Mike Lerner is a photographer who shoots some of the most recognizable names in the music industry. From Katy Perry to VersaEmerge, Paramore, and The Maine (to name a few), Mike captures their artistry, and travels all around the world catching candid moments on tour.
Fresh off photographing Justin Bieber on his latest world tour, Mike opens up to Buzznet about what's going on behind his camera.
Buzznet: How did you first take up interest in photography and when did you realize you wanted to pursue it as a career?
Mike Lerner: It was weird. I was working a dead end job doing data entry, and I had just won a
big online poker tournament, so I decided to quit the job and try poker for a living. It was boring and stressful. A lot of big ups and a lot of big downs. I don’t know when the exact moment came when I decided to start, it’s blurry for me. But I remember wanting to go to a lot of shows, so I said maybe shooting the shows would be fun. It was after the first show that I knew if I worked hard, “grinded”, a word from the poker world, I could do this as a living.
BN: What inspires your work?
ML: Haha, I hate this question. When I’m shooting music, the music inspires me. I want to portray the band/artist in a way that positively portrays the music. TakeVersa for example. If you look at the photos of them that I’ve taken over theyears, I think you can easily say, “Yeah, that’s Versa.” Live shows are live shows. The objective is to get a good clean image, or who knows maybe not and itwill still look great. But for the most part my main inspiration comes frommovies. Especially from directors like Terrence Malick. His movies are so “photographic.” I see those movies and I just say to myself, “Damn, I want to take pictures like that.” Models on the other hand, I just tell them to remove most oftheir clothing and hope the light is beautiful and it just all comes together.
BN: In a society that has turned digital, do you think it’s still important to learn film?
ML: HELL YES! That’s how I learned to shoot digital. As a kid I always played around with my father’s film cameras. That’s how I learned to set apertures, exposure times, and so on. When I first used a digital camera, I immediately put iton manual mode and shot away. That’s how I think kids today SHOULD do it.
There’s nothing more gratifying than loading and then unloading your film. Theone thing I regret was not learning how to develop my own film and use adarkroom. I know kids that are learning it in high school and college and I’mreally jealous. It’s a pain too because I have to get my film scanned and processed
by imaging houses and it’s damned expensive.
BN: How do you juggle lugging around photo equipment, shooting and photo editing while adjusting to life on the road?
ML: On the Bieber tour I was the butt of a lot of jokes due to my bag. I was carrying abody, 4 lenses, hard drives, you name it. It was f*cking heavy. While in Europe we had busses, and editing on the bus is annoying only because the spaces are tight and the roads are bumpy- not good for a little bit of retouching. But we had hotels pretty much every night and I would always edit in the morning and late atnight in the hotels, my sleep schedule was horrible. I basically had my own schedule as well. I shoot the show, upload the photos when everyone waschanging after the show, and then spend the night editing, because I wanted to get the photos out asap. I probably shout around 1500 images per night and edited maybe 60-70 and then sent out maybe 50.
BN: Which photographers do you look up to as an artist?
ML: There are a bunch. Danny Clinch is an amazing music photographer. Richard Avedon, and Elliot Erwitt. I love Robert Capa’s World War II photographs. And I just recently watched a documentary about Sally Mann, she’s an incredible artist, and I’m jealous of the way she works and the large format camera she uses. I suggest all these artists for kids to check out. As far as people in my field, Adam Elmakias’ photos make me jealous, especially his B&W editing. And there’s this young guy, Matt Vogel. Be on the lookout for this kid, he’s amazing.
BN: What are some major differences between being on tour with a rock band like Versa Emerge and going on a world tour with a pop star like Justin Beiber? Any similarities between the two?
ML: Everything is different. Everything. Versa is a smaller band and not nearly as well know as Bieber obviously. I was in a van with Versa, I was in busses and planes with Justin. The whole thing was surreal, really. Everything from production, to catering was just eye opening. There were 7 of us with Versa, there was maybe 70 of us with Justin. The only similarity is the friendships I made. During the tour with Versa I became very close with Sierra. She’s like a little sister to me. On the my world tour I spent most of my time with the band, dancers, and singers. We became good friends. And obviously there’s the music. I don’t want to say anything negative, but I love Versa’s music and I enjoyed every time they played. On the my world tour, I took photos. I’ll tell you one thing though, I can do all of the choreography if you want. Just gimme a couple of drinks first.
BN: If you could describe your work to someone in one sentence, how would you phrase it?
ML: It’s real. No other words, it’s just real.
BN: Do you have a favorite memory from past shoots or tours?
ML: On The Vultures Unite tour, I faked played on stage with band Conditions as the fake 6th member. Those are a good group of guys. On the My World tour I partied with Joel Madden in Malaysia. He’s a genuine down to earth, all around nice dude.
BN: What is your favorite part of being a photographer?
ML: Whenever I’m holding a camera. I always think to myself, this is my job, this is what I do for a living, and I just revel in it. Other than that it’s traveling and constantly meeting new and interesting people.
Click to check out Mike's photo blog and website.
(all images included in this post belong to mike lerner.)