitting questions throughout our conversation with David and during the Q&A! Read through some of David’s answers below and feel free to tweet any lingering questions @photoshelter.
This Q&A was edited for clarity and length.
Let’s talk about remote cameras. How do you get such a sharp focus when using your remote cameras?
DB: So focusing with remotes – it really depends what you’re shooting. For example, if you’re doing a basketball remote that’s overhead, or even behind the backboard, you pretty much know where the action’s going to be. The action’s going to be in that plane of focus, right where the net is.
So whether you’re looking down or you’re looking from behind the backboard, you really want to pre-focus. You want to manual focus, lock it in, then set it and forget it. If you can get a little bit more depth of field, if you can cover yourself for a few more feet, you’re going to be a little better off. But for the most part, with experience, you’ll know where to focus.
Concerts are a whole different ball game because nobody’s standing still. Honestly, I use autofocus, and if I’m shooting a tight area, I might use a small area autofocus. If it’s a wide area—Jon Bon Jovi comes right up to the drum kit and he opens his arms and does his thing—I never know exactly if he’s going to be three feet in front of the camera or 10 feet down stage. That’s purely wide area autofocus. (And I’m a Canon shooter. The auto focus on these cameras is insane.)
Do you typically set up multiple remote cameras? It seems like you’re in a lot of places at once. Are you planning ahead and preparing your spots beforehand or are you setting up last minute?
DB: This is about scouting and preparing ahead of time. If I’m on tour and it’s a show in an arena, and I know the show, then I’ve seen it dozens of times and I know all the spots. The challenge there is trying to find new angles. And I always try to do that every night, try something new.
If it’s a one time deal, I do a lot of visualization. I try to imagine, what’s the picture I want to make here? and then I actively try to make that picture. Do you want to be open to spontaneity and new things happening? Of course, surprises are good. But for the most part, I know where that remote is set up.
As far as having multiple remotes, if you’ve got the gear, it can certainly never hurt. It’s always nice to have multiple angles. And a lot of times I will put one up on stage and one overhead. They may be pointed at different places, and I have them on one radio. They’ll both trigger, but who cares? Half the time, the subject is only in one and half the time they’re on the other. Remotes are a bit of a crapshoot.
Could you share some advice about getting into places that require press credentials, if you don’t have them?
DB: Here’s the thing, it’s kind of the Wild Wild West out there. Let’s take the big events off the table, the giant concerts and NFL football games, you’re not going to really get in there unless you’re legitimate press.
Sort of one notch down from that, bands that are maybe just breaking or don’t have label issues to deal with, there’s a few ways to do it. Reach out to publications. There are a lot of publications out there, even online publications. Many of them can get access and reach out to the bands.
What you don’t want to do is call and ask, “Hey, can you get me access?” That’s ridiculous. But if you start working for them and providing images for them, then you can also work your way into the concerts.
Smaller music publications often need photographers, too. So you could approach them. And I know people who started their own. If you start your own music site and you really get a lot of hits and a lot of traffic, then you’ll be able to get that kind of access.
Our friend Todd Bigelow, who actually hosted another webinar, asked whether or not you could talk a little bit about the connection between making unique images and actually retaining the rights to them so you can earn extra licensing control with the work.
DB: I figured Todd was going to ask that question! Todd is one of the smartest photo business people out there. I can’t wait for his book to come out…
Copyright is the only thing that’s left that really protects photographers’ work. I am a huge proponent of copyright. I do not sell my images, I license usage of my images.
I sell prints, I sell books, I sell physical things, but the only way to really make a decent living as a photographer is you need to hold onto the rights to your work.
Not to be morbid about it, about long after I’m gone, I hope that my heirs, my daughter, can do a photo book of her dad’s career.
I don’t want her to have to track down every single person and every client that I ever worked for to try to get permission to do that. So it’s not really only about making a career. It’s also about keeping the rights to use your own work in a retrospective. I’m not going to do something that’s going to offend my clients. I’m not going to do an unauthorized biography of the bands that I work with, that makes no sense. I have no reason to do that. I’d much rather work with them than against them.
Now, with so many photographers and the internet, it kind of muddies things a little bit, because images are still easily spread around. It’s harder to control your work, but those of us like Todd and myself who have made a living for a long time will tell you that the only way is to keep your copyright and then license usage instead of just selling your images.
What would the old David tell the young David one day about photography?
Gosh, that’s a tough one. I like to think I’ve done this, but I think it’s just a matter of enjoying the ride. Life is short, look what’s happening right now. The world is in chaos right now. You never know what’s going to happen. So be smart, plan for the future, but at the same time man, enjoy it while you’re here.
I think when I was younger, I was really overly focused on things that, looking back, didn’t matter as much. So I’m all about trying to enjoy the ride and having fun while you’re doing it. So I think I’d say, “Loosen up, young David and you’ll be just fine. It all works out in the end.”
For more tips and inspiring stories from David’s long-lasting career in the industry, watch the on-demand webinar today.
We also want to mention that David is hosting a special, three-hour music and action photography workshop over Zoom on October 16, 2020. Through video clips, slideshows and live demonstrations, he will teach you how to make powerful music and action photographs whether you’re just starting with your first “real” camera or are a working pro.
Head over to shootfromthepit.com and use the code Photoshelter for $10 off this virtual workshop!