Capturing artists in their element is something Michael “Benni” Capel prides himself on. In his renderings, he attempts to capture the intrinsic emotion in each shot. Benni’s painstaking work has allowed him to master his craft, but has not forced him to limit what he shoots. His work within the fashion and concert scenes has allowed him to work with prominent figures in the music industry. Working with icons including Diddy, Keri Hilson, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and many others has afforded Benni the chance to pursue his craft on the biggest stages.
Read Jack Freifelder’s interview with Benni Capel after the jump:
With photography the difference is you can have 30 photographers in the same area, but the other 29 will not have the same photo as you. You capture the moments through your eye, and how you see everything can’t be replaced. I still love graphic design, but at this moment I feel freer with photography.
Tell me about your beginnings in photography and graphic design.
My involvement started with graphic design for several years and then it blossomed into a situation where I worked with mixtape covers, album layouts, DVDs and posters. It was a situation where I took it upon myself to say, you know what, I might as well do it. That being said, my first real concert photography event was Powerhouse, hosted by Power 99 in Philadelphia. Once I did that, it really sparked my interest in capturing those moments that can’t be replaced. From there it encouraged me to be a well-rounded photographer and to be respected by other photographers in the field.
What is your thought process before a shoot?
I try to visualize the artist’s music—whether or not I’ve heard of them—and I listen to their music before the concerts. I try to capture them as great performers and/or great vocalists because a live show changes the arrangement. Sometimes you try to wait and capture those moments where that artist is really singing or dancing their heart out. On certain songs you can time it so that you’re in the right part of the stage at the right time.
What are some of the differences between fashion and concert photography?
I think that’s where it actually turns into me having different personalities behind the camera. My whole mindset changes when it comes to fashion because I try to get really personal with the shots. If I’m working with someone in Hip Hop they want a certain appeal to their mixtape or album cover, but then when I’m dealing with corporate they want a cleaner look. When I find myself in a certain setting I know how to turn some things off so I can capture a particular perspective that makes people go Wow.
What was the best advice that you received from a fellow photographer?
Be agile and don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. When you’re in the photo pit or out there trying to get a shot, you have to focus and you don’t let any distractions drag you down. If you get distracted, you miss that one shot or that pose that you can’t replicate. I really took that to heart because as a concert photographer you have a lot of obstacles. It’s almost like watching Ninja Warrior. You have the people screaming and yelling, bouncers pushing you out of the way, photographers bumping you left and right, not to mention the speakers in your face. That’s the time when you say to yourself, alright I need to focus on what I’m trying to show people.
Tell me about your favorite experiences on the job
A great experience I had with graphic design was the opportunity to create a poster and mixtape cover for Marc Ecko’s Getting Up (a videogame for Atari). They [the poster and cover] were selling during presales at GameStops across the country as the game was getting ready to drop. It was an experience that showed me that one person can definitely make a difference with their creativity and their skills and reach millions with something that small. The thing is, someone right now still has that poster with your name on the bottom of it, and you never know how that work will inspire someone.
My best experience through photography was Powerhouse with Power 99. You’re in this moment with 20,000 people and even as a photographer you feel that electricity in that room. It inspires you and you want to get those great shots. It was one of my biggest inspirations that led me up to everything I’m doing now.
What advice, in hindsight, would you have given to yourself when you were starting out?
The most important thing that I would say to myself given the opportunity would be don’t listen to naysayers. There were things that I wanted to try but those doubters kept me from doing what I wanted to do. If I hadn’t listened to all that negativity I feel that my career would be further than it is now. Sometimes that stuff starts to sink in, and you create your own brick wall. They don’t even have to chain you to that large boulder, you do it yourself.
What advice would you give to other photographers?
I would tell them if you feel that this is your passion, make sure you put your best effort forward and don’t stop. As soon as you stop, that’s when other people can move past you, leaving you behind. Always push forward even through the bad times. It gets under my skin when I see people who are talented, but they throw it away.
Jack Freifelder is a contributing writer for respect-mag.com
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