Picture perfect career for Montgomery High School Grad
A young fan at a rock concert who approaches the stage to get close-up photos of the band generally can expect to come face-to-face with a large security guard, but that’s not a problem for Brittany O’Brien.
Not only can she say she’s with the band, the 25-year-old former Santa Rosan works for the band - several of them, in fact.
Her clients include San Francisco-based singer-songwriter K. Flay, the Los Angeles pop and neo-soul band Fitz and the Tantrums, and the indie rock band Hippo Campus, originally from St. Paul, Minnesota.
She follows the bands on tour, taking both performance photos and candid offstage shots for release to various publications, but also to post on the bands’ own websites and social media.
For O’Brien, it all started with her taking pictures at Montgomery High School for the yearbook. Now, she says, she’s been doing it full-time professionally from a home base in Oakland for the last 2½ years.
“I’m a self-employed freelance photographer, and the bands are my clients. I started out as a portrait/lifestyle photographer for whoever would hire me around the Bay Area, but I discovered I was much better at capturing candid musical moments, rather than weddings,” she said. “It wasn’t that interesting to me.”
The turning point came in 2015 when her boyfriend, Alex DiDonato, guitarist with the band Finish Ticket (which has a contract with Atlantic Records) went on tour with the indie alternative duo Twenty One Pilots, and invited her along to take photos.
“I discovered that being on the road, touring around with them, was absolutely incredible, just to see so much, traveling with the band around the country,” O’Brien said.
She had always loved music just as much as photography, so this was her dream job, combining both passions.
“I started reaching out to band managers around the country, showing them the photos I’d shot for Finish Ticket on that tour, and that started to lead to other opportunities” she said.
Next she went on tour with Fitz and the Tantrums, which in turn won her the chance to work with K. Flay.
“Now I’m working with some other rock bands that are on the way to the top here this year,” O’Brien said.
Her work includes promotional photography for the bands, which sometimes ends up being published in magazines.
“But the work that I mainly do, which is tour photography, ends up on social media channels, so when I’m on the road, I’m pretty much in charge of providing all the content for their fans,” O’Brien said.
“So I do videos of the band backstage, or playing live to screaming crowds, so I can post them online,” she said.
“Then I’ll take photos of them warming up for the show and then playing the show live, for their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The photos end up everywhere.”
Sometimes, the best shots are not performance shots at all. One of her favorites is a candid shot of Finish Ticket taken in July 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.
“We had been traveling by van for almost two months, and had been given a chance to stay in a house with a pool for a day off,” she recalled. “The boys were enjoying the break and I pulled my camera to capture the moment.”
Once invited by bands to go out on tour, she also finds herself confronted by teenage girls who talk to the band or ask her to deliver a personal letter to the lead singer.
“Sometimes I have to figure out how I’m going to take photos because there is no barrier in the front. My whole job is to get down in front and photograph, and instead there’s fans up there,” she said.
“So I have to go find chairs or ladders to stand on and shoot over people, and the people in the back get mad at me. Or I climb up in the balcony and hang over the edge. I end up falling a lot and come home with bruises.”
During her career so far, she has spent 30 days out on the road with bands in her first year in 2015, 150 days in 2016 and 210 days last year.
“So the total, I would say, is that out of the last 2½ years, I’ve been out on the road about a year, away from home,” she said.
“There are definitely some unique challenges. A big one is just touring. Living on the road, I only get to shower two or three times a week. I have to decide whether I want to eat or take a shower, because I’m so busy.”
But she’s not above running out to get a guitar string before a show when the musicians don’t dare show themselves to the fans.
“I don’t mind at all,” she said. “I’m grateful always to be out on the road and doing this.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @danarts.