Photo Pass: Krista Schlueter

The music and nightlife photographer discusses the stability of freelancing, creating unique shots with speed, and the all-encompassing influence of Beyoncé

Childish Gambino (Photo by Krista Schlueter/NY Times)

Krista Schlueter is paving her own way as a music and nightlife photographer, establishing a unique style that she’s constantly tweaking and perfecting. A longtime lover of the arts, Krista started photographing her friends as a teenager…the rest is history.

As part of Songkick’s Photo Pass series, Krista recently took time out of her busy schedule — just before flying to Los Angeles to shoot GQ’s Grammys afterparty — to talk with us about her style, career growth and opinions on photography in the digital age:

How did you get started as a photographer?
I went to an art high school, and I actually went for instrumental music but fell in love with visual art while I was there. I took a lot of pre-college classes in photography, so that’s really how I got started. When I was a teenager I learned a lot about the technical stuff. I didn’t really have my own voice yet but I was learning black and white darkroom, and color darkroom which isn’t even taught anymore at most schools. That’s when I started doing a lot of nightlife stuff, which I still do.

After college I worked at Time Out New York and did a lot of music stuff there, and then I worked at SPIN. I was a photo editor and shot a lot of features, and live music I probably shot 2-3 times a week. I left SPIN and worked at BET for about nine months, and then I quit and have been freelancing ever since.

What was it like to move from being a photo editor to freelancing, and how did you deal with making that transition?
I started as a photo editor because it was steady, and freelance life is…not so steady. It was scary to quit, but I was really unhappy as a photo editor and I didn’t really feel like there was any other choice.

I will say that when I was editing, I was working a 9 to 5 job and then taking my own shoots from 6pm on, so I was building contacts with different magazines even while I was still working. So I was talking to those contacts beforehand and it just kind of worked out when I started freelancing.

What do you like most about freelancing as opposed to being a photo editor?
[Laughs] There are so many things. I like not being in an office, and I like being your own boss and that you can say no to things. I also just love the creative freedom you get as a freelancer. Having multiple clients is great, too. It’s actually more secure for me than having one job, because it’s not all or nothing — if one client doesn’t call you for a while, you’re still standing. It’s like having a table with 20 legs.

Any artists that you particularly love shooting?
When I was at SPIN I [shot] mostly rap and hip-hop. I really like shooting Future, and I’ve worked a lot with Rick Ross who I love. Also Travis Scott, Desiigner and Young Thug.

Travis Scott (Photo by Krista Schlueter/SPIN)

When you’re going into a live music shoot, what do you look for that you know you want to capture?
You have to think about how everyone with you in the pit all has the same access, equipment, light, the same everything, so you have to make it different. Personally, I work a lot with lens flares that a lot of photographers hate but I think look awesome. I kind of have always gravitated toward photos that aren’t technically perfect. Even in college, I was told that I wouldn’t be a good photographer if I didn’t make my work technically perfect — and I know how to do that, but I choose not to. I just think it gives me a different style, and I want to see a photo and think “that’s mine.”

If it’s a rock band or a rap act, they’re constantly moving and that helps make the photos interesting. Usually you only get the first three songs to shoot, so you have to work really fast. It can be hard if the artist doesn’t really warm up in those first songs, so sometimes I stick around and shoot from the balcony in case there’s something really exciting at the end.

What was the last show that really stood out to you?
My dream came true when I shot The Cure. That was one job I really really wanted, because I really love the band, they’re one of my favorites. It was awesome to shoot them and to be that close, but the one downside was that when you’re shooting, you don’t really focus on what’s happening since you’re looking through a lens the whole time.

The Cure (Photo by Krista Schlueter/NY Times)

What do you think of people using their phones to take a lot of photos/video at shows? Is this a side effect of technology allowing everyone to be a photographer?
I think it sucks! I think you should enjoy it in the moment — you’re paying to be there, and are you really going to watch that again on your phone? It’s not going to be the same experience to watch it again, and it’s also terrible for photography because a lot of my photos now have people with selfie sticks and iPads, which is awful.

For anyone who enjoys photography and wants to explore it, I think that’s great. A few photos are fine, but sometimes I’m just like — guys, experience it! You don’t need to document everything.

Do you find that photography as a medium goes through a lot of trends? What are you seeing right now that a lot of people are doing?
Yeah it absolutely does, 100 percent. And I feel like it’s changing now — it’s becoming all about these soft-light, moody, kind of dark photos. I really feel that celebrities and their Instagrams really determine some trends in photography now. Like the whole setup Beyoncé did with her pregnancy, I think we’re going to see a lot more of color backdrops, big flowers, big dramatic setups like that.

Solange I think is becoming an influence too…with her recent videos and everything, it’s a little more produced, and a little weirder. And Beyoncé is getting a little weirder too, and it’s cool! Celebrities now are really looking at photographers and artists in general and collaborating with them. As celebrities and artists look to each other and use each other for inspiration, it filters down into social media and people try to emulate that.

Jay Z (Photo by Krista Schlueter/NY Times)

Check out previous Q&As from our Photo Pass series: Ethan Holland, Kyle Dean Reinford, Ryan Muir.

View more of Krista’s work on her website and Instagram.

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