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Tips for Mastering Music Portraits from Ultimate Music Moment Contest Winner and RIT Photojournalism Student Meg Oliphant

Posted by on July 11, 2016 | Student Photography

Rochester Institute of Technology photojournalism student Meg Oliphant is one of several winners in PDN’s 2016 Ultimate Music Moment contest amateur category. PDNedu‘s sister publication Shutterlove recently interviewed Oliphant to find out how she captured her winning submission—a portrait of female musician Jesse Amesmith, taken in Amesmith’s Rochester, New York, apartment. Here are some lessons we gleaned from the interview:


Jesse Amesmith and her guitar "Big Red" in her sound studio and band practice room, in the attic of her apartment in Rochester, NY. Jesse is a guitarist and vocalist in the feminist punk group Green Dreams, with her husband Trevor Amesmith and Bass guitarist Benny "Beyond" Kruger. She is also a yoga instructor for Good Witch Yoga and aims to promote body positivity and mental well-being through both her practice and her music.

Jesse Amesmith and her guitar “Big Red” in her sound studio and band practice room, in the attic of her apartment in Rochester, NY. Photo © Meg Oliphant.


Come prepared.

While this may be an obvious tip, Oliphant went the extra mile to prep for her shoot. Knowing that the shot would be setup in a dimly lit recording studio, she chose to supplement the lights in the room with a Profoto B1 500 Air Battery-powered kit. To get the desired affect, Oliphant faced the strobe away from the subject and towards a silver reflective umbrella. She then put a gel on the strobe to adjust the color temperature.

Mistakes happen. Embrace them.

“The first time [we attempted the shot], I had the completely wrong color gel and had to come back two days later to do it right,” Oliphant recalls. “I don’t think you should act confident about things that you truly aren’t comfortable with. Act confident in problem solving. Everyone understands this, and it will make for better photos than if you pretend you know what you’re doing and rush out of there with just OK photos because you acted like they were great.”


Be honest with your subjects.

Oliphant says that honesty and the right kind of confidence have been instrumental lessons in helping her improve her craft. “Your subjects will only be as open with you as you are with them,” she’s learned. Had she not been honest with Amesmith and admitted her mistake, Oliphant says she never would have gotten the quality shot that won her recognition in the contest.


Be true to yourself.

“Be honest that you are learning,” Oliphant advises—a lesson she stresses is especially important for fellow students. “Even the most experienced professional photographers are still learning, and you should also be honest with yourself about why you want to be here doing this work.”

To see Oliphant’s full interview with Shutterlove, click here.

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