Elena Strawn: Concert Photographer + Social Media Manager
Introduce yourself to us! What do you do in the industry? Where are you from?
Hey, my name is Elena Strawn and I find writing introductions to be difficult haha! I am a concert photographer based out of the Bay Area, California. I also am a social media manager for the nonprofit Femme House and a huge soup lover!
How did you get your start in the industry, and how long have you been in the industry?
I first got my start in the industry just after high school when I started photographing shows. I have been photographing shows for about four or so years. It happened really naturally. I have always loved music and started working at my local venue when I was old enough to work which was my entry into the industry and really showed me that the music space is somewhere I want to be for a long time.
When did you know being in the business is what you wanted to do? Was there a specific moment where you were like “oh god, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life”?
For me realizing that I could get paid to go to concerts and take photos of these amazing artists is what sold it for me. I think the oh god moment for me was getting my first all-access pass at my local venue that I had been working at for like 3 years and being up on stage taking photos of a band that I grew up listening to.
Is there anything you struggled with (or even still do struggle with) being in the industry?
Something that I struggled with and still struggle with is finding my editing style. This is one of the most important parts of being a concert photographer I think and having impostor syndrome is definitely something that I have come across. I also think that not being taken seriously is something that I still struggle with and I have been working on. Acting like you are supposed to be there and that you know what you are doing is something that I have learned is very important in the industry especially being a woman in the industry.
What is the best part of your job? Why?
The best part of photographing concerts for me is getting to capture incredible moments of people on stage. Getting to capture moments that are once in a lifetime is so special. Also getting paid to go to concerts is very fun and one of the best parts. Also getting to see my friends in the industry succeed is so fun and one of the best parts.
How did you first get into photographing concerts and music festivals? I first got started photographing concerts because I was at a concert one day and saw photographers upfront taking photos and I was like how do I do that. The rest is pretty much history and after that day I figured out a way to be one of those photographers upfront taking photos!
Do you have any advice for photographers trying to break into the music industry?
The best advice that I can give to photographers trying to break into the industry is to reach out to small local bands and see if they need any photos taken. I would also reach out to different blogs and publications to see if you can shoot shows for them. Lastly do not be afraid to send tons of emails out to people to see if you can photograph their show the worst that they can say is no and then you just keep trying next time.
How do you prep yourself before a shoot?
There usually isn’t a ton that I do to prepare for a shoot. The closest thing that I have to a routine on a show day is packing my camera bag and making sure that all my batteries are charged and that I have extra memory cards. Sometimes if it is a shoot when I am nervous I will text some friends or just listen to music to get in the zone.
When did you first start taking photos and when did you decide you wanted to make an official career out of it? I first started taking photos my senior year of high school and quickly fell in love with it! After photographing my first show I realized that this is something that I wanted to do for a long time because of how fun it is. I still do not know if I want to make it my official career or have it just be a side job in the sense of I have no idea how the concert photography world will look when everything opens back up.
What was the first concert you ever captured? How did it feel?
The first show that I photographed was K.Flay back in 2016 in a small venue in San Francisco. I remember not being too nervous because the venue did not have a camera policy so I could just bring it in. The first show that I got a photo pass at was about a month later and I was much more nervous because once I got there I realized that I was the only photographer there. Sometimes I look back at those photos and laugh because of how bad they are.
Is there someone who you consider as your mentor in the industry?
My main mentor when I was first starting was Ashley Osborn. She was definitely one of the reasons that I started concert photography. I got to take a few of her workshops that she has had over the years and some of the shows that she has helped me get are the ones that really made me fall in love with photography and make me want to do this full time.
What advice do you have for women who want to get their start in the music industry?
My advice for women wanting to get their start in the music industry is not too different from my advice for someone trying to get into the concert photography world. I would say something that is more specific to being a woman wanting to get into the industry is that you are going to have to work harder to get the respect in the room but once you have it use that status to uplift other women. I think that also finding a mentor who can help you and show you the way helps because when you can see a woman in a position of power or something you want to be doing it can push you to get there.
Have you ever been turned down or not taken seriously because you were a female in the industry? What did you do when put into that position?
Unfortunately it happens more than it should. I have seen things from something as small as being at a show and there not being a single woman in the photo pit to personally dealing with security not taking me seriously even with correct passes and credentials. When denied access I will usually just go to a different entrance to where I need to be and if it is at a venue where I know some of the staff or higher ups I will bring it up to them after a show just to let them know what happened.
What are some of your other hobbies? What do you do in your free time (which we know can be very hard to find)?
I love spending time with friends outside of shows and trying out new bars (not during covid). I also have become a big fan of walks and interior design during quarantine. I have spent many hours making my space feel like a space that I want to spend my time in. I also have been very into developing and scanning my own 120 and 35mm film at home.
Who is your all-time favorite artist?
Oh man this is a tough one. I don’t know if I have an all time favorite artist but my top played artists on Spotify for the past three years is Elohim so she is definitely up there on my list.
What is something you can't live without?
As silly as it sounds music is something that I can’t live without. I have some sort of music on all the time other than when I am asleep. It keeps me sane.
Go-to Karaoke song?
Any song from the Mamma Mia soundtrack.
Definitely coffee specifically ice coffee no matter how cold it is outside.
Do you have an artist you are still dying to shoot live?
A few artists that I am dying to shoot live are Lady Gaga, Bring Me The Horizon and Miley Cyrus.
First concert you went to?
The first concert I went to was either The Jonas Brothers or Hannah Montana. I don’t remember which one was the first but the Disney arena shows were elite in my opinion!
What’s something that you always have on you?
Something that I always have on me is my inhaler and some Chapstick.
Who is your dream artist or band to work with?
Two artists that I would love to work directly with in the future are CHVRCHES and Lorde.
Can you tell us about the nonprofit you are working with now?
The nonprofit that I am so lucky to be working with is LP Giobbi’s nonprofit Femme House. Femme House is is a 501(c)(3) with the goal of creating and fostering more equitable opportunity for womxn and non-binary people in the technical areas of music. We seek to create the future producers, mixers, and engineers of the industry by offering educational workshops, building community, propagating visual representation, and offering professional development resources such as networking, mentorship, and more. We believe that if you can see it, you can be it, and that if we tear down the barriers to entry, we can affect change on a systemic, industry-wide level.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
A typical day during covid times is pretty laid back, I am usually awake around 8:30 or so and then proceed to lay in my bed for far too long probably watching TikToks or scrolling through Instagram. Once I finally get up I’ll go make some coffee and start looking at my emails. At about 10am the daily Twitch streams that I watch and help out with begin so I will watch those for a bit while answering emails then it is really just checking all the different socials that Femme House has and thinking of different content that we want to create. Once I am done with the main part of my day I will sometimes go to the store and get stuff to cook dinner or just hang out and watch random YouTube videos or hop on calls and FaceTimes with my friends.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years hopefully I will be touring with an artist that I love or doing something else in the music industry. I honestly really don’t know where I am going to be in five years, hopefully I am happy and healthy!
What do you hope to see done in the industry within the next few years?
The main thing that I hope to see done in the industry within the next few years is more representation and equality. I would love to see there be more women and nonbinary people in higher positions in the industry and kicking ass.
What are you most proud of?
A few things that I am proud of are having some of my photos published in Forbes Magazine and getting to work closely with my friends and watching them live their dreams.
Lastly, what saying do you live by?
If you can see it, you can be it. And if you don’t see it, create it.