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Photographer Abe Coloma embraces concert lights for jaw-dropping photos

Find out how Coloma's love of hip-hop led him to pursue concert photography and use light patterns to time his shots to the beat.

To some, light is a metaphorical representation of better times during moments of darkness. But to photographers, light is their best friend, especially when shooting concerts. Bay Area photographer Abe Coloma has implemented show lights into his shooting method, capturing highly contrasted photos of your favorite rappers and singers. So, how does he do it? Well, we've decided to ask Coloma more about his method and how he's been able to develop these everlasting pictures.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well, my name is Abe Coloma. I'm still very new to the world of photography. It was my love for music, specifically hip-hop, that lead me to pursue photography professionally. I started from humble beginnings. I got my very first residency, with little to no experience, at a small club in San Francisco called the Mezzanine. I'm forever thankful to them because they believed in me and allowed me to hone my craft. Since then, I've worked and collaborated with media companies like Sway's Universe, SF Weekly, Goldenvoice, HYPEFRESH mag, LiveNation, etc. I've shot shows ranging from dark basements to amphitheaters to huge arenas and etc. Although I've been blessed to have experienced all of this in the past few years, I still feel like I haven't reached my goal as a photographer. I've adopted the mindset of never being satisfied, and I'm in constant search of my next opportunity. I remain optimistic that there's something greater in store for me.

How did you get into photography?

Haha it's a boring story, and it happened by accident. My old coworkers were "hobbyist photographers," and they convinced me to buy my first camera. We always talked about how cool it would be to shoot famous people and/or models. Yeah, it was pretty lame. One day, while wasting time at the office, I took a chance and sent email blasts to all of the local media companies, clubs, and promoters. I told them that I was an aspiring photographer looking for work.

Surprisingly, some of them took the bait and gave me a chance. I never consciously decided that I wanted to be a professional photographer. It just happened organically. Now that I've been doing it for some time, and have taken things more seriously, I just want to keep improving my skills and find other opportunities to grow in the entertainment world. My only fear is plateauing, so I try to combat that by always working.

I see that you shoot a lot of concerts and shows, is that your speciality?

Yeah, again not by choice. I started out as a portrait photographer, shooting models, but I had more opportunities given to me shooting concerts and shows. I just rode the wave. Looking back on it now, it's quite crazy to see how many artists I've shot in such a short period of time.

Your photos are phenomenal, very majestic looking. You don't have to completely tell me your secrets, but how do you get the stage colors to pop out like that? It adds an additional level of uniqueness to your photos.

Thank you, I really appreciate the love. Personally, I think the real magic lies not in the post-production process, but in the actual shooting process. Shooting shows can be a daunting task. You have to deal with crazy crowds, loud music, low light situations, a lot of movement, etc. Shows are dynamic and constantly changing. Nothing is ever the same, and that's why I enjoy shooting shows so much.

To answer your question, I primarily use Lightroom to edit my photos. I like my photos to have strong contrast and slight desaturation. I do minor adjustments to the highlights/shadows, tone curve, and split toning. Of course, a sharp image is always nice.

Who was your favorite artist to shoot and why? Were they photogenic?

Although I'm an "old head" and prefer classic hip-hop over anything else, my favorite artist I have shot, surprisingly, was Waka Flocka. I'm sure others who have met him can attest to him being a genuinely good dude. I've shot many of his shows here in the Bay, and each time he showed mad love. I have this funny shot of him posing with his middle finger up his nose. I remember him coming up with the idea and saying, "Ay man, take my picture like this." Photogenic??? I guess so.

How difficult is it to shoot events, concerts, and shows? You always seem to find great shots that aren't blurry, have great angles, and are framed amazingly.

Shooting shows can be really challenging because of their dynamic properties. I know this is weird, but while shooting shows, I imagine I'm in a virtual video game. If you think about it, a good photographer has "control" over the whole situation. You have to have a good understanding of light and your equipment in order to achieve the shots that you want. I study the movements of the artists, experiment with angles and adjust my settings accordingly to get "the shot." It's really all about patience and timing. A cool trick I learned was to pay close attention to the stage lighting. More than likely, the lights/lasers are programmed to do certain patterns and coincide with the beat. I recognize these patterns and use the beats to time my shots. The results I get are intentional, and believe it or not, there's a method to my madness.

What makes a great photo in your eyes?

I could care less if a photo was shot using the correct aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc. My favorite photos are the ones that have a story behind them. Photos that are thought-provoking. Specifically, in regards to music photography, I want the photos to make you feel like you were in the front row with me.

What do you hope to leave people with once they take a look at your photos?

I hope people can look at my photos and realize there's a bit of artistry mixed in. Each photo is supposed to convey a certain mood, and I hope they see that. Most of the people I meet tell me, "You get to shoot rappers? That's so cool!" Haha, yeah, I guess it is, and that's cool with me too.

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