Alter The Press!


Interview: Adam Elmakias

Born in Madison, Wisconsin, 21 year old Adam Elmakias has been shooting music photographs since 2006. Now based out in San Diego, Elmakias' work has featured in publications worldwide including Rock Sound, AMP Magazine and Alternative Press and has worked with established brands like Macbeth and Glamour Kills Clothing.

In addition he has worked with an endless list of bands including Bring Me The Horizon, Deftones, All Time Low, A Day To Remember, Parkway Drive, Sum 41 and recently Yellowcard. In addition he worked with The Devil Wears Prada on the artwork for their recent 'Zombie EP'.

Having toured throughout America on the Warped Tour and in Europe and such a vast and impressive portfolio, Adam spoke in detail to Alter The Press about his beginnings, his time on the Warped Tour, how to get noticed and much more.

Alter The Press: First of what inspired/influenced you into becoming a music photographer?
Adam Elmakias: I started taking pictures for my basic assignments in my yearbook class. A self-portrait I took caught the attention of my school counselor was working with at the time. I was a pretty troubled kid all throughout high school, so I was always working with my school counselor. He took it upon himself to make sure that I got into photography. He ended up giving me a free camera from (someone donated it) and I used that for a moment and then I bought my own Canon power shot.

Once I had my own camera I started taking it with me to all the local shows I went to already to photograph them. The local promoter started letting me into the concerts for free as long as I photographed the show and gave them the images afterwards. For a broke high school student was a pretty win-win situation, as I had nothing better to do with my time. I never really had a moment where I was like "I am going to become a photographer." I just want to have fun. I can't handle day jobs, as I know most can't and I just can't justify spending the short stay I have on this earth doing anything I don't enjoy. Most people seem to have their mind set on the fact that sometimes in life you have to do things that aren't fun. I just can't accept that either you don't do the things you don't enjoy, or you learn how to enjoy everything you do.

ATP: Growing up in Madison, WI how was the music scene there and what impact did it have on you?
AE: The music scene in Madison was awesome. The two promoters that I became friends with Steve and Tom, changed my life. Without either of them I would not be where I am today and I have no idea what I would be doing. They definitely helped me get through some really rough times in high school. They let me into shows that I otherwise would not be able to afford. At the time they were just giving a teenager a place to shoot and something to do, but in retrospect they shaped my career for me. Those are my social life. I knew the staff that worked at the venues and more then half of the kids that attended the show. After a year of going to shows I pretty much new everyone and everytime I would go it would just be a big hangout. I eventually started talking to the bands that came through and gradually started photographing them off the stage. Everything is based off networking in this industry and without them letting me into their shows there would be no way that I can meet all the people that I did get to meet. I think it's fair to say that I owe my whole career to Steve and Tom, or at least the start of it. This is where I posted all my images online (, just so you can get an idea of how many shows I went to.

ATP: Your portfolio is very impressive with names like A Day To Remember and All Time Low being just some of bands you've worked with. How did your progression begin to the point of where you are now?
AE: Thank you! I started off shooting local bands, and then a few international touring bands when they came through Madison. The first few signed/touring bands that i photographed were Envy On The Coast and Four Letter Lie. After I shot a few touring bands, the local bands wanted to shoot with me even more because I was shooting the bands that they aspired to be. That gave me a good source of income and allowed me to stop working at my day job (Panera was awesome) and invest more time into photography. Through one of the local bands I was connected with a manager by the name of Lucas. He was based out of Chicago and he started setting me up with some legit shoots. I started working with Lucas in late 2007 and come 2008 he helped me book shoots with over 60 or 80 bands. I don't know the exact number was a lot of bands. The idea was to befriend some of them make connections and network with crap out of the industry.

So like you asked, how did I get to shooting names such as All Time Low and A Day to Remember. Well when I started working with them they were a lot smaller. I met A Day To Remember in 2007 at a show Milwaukee, they were opening for the victory records tour and I photographed them for 30 minutes after the show in a corner of the venue. It was real quick but was enough to get to know the guys and from there on out I photograph them at least two times a year. They're really good friends of mine now and I'm actually heading out on my second European tour with them in a few days.

I met All Time Low in early 2008 while they were on a tour with Just Surrender. I was riding with Just Surrender but well I was out for the short five days I met the guys and got known em a little bit. A few months later I had a shoot them in a bowling alley when they came through the area. I remember picking them up in my moms blue mini-van, it was such a piece of junk. As soon as we pulled out of the parking lot i started driving the wrong direction down the street. We were off to a good start! From then on I worked with them a few times every year. There are now on a major label so I don't really see much of them anymore but but it was fun while it lasted. The same deal goes for the Devil Wears Prada and Bring the Horizon–I met The Devil Wears Prada at Bamboozle and Bring Me The Horizon on Warped Tour.

Over the past few years I have also been on tour for about a third of the time, and that plays a big role in me progressing to the industry. If you want to see the dates I have done they are on the right column of my blog. Being on tour great because you're always surrounded by people in the industry, meeting new people, and hanging out bands that you would otherwise never get to meet. In addition to that I I'm always shooting images of bands live, and snagging quick shoots with them before and after shows while they are out on the road. I can then take those images and send them off to their label and/or management. This helps me form new contacts and from there I can snag other clients from those managers and labels. It's really just a big networking fest, everyone loves to talk.

ATP: The digital age seems to have made it possible for anyone to become a music photographer. How do you make yourself stand out from the crowd?
AE: You have to know people. I always tell people you should network now and learn photography somewhere along the way. You can be the best photographer in the world and if you don't know anybody you are probably not going anywhere. The cool thing about the digital world is that it's made so easy to know people. With Myspace, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter. it's pretty hard not to know anybody, which makes it even more competitive.

ATP: With so many in the same profession, how hard is it to be recognised?
AE: Hard. Everyone owns a digital camera, that's the reality and the learning curve is so much quicker than he used to be. What used to take years to learn now only takes a couple hundred bucks and a few off days from work to get the hang of. I am not saying it takes a few days to become a photographer. I'm just saying to get a solid image, it doesn't take nearly as long as it use to. I got a little bit lucky and started before a lot of the younger people went to start photographing bands.

ATP: How creative do you have to be in terms of settings, lighting etc when it comes to shooting a promotional shot?
AE: It's different every time. I am not on my own schedule for the most part when it comes to shoots and this unfortunately leads to rather quick and simple light set ups/settings. I make up for it in Photoshop, but for the most part all my shoots are pretty simple and lit with one light. When I have full days shoots with bands we usually tackle a full spectrum of styles/settings/lighting to mix it up. Labels want a variety to choose from, so I do my best to switch it up. I had a whole two days in Florida with ADTR recently and I still only used one light for almost every shot but the settings played a big role in those shots.

Before and after example of Mike Poser shot in a parking lot, obviously the model changed, but exact same shot otherwise.

ATP: How would you describe your overall style for both solo and live images?
AE: Crisp, balanced, saturated, real. I think that works. I just like images look nice when they enter your eyes and toy with your mind.

ATP: What are your most memorable portait/promotional shoots?
AE: NOFX was really funny. I was never really into them as a kid, but I knew their name and I saw it on shirts everywhere. Anyway, I had a shoot with them in Indiana during Warped Tour 2009. Had never met any of them prior. The rolled up to our location on three bicycles with baskets and a two four foot stuffed dolls. I've become a pretty easy-going guy but I have to admit I had no idea how to handle this situation, would you? It's not something you could plan for it all. But I just went with it. I told them they could use tone of the bikes and the dolls in some of the photos. They did all kinds of dirty things with the dolls and the words that came out of their mouth were even funnier. I wish I would have filmed it.

I shot press images for Tiesto in Vegas around March of last year. Was one of the most surreal experiences I've ever had as I've never hung out with a guy who makes over 10's of millions of dollars a year. Prior to the shoot I had no idea who he was but through a few random connections ended up snagging a photo shoot with him. He put me and my assistant up in a hotel in Vegas and I've never been treated so well in my life. My curtains in my room or on a remote control which was awesome and when we went out to eat with him they comped our meal and then gave him casino chips for eating their. The lifestyle blew my mind. It was awesome just working with him for eight hours in the middle of the desert. I'm not referring to Vegas when I say the middle of the desert, we were literally 40 miles outside of Vegas in the middle of the desert. I got some of my favorite shots I have ever taken but I'm not allowed to release them. I guess I didn't get the right shot for him. Oh well, for now they will just continue to take up space on my hard-drive.

Ace Enders. I shot him for the first time in 2007. Ever since then I've shot in a least a few times every year and the dude continues to change my life. After about a year of knowing him I do she with him at his house in Hammonton New Jersey. The first shoot we did was out in this weird kind of New Jersey-style sandy desert. It was the last location I would expect to find in Jersey. Awhile later we did another one at his recording studio which is located underneath a video rental store. And the last shoot we did was at his house again, but this time it was for Ace, his wife Jen, and his new born son. They wanted a family photo for their Christmas cards and I was stoked to photograph it. Ace is also really funny in a weird way. For example he has a dog and girl dog because he's 100% convinced there's a girl trapped inside his dog. I really look up to the guy.

I don't think the Christmas card photos ever went public.

I actually did a short tour with ace while he was out with the All-American Rejects. It was a weird situation and through some miscommunications I showed up at their show in Albuquerque without him knowing that I was going to be out with him for the next few days. Anyway, Ace and his crew being the nice people that they are- let me ride with them for a few days. i slept in the same hotel room as ace and his wife and the rest of the guys slept in another room. One of my most embarassing happened while I was in the hotel room. I I didn't know I did this because I was sleeping. Afew days later when Jen and Ace told me. I had fallen asleep in my bed but they were still awake in there's. In the middle of my sleep I started making some awkward groaning and moaning noises that one would only make in their own personal time, or with their significant other. I have no idea what I was thinking as I was asleep but when they told me what I did I was pretty embarrassed.

ATP: You've also toured with many bands. What are your essentials in both terms of photography equipment and personal items?
AE: I love touring! It's so fun. When I first started I used to bring two large hard cases (skb golf case, large pelican) that each weighed 50 pounds, a 20 pound battery pack and my backpack. It was a lot for me to haul along with me while I took trains, cabs, planes, vans and tour buses. At the time I was doing a lot of photo shoots I wanted to have all the gear with me. Back then I didn't really bring many clothes, I just padded my light stands with shirts/ underwear and wore the same pair of pants for a month, and then I would trash them and get something new. I will usually just buy new underwear and socks along the way and throw them out, actually for a year or so I didn't wear socks now that think about it. Shirts are really easy to get for free when you are out with bands as well. Over time I so slimmed out my load and I now I only bring all my lighting gear when there aren't flights involved with my trip. So for example if the tour starts in San Diego and ends in LA then I'll take my gear with me because I don't really have to put on a plane before or after. I leave for Europe in a few days and I'm packing a small carry-on suitcase and my camera bag on my back. For my laptop bag in my suitcase and then when I get to my final destination I unpack everything and use as needed. My camera bag has my lenses, camera, batteries, memory cards, in anything I can't afford to lose (passport) My suitcase has my computer, computer bag, hard drives, light stand, umbrella, super clamp, A clamp, underwear, a shirt or two (easy to get free clean ones on tour), socks, a sweatshirt, video camera, bathroom stuff to keep me nice looking, a bunch of lens bracelet.

ATP: How difficult is it to get the right in a busy live setting?
AE: I think its very hard. I take so many shots and you don't see 99% of my images, and the ones that you do see usually took me 10 to 15 minutes of sitting in one place and waiting for what I wanted to happen to happen. I have a lot of passion for my live images and I put a lot of thought into them. I'm not really shooting for a company or to sell the images, I'm shooting for myself because I want to make something beautiful, something that I enjoy and something that hopefully the band gets stoked on and other people respect is an art rather than a sales piece.

ATP: Last year you spent the summer on Warped Tour with Pierce The Veil and Bring Me The Horizon etc. Could you tell us what a typical day on Warped Tour is like?
AE: A typical day on warped tour for me.... well I can try to do that. Every day is so different that it's hard to find a typical one. But ideally it goes something like wake up at whatever time I want to wake up at. I tried to make it as early as possible so I could grab shots of everyone loading in, wash up in the bathrooms, or sink, or whatever had clean water, and then eat some breakfast. I always had my camera bag with me so I could shoot whenever and wherever. I would walk around for the rest of the day and shot whatever I wanted, snag lunch and dinner at some point and I also had to do Pierce The Veils intro. Other then that I just snapped away. I would shoot a few bands live each day, grab candids in backstage areas, and then once it became night I would shoot the parties. I think my blog explains it best in all honest, so much happens and typical is something I almost feel bad calling a Warped Tour day.

ATP: What are your stand out moments from Warped Tour (both last years and previously)?
AE: The problem about touring with people that are in the public eye is that I can't share half the stories I want to share because it involves more than just me. Let's see here… This last year I was with Pierce the veil for the majority of the time and about halfway into the tour are we all decide to label our bunks. So we got some green gaff tape, wrote our names on them, or nicknames, or whatever we thought was funny–and put the label right on the side of our bunks that faced the aisle. On tour we always pick on each other thats sort of how you stay sane and don't really get mad at anybody. Anyway, I wrote synagogue on the side of my bunk because we often joke about how I'm Jewish and I joke about other Mexican its just sorta fun back and forth kinda deal. But a few days after I put it up I came back tomy bunk and Tony had taken a piece of tape and put it over the end of my label. The tape said "gay" and my new bunk label now read synagay. It's pretty simple story but I had a good laugh.

Let's see what else…

My first year I did Warped Tour I slept in the back row, on the floor, underneath the back bench, right behind two guys who had to sleep sitting up's calfs. I thought it was cozy. I took my shoes off when I slept and used in-between my knees to keep them comfy, and the other underneath whichever rib I had facing the hard ground. Somewhere between our drive from Montreal to the US one of my shoes got lost. It wasn't in the van and I assume it fell out at a gas station stop or something somehow. My mom always thought this was a funny story but if you know me it's pretty normal for me to lose stuff. Going without shoes on Warped Tour would be rough though. Anyway we were on the Vans warped tour, so I went to the vans tent and asked if I could have a pair of slip ons. I was broke as I had just spent all my money on a new camera body a few days before; I think my bank account was at like 7 bucks or something. They hooked it up but I have tiny fat feet so they didn't really fit well. I also didn't have any socks. A few days later I had the biggest blisters ever on the back of my heals that lasted for the remained or the tour. Not really a happy story but I thought it was wild.

I loved riding with Dr Manhattan and Bring Me The Horizon the first year on Warped Tour. It was my first time in a bus and i was stoked; a comfy place to sleep that doesn't smell like dude sweat? No way! Anyway they were both crazy bands in their own way and together, it was insane. Long story short I passed out one night in a bunk on the bottom row with my arm hanging out the curtain. The next day one of the tour managers showed me a picture of my hand with a dick in it. Turns out mystery band dude #1 laid down next to me while i was sleeping, put his dick in my hand and was saying things like "adam why do you have my dick in your hand? stop touching my dick" . I couldn't really get mad cause it was actually a pretty funny concept, but yes, this is the first time I am sharing this experience with the public. I use to be embarrassed but three years into this job, I have seen worse things happen. I hope my mom doesn't dig up this interview on the internet, although she is usually good at tracking them down. Mom, I don't like penises in my hand it just happened.

During Warped Tour 2009, Chris of The Devil Wears Prada tattooed Ace Ventura on my shoulder, that changed my life. Ace Ventura is hands down my biggest idol. I love him. People always say "you have Jim Carrey on your shoulder" and I have to correct them "That's Ace Venutra! c'mon now"

Read more about Adam's time on Warped Tour 2010 here.

ATP: How important is it to have good understanding of the band you're working with?
AE: I think its important, I mean if you want the shoot to go well and really want to connect with your client, you have to know how to work with them best. Let's see… as an example, I have a shoot with Yelawolf tomorrow and I only learned about him a week ago. So in preparation for the shoot I did a lot of research on him; watched live videos on YouTube, read his bio on Wikipedia, watched interviews with him just to try and get a feel for what he's like as a person and an artist. This way when working with him I can know what to do, and what not to do. I am not use to photographing big thug rapper dudes, and he has probably never worked with a tiny 21 year old hipster lookin' dude at a shoot. If I was in his shoes going to a shoot, I wouldn't be stoked. I may only get 5 min. with the guy, or maybe I'll have an hour, I don't exactly know. The more pre production I can do the better. It's hard to connect when a shoot is only 5 minutes. I don't imagine I will make much of a connection but at least I can try not to make a disconnect.

ATP: One of your most recent projects was the artwork for The Devil Wears Prada's new EP. How did the project come together and how was the response been?
AE: Oh man that's one of my favorite job I've ever gotten to take part in. The cool thing about TDWD is that even though they are on a major label now they still continue to work with me They have always been awesome to me and I'm honored every time they ask me to work with them again. Mike (lead singer) e-mailed me and told me exactly what he wanted to do, and I told him how we would go about doing it, and what we would need to make it happen. It came down to about a week of shooting in Wisconsin, two days of shooting in San Diego, and one day of shooting in Ohio. I shot all the album art images in Wisconsin except for one, I shot in California. All the album art images needed to look deserted and foggy. So for a week straight I woke up at 3am ( or just never went to bed), and drove around the countryside looking for areas to shoot until about 7:00am. My best friend from back home came out with me a few times and drove with me a few times to keep me company. But for the must part it was all on me and I loved it.

The cover shot of the album was actually an image I shot on the fly while driving home from a small town in the AM. I didn't even think much of the image but Mike loved it. My other favorite part of the shoot was that I got to get made up like a zombie and then try and take a picture of myself. In addition to the make-up, I was constantly chewing on ores and spitting them out to make my teeth look nasty, and squirting lemon juice in my eyes to get them blood shot. Taking a shot of myself while doing this didn't work out too great, so I had my friend from home step in and press the shutter for me. The press images we shot in Ohio were fun, but it was a hot and humid day and we were going for the exact opposite look. That was probably the hardest part; getting everyone to look cold and creepy when it was really 90 degrees out and more humid than a tea pot.

The response was awesome I made blog posts about the shoot (see here and here) and through comments people left on those I learned what kids liked about the shot. I think that the concept the band came up with and how they made it all happen just came together perfectly. I shot the images, but Mike picked them out, so it's his eye you are seeing in the art as well.

ATP: What equipment would you recommend to those who are interested in becoming a photographer?
AE: Whatever works, figure out what you want to do and do some research on how to get it done. Hit up a local camera store, search online, and find the best tools that can help you get your job done. I would say the biggest mistake you could make would be to go and buy a bunch of gear and then not know how to use it. Get a camera first, shoot around, and when you run into a problem, or something that you want to do, and you can't figure out what you need to make it happen. Once you figure out what you need, try to make it on your own. If you can't make it, buy it I see so many people with even more gear than I own and they don't even have camera basics down yet. Don't overwhelm yourself and make it harder than it needs to be!

ATP: What advice would you give to those same people?
AE: Do it. I have spoken with college photography teachers and they said that the hardest part of teaching photography to people is getting them off their asses and out shooting on their own. Don't worry about what you want to be, or what kind of photographer you aspire to be, just get out there, shoot around, and find what you have fun doing. The fun will lead you into your career before you know it and you will be set and on the right track. I think the mindset of "I want to become a (insert type of photographer) photographer" needs to go out the window. Just always have fun, enjoy yourself, and if you aren't having a good time, switch it up, shoot something new. You will eventually find you hitch and be able to take it from there.

One of the questions I get asked weekly is what made you want to become a photographer. I almost have to make up my answer because I never really sat down and said "Damn, i want to do that, how do I get there?" I just knew what I had fun doing, kept doing it, and I am still doing what I enjoy. Heck, I don't think I could even have thought about my job before I had it- cause I didn't even know it really existed. I knew you could be a tour photographer but I had no idea what went into that. I learned almost everything about my job first hand. At the moment I make most of my income from Lens Bracelets - how the hell could I have predicted that?

ATP: Would you say "network" or having the right connections an advantage to those who want to get noticed or is hard work and being commited far more essential?
AE: Its definitely a combination, you can't really have one without the other. I always have a constant balance battle of where to invest my time; do I update my Flickr/Tumblr/Twitter/Facebook and talk to my network? E-mail potential clients and start working on more shoots? Or do I spend time shooting personal work and hanging out in San Diego. I can never decided - I guess I really haven't cracked the code yet, but for now I will just keep on going with whatever works.

ATP: What plans do you have for the future?
AE: I have a shoot with Yelawolf in a few hours, another shoot in LA in a few days, and then I fly to europe to do a little over two weeks of touring with ADTR. I get back and fly out a few hours later to Vegas for a photo convention I am going to be handing my bracelets out at. After that I have a few weeks to myself- gotta get my taxes done, maybe visit my Wisconsin friends, get my DVD tutorial I am making on done! After that I head out on a US tour with Asking Alexandria. While I am out with them we are going to SXSW, a few festivals, and skiing in Canada. I am pumped. I think after I get done with them I am going out with ADTR again in the US, but I have no idea yet. I am taking the summer to work on personal work, and hopefully do a few days of Warped here and there! S'all I got for now. I am just stoked to be active.

ATP: Is there anything you'd like to do you haven't yet, for example cross into video?
AE: I want to make a video about a dude in a black spandex suit who wants to become an iPod commercial dancer. But other than that I don't really like video very much- I prefer to do what I enjoy and hire other people to do everything else. I am bringing a small HD camera with me on my europe tour though, and afterwords I am going to make videos on what its like to be on tour with a band as a photographer and just what my life is like on tour in general. I think it'll be fun; people don't have to watch it, but I'll make it and have fun doing it regardless! Maybe you guys could post about it? That would be rad.

ATP: Do you have anything final you'd like to say to finish off?
AE: I just wrote this whole interview with Dragon Dictate (they didn't pay me to plug this), so all I had to do is talk into a microphone and it typed everything out for me. It still took me hours to do as I don't fancy myself a writer…but how you feel about that? Pretty nifty! 10-4 10-4 Over and out.

Further information on Adam Elmakias at
Adam Elmakias' blog
Adam Elmakias Lens Braclets
Adam Elmakias on Twitter and Tumblr.

Credit: Adam Elmkias Portrait photos by Collin Hughes.
Words by Sean Reid

Alter The Press!