Concert photography is something that many of us dream of doing. For Henry Hwu, it’s simply a lifestyle that warps you into a radiant scenery filled with bright lights and chants, capturing some of the most surreal moments in time. The Vancouver-based creative has given hip-hop fans alike some of the most breathtaking views you can imagine.
Big names such as Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Juice WRLD, Playboi Carti, and countless others are just a few who have stepped in front of Henry’s lens. “I truly believe that one of the most difficult aspects of concert photography is adjusting to venue lighting during a performance.” Henry adds, “Although difficult, I love the challenge and it pushes me to strive for the best possible results.” With just over 90K followers across socials, Henry has an endless array of content and has continuously paved a way for young photographers, proving that it can be much more than just a behind-the-scenes role.
For Behind The Lens, we had an extensive conversation with Henry Hwu about relationships between artists and photographers, essentials on the go, and kicks amongst other things! Check it out below.
How did you get into photography, and more specifically, what drew you to concert photography after spending so many years doing travel photography?
Photography was something that came into my life naturally and grew as a burning passion since the moment I purchased my first camera. I’ve been shooting for eight years now and that passion that drew me to the art of photography still burns just as bright. I started my photography journey by sharing my landscape and travel photos. From the day I picked up my camera, it was always my dream to be able to take photos at concerts.
I admit it is tough breaking into the concert photography world as a complete beginner—it takes time to build a portfolio, gain trust from publications, artists, labels, management, and so on. My advice for anyone wanting to take photos at concerts or wondering where to start; have a website, reach out to local venues and publications, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask your peers and fellow photographers for help.
I feel like you’ve developed a pretty distinctive style considering most of your pictures are candid. How would you say you developed this style, and what influences it?
Wow, I appreciate that. I believe one of the greatest compliments an artist can get is if their art can be recognized on the web or on social media just by looking at the image, without seeing any credit or photography tags. Although my style is still something I work on each and every day, there are a few points I like to emphasize and show through my work that I share.
I try my best to convey an artists’ energy during a performance and strive to showcase that through a collection of images. I am extremely selective in the images I share as everything from the composition to the colors, to the scale, all have to be perfect. Fun fact, on average, for every 1000 pictures I take during a performance, I only ever am happy or comfortable with sharing about two or three of those images once they’re edited.
I noticed that sneakers are also a pretty big thing for you as well, what are your go-to kicks these days?
Sneakers are a huge part of who I am. They have greatly influenced my style, how I include them in my travel photographs, as well as how invested I am in the overall culture of sneakers. It’s mind-blowing how much the sneaker market and culture has grown just in the last 5 years, just by looking at the secondary market and the growth of the ‘aftermarket’, it’s insane to see.
I couldn’t tell you how many different sneakers I’ve owned over the years as the count has surpassed 150+, but as for these days, I love the Jordan 1 and 4 silhouettes, and I’ve been rocking a lot of SBs lately as well. Although the Yeezy 350’s are some of the comfiest shoes I own, I’d definitely have to say checks over stripes haha.
When it comes to shooting live concerts or festivals, things can obviously get pretty bizarre and if you’re not prepared when shit hits the fan, it can be pretty unpleasant. What are some of the essentials that you keep on you at any moment when it comes to these big festivals like Rolling Loud?
I’ve learned over the years that weather can change in the blink of an eye and I have definitely adjusted my gear to accommodate for that. Specifically for outdoor festivals, I always keep a rain cover and a towel for my gear in case of rain. Extra batteries, memory cards are also a must, which leads me to the answer to the next question.
What’s your worst nightmare when it comes to capturing shows? What makes concert photography difficult?
It would 100% be having my memory card fill up mid-performance. That would definitely be my worst fear, besides accidentally formatting or clearing a memory card before dumping files onto a hard drive. I truly believe that one of the most difficult aspects of concert photography is adjusting to venue lighting during a performance, all while trying to convince security that you’re just trying to do your job. I’m not going to get into it too much, but I’ve lost count of the number of times event security thinks I don’t have a purpose to be doing what I’m doing.
Landscape and travel photography requires a great deal of patience but the amount of precision and versatility that comes with concert photography during a short 15-45 minute set is what makes it tough. Although difficult, I love the challenge and it pushes me to strive for the best possible results.
An interesting story that I came across was how you were featured on Logic’s album cover for Everybody some years back—tell me a little bit more about that and how your relationship with him has developed over the years?
Wow, you really did your research haha. That’s correct—I’ve known Bobby for almost 10 years now, which is crazy to say. The relationship we have has developed a lot over the years, and since I started shooting concerts, he always gave me a platform to come out and practice my craft, which is something I will always appreciate and be grateful for.
As for the album cover, Sam Spratt, one of the most talented artists out there, has been behind Logic’s album artwork since his debut album. Logic called before the rollout of Everybody and asked if I could send a picture of myself to him from my side, with my arms up as if I was holding up a flag. Super random at the time, I did what he asked and it all made sense when I saw the cover. He’s been off the grid the past year or so since he announced his break/retirement from the rap scene, but I catch up with him from time to time.
I think now, especially with social media, more behind the scenes people such as yourself now have the opportunity to have just as much of an online presence as the artists you work with which is really beautiful. How do you think relationships between artists and photographers will shift if it becomes more frequent given your rise to popularity?
That’s a great observation you made. I completely agree. I think the media side of an artist is crucial to and has a big impact on their online presence. For example, Travis Scott has Ray and Playboi Carti has Gunner Stahl. Personally, I don’t try to focus as much on the numbers and “popularity”—I would rather be recognized for my work rather than who I am.
To any young creatives out there who are maybe struggling to stay creative or meet society’s standards, what advice would you give them in regards to being different and chasing your passion?
The best piece of advice I can give for other creatives out there is to always be willing to learn. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failing is the most valuable lesson one can learn. It’s okay to take breaks, never force yourself to create if you don’t feel excited or passionate to do so. Although it’s easy to get caught up with the moves that other creatives may be making, try not to compare your struggles to someone else’s highlights. Social media can be overwhelming in that sense, so stick to what fuels your passion and don’t look back. Ever. Keep pushing and strive to be the best version of you, day in and day out.
Are you working on any cool projects that people can expect? What are you most excited for in 2022?
I am currently working on my next photography book. I don’t want to give too much away, but it is truly the best work I have produced. I am so excited to have it in the hands of my peers and supporters. I have been actively working on this project for almost 3 years and it can be expected within the first quarter of 2022. I want to have galleries around the world in 2022. Speaking it into existence now, but I would love to go on my first tour with an artist as well. I’m super excited for 2022.
If you enjoyed our chat with Henry Hwu, check out our interview with London photographer Judith Rita!