Photographer Sebastian Buzzalino is a music photographer based out of Calgary. He went to Sled Island, a music festival in southern Alberta with the Petzval 85 Art Lens and the Lomo'Instant Automat to capture the festival. We got to speak with Sebastian about his experience shooting live music events and working in film photography.
Hi Sebastian, welcome to the magazine, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thanks for having me! I’m a music and portrait photographer based out of Calgary, AB, and I love shooting film whenever possible, though digital also has its place. I’ve been working as a music photographer for the past four or five years.
What about live music interests you, how'd you get into shooting live shows?
I started shooting live music as a way of bringing my partner to shows when I was the editor for a local music publication — it was easier to get a plus one when I covered shows if I both reviewed and took the photos. My first shoot was at an Against Me! show and I had no idea what I was doing, but the photos came out decent enough. Somewhere along the line, I found out that I really enjoyed the connection I had between myself and the artist when I shot and everything kind of developed from there. Without getting too far into cliches, when live music goes well and everyone connects, it’s a timeless, perfect experience. There’s nothing better than getting lost in the moment at a show, sharing a communal experience with everyone in the room.
How'd you enjoy going to Sled Island, what was your experience?
Sled Island is basically our music community’s Christmas: a five-day binge of old favourites and new discoveries, hanging out with friends and hopping between venues all the while drinking a million beers and having the best time. It’s a marathon in the best possible way and there’s always some kind of magic in the air.
How was working with the Petzval 85? How'd it compare to some of the other lens' you've used in the past?
It was a lot of fun! I tend to shoot between 28-50mm for most of my work, so shooting with something on the longer end of the spectrum provided a new way of seeing shots in my head. Of course, the brass styling of the lens was a big talking point whenever I took it out and it was really cool to use such an old lens design on more modern cameras. I loved how dreamy the photos look, too — there’s an almost painterly quality to the images that is harder to get with modern, more clinical, lenses.
Shooting with an instant camera is a struggle in low light venues, how'd you overcome that struggle?
Thankfully, the Lomo'Instant Automat has a really solid metering system with the flash, so it’s not too bad to try and find opportunities to balance ambient light (stage lights) with the flash on the main subject. There’s something delightfully youthful about going back to Instax prints taken during live shows, as if they’re these little pieces of a show I can take home with me. I wish I could shoot instant film all the time!
What is it about film that keeps you returning to that medium?
I love how slow it is — in that you can’t sit there reviewing your shots in real time — and the uncertain quality of it all. You never fully know if you’re capturing the right moment, but it always seems to work out, anyway. There’s so much anticipation in pulling a reel out of the developing tank and seeing what actually came out in the roll. Plus, no two rolls are ever the same, especially since I develop and scan at home: there’s always going to be small differences in how I develop, how the emulsion is that day, how I was feeling when I took the photos. That one-of-a-kind nature to every photo seems harder to come by in the digital realm and makes film totally worth it for me. Even total mistakes on film can look amazing.
Are there moments you look for when you are shooting a show or do you just go in and shoot?
I do my best to not think too much when I’m shooting a show, especially if it’s just the usual first three songs and I have to make sure to get something good. I’m a big proponent of shooting drunk, editing sober (if Hemingway was a photographer). If I have a bit longer in the set to shoot, I will start looking for mannerisms or moments in the artist’s performance that I could potentially blow up into something (hopefully) more iconic, but that mostly happens in the editing phase the next day. The best live shots, in my opinion, are ones that, even when decontextualized (as much as that can happen), still seem greater than the sum of their parts, that break free from just a flattened representation of the artist and kind of stand on their own.
What advice can you give to music photographers or just photographers in general?
Shooting live music is a ton of fun and, in the end, pretty easy. For anyone starting out, or looking to start shooting live music, just go to as many shows as possible (the camera is the ultimate passport, it gets you anywhere you like), make friends, make connections, talk to artists and share your work. Develop a style and everything else will fall into place after!