Known for her photography of the famous Macklemore and Ryan Lewis as well as Chance the Rapper, Zoe Rain started in Chicago and has shot her way around the music scene. Maia Wilson asked her some questions about her still young, photography career.
Let’s start with where you’re from.
I am born and raised in the heart of Seattle, WA. I moved to Chicago about two years ago, but I constantly have photo jobs back home.
What are all the types of photography that you do? And what would you say is your main focus or interest?
I would say my style boils down to editorial event photography, and fashion/portraiture. I have been trained in both natural light and studio work, although I tend to shoot natural light for portraits, or an on camera flash for dark music venues and on-the-go portraits.
What was your first memory of taking photography?
I got one of the first point and shoot cameras when they were all the rage around 2004 and would take photos of flowers, my shoes, and bugs. I entered a photo contest of spiders when I was about 9 or 10 and was a finalist, which meant it was displayed at the Woodland Park zoo in Seattle.
What drew you to photography and what keeps you going at it?
I have always been a more withdrawn and quiet person. I used to have a hard time meeting and interacting with people, and it was a great way to take part in a very connective media with others. I was able to capture someone’s essence, their personality, their feelings in a specific moment of life. I really enjoy that. I don’t collect many material things, but photographs really allow me to capture people. Capture memories. Capture personalities and fashion and weather and feelings.
Where did you learn photography?
I learned photography first from self-help books I would read as a kid. [Also, from] studying magazines, [where I would] search for patterns, colour, and interesting subjects. Then, I learned from my mentor, Jason Koenig and a lot of practice. I also took a year of Commercial photography at Seattle Central Community College in Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
What drew you to shooting music artists specifically?
I started shooting a small Macklemore and Ryan Lewis show back in 2009 and I was hooked. The elaborate lighting setups helped me learn to capture the light that already exists, instead of worrying about controlling it.
What type of cameras do you use?
Nikon D800, and I am about to buy a Sony A7SII for more video work
How were you able to jumpstart your career at such a young age (before 21)?
I shot a lot of Macklemore shows and just forced myself to get to know the local scene. I ended up being asked to shoot Macklemore’s tour in 2013 simply because my work had gotten better, they knew me, and they trusted me. Once I had some tour experience and some connections with other artists, my work progressed.
What do you find is different when shooting artist when they’re performing rather than shooting fashion?
Shooting someone performing is a much more intensive shooting experience, because of the lack in control. You must adapt to the changing lights and fast moving subjects. You have to truly plan out the show and position yourself in a way that you grab the moments you want in the correct way. Fashion is a totally different game, where you have to focus more on controlling everything, including the model and background. Personally there is a lot more pressure to create something out of nothing in fashion work, while music photos only need to be created out of the elements in the moment.
Who are the top music artists/models you have photographed?
Besides touring with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, I have worked on a few projects with Chance the Rapper, as well as shot for Sam Smith, G-Eazy, Mary Lambert, Jamila Woods, Galantis, Ed Sheeran, etc.
Who has been your favourite person to photograph?
I would have to say Macklemore and Ryan Lewis is still my favourite subjects to photography, because I have been working with them for 7 years. It feels more like photographing a group of friends or family, then a high pressure gig, which is comforting.
What advice could you give readers who are interested in performance photography?
Shoot small bands and get to know the scene. Practice and shoot a lot for free. Earn photo passes and that will help you eventually earn a living. Keep shooting!
How often do you travel because of photography and what are the coolest places you’ve been?
I travel a lot during tour seasons, where I can be in as many as 25 cities and countries in a month. Besides that I travel back to my hometown of Seattle a lot, and try to make it out to NY and LA whenever I can.
Was there any challenges you faced being such a young photographer in the music industry?
Personally I think my age has almost helped me in some ways, because I am less threatening as a 23 year old. I think what has more so affected me in this industry is being a female. It is an extremely male populated industry, especially in the photo and video side of the game. I really have to prove I am not someone to mess with when it comes to my place in the industry.
What advice do you have for someone who is trying to pursue photography at a young age?
Use social media to your advantage. Learn the best platforms to exhibit your work, learn from communities who can give you creative feedback. Intern for a more established photographer, because when you are young, people want to give you a hand.
What aspirations do you have for the next few years?
Continue booking fun gigs while making a living. I focused so much on my business this year, really looked at my budgets, and poured into some savings accounts. I struggle to create when I am stressed over money, so it is number one priority to free myself of that stress in order to continue to ENJOY what I do. Also, networking more and stretching my portfolio to a larger net of possible clients!
What do you love most about being a part of so many different interests in photography?
I think every separate category for my work (live music, portrait, wedding, film, fashion, event) showcases a different process of shooting and editing my images to match specific feelings and aesthetics in that genre. It’s almost like having multiple personalities within the umbrella of photography.