Michelle Castillo: Concert Photographer
Introduce yourself to us! What do you do in the industry? Where are you from?
Hello! My name is Michelle Castillo and Im a portrait and concert photographer! I’m from a small town near Fresno, California and was living in San Francisco for a bit.
How did you get your start in the industry, and how long have you been in the industry?
I got interested in concert photography when I was asked to photograph Bad Sun’s for UC Berkeley’s on-campus TV network in 2017 and fell in love with it, but didn’t really get into it at the time. I’ve *officially* been in the industry for a little over a year. I started taking my photography seriously last June and landed a house photography gig at DNA Lounge in San Francisco a few weeks after which is honestly what really got me into the industry.
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”?
I think it was at the beginning of last summer when I really started getting into the scene. I talked to all these photographers of various genres and saw the little glimmer in their eye when they talked about their past experiences. They really loved what they did, and were able to do what they wanted. For so long, I was told that pursuing the arts was a fruitless effort and it should only be a hobby. After talking to them, it made me realize that being a photographer was actually a possibility and that made me extremely happy.
Is there anything you struggled with (or even still do struggle with) being in the industry? What is the best part of your job? Why?
What I love about my job is the freedom to create. I can edit my photos however I want. But sometimes I hit this creative funk. This goes everyone; you just hit a wall you don’t think you can get over. Sometimes on the day of the concert I have to force myself to go to the venue. There are rare occasions where I see the photos that I took and I hate every single one. And then something just clicks and you work on different edits to make a photo you absolutely love.
Who are some of your favorite artists you’ve been able to photograph?
Ooo I have a lot haha. My favorites so far have been The Struts, Faux Real, Starcrawler, and Colony House. The first three had so much energy on stage. My camera was practically glued to my face the entire time because I didn’t want to miss anything. With Colony House, not only were they energetic, the theater was absolutely stunning. I believe it was made in the 20’s? It had a small capacity, but they only allowed people on the ground level and allowed photographers on the balcony.
Who are some of your inspirations for photography?
I really like to draw emotion into my work, and so I think that’s my biggest inspiration! When fans come to my page and reminisce about the show I shot, I want them to feel as happy looking at it as they were in the moment.
You founded Cut It Out magazine, can you tell us more about it and how starting a publication was like? What is your favorite thing about having a magazine?
Absolutely! Cut It Out started out as a solo project that allowed me to publish my creative works without boundaries and showcase small artists that deserve more acknowledgement. As it gained more traction, I realized that the publication was the perfect stepping stone for those who wanted to get their foot in the door to the music industry. I started the team in February, and even through everything that’s been happening in the world, we still managed to thrive. The one year anniversary is coming up in November and I still can’t believe it’s coming up so quickly!
It’s been hard, and to be honest there were times where I wanted to quit. But, meeting all these amazing artists and people on my team who have quickly become my friends is what has really been keeping me going.
Is there someone who you consider as your mentor in the industry?
I’m honestly actually looking for a mentor right now. I’m a self-taught photographer, and for the most part I’ve been navigating through the industry alone. It’s allowed me to gain a lot of hands-on experience, and yet there’s still so much I need to learn.I can read as many blog posts and watch as many YouTube videos as I can, but there’s some things out there that you wouldn’t know without the personal guidance of someone more experienced
What advice do you have for women who want to get their start in the music industry?
I’d say, don't be afraid to jump into it! You’ll come across a lot of obstacles, but you’ll always get through them. If music is something you’re really passionate about nothing will get in your way.
Have you ever been turned down or not taken seriously because you were a female in the industry?
I’ve been physically pushed around and ignored by the opening band, but I’m lucky that those events have not escalated. A majority of the time, I’m treated like everyone else and it sucks that it’s not the case for everyone.
What did you do when put into that position?
When I was ignored and pushed I took these as just fleeting moments. After these experiences I had talked to a few others in the group and talked about what had happened but after that we brushed it off. I didn’t edit the photos I took of the opener, and if the guy pushed me again I would have told security. These moments were reminders that there are people who will work against you and you shouldn’t let them bring you down.
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’ve been really into gardening and houseplants lately. I started with three plants at the beginning of quarantine and now I have almost 20 haha. It’s been really therapeutic watering them and watching them grow these past few months. It’s provided some peace and stability in my life.
Who is your all-time favorite artist?
Oh no don’t make me choose! Panic! at the Disco has a special place in my heart because that’s the band that really got me into music. I’d always been a casual listener of songs that were on the radio but I never looked into the artist until I found them. I also really love EDEN. His album, vertigo, was gorgeous. If I had the opportunity to direct the music video for his song “Icarus” I would take it in a heartbeat.
What is something you can't live without?
I can’t live without my headphones. I always have music playing no matter what I’m doing.
Go-to Karaoke song?
Definitely “Somebody To Love” by Queen
Tea or Coffee?
Tea! My favorite right now is peach
First concert you went to?
Hannah Montana with the Jonas Brothers as her opener. Iconic.
What’s something that you always have on you?
I recently started carrying my point and shoot film camera in my bag. It’s helped me see the world a little different
Who is your dream artist or band to work with?
I’d love to work with Jaden Smith, PVRIS, Busty and the Bass, and Billie Eilish. Their visuals are stunning and I feel like we’d vibe really well together.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
On days where I know I’m shooting a concert I sleep in, charge my camera batteries, and make sure my SD card is empty. Throughout the day I drink a ton of water and make sure I eat well. I also look at the band’s tagged photos to get and idea of what their stage set up looks like, I do the same with the venue if I’ve never shot there before. Right before I leave I put on my Doc Martens, quadruple check that I have my SD card and battery in my camera, and then I’m off.
When I get home I make sure to upload the images to my computer and then I head to bed. Even with my portraits I don’t like editing the same day because I get too critical with my edits. Putting some time between the shoot and editing gives me time to clear my head and see the images in a new perspective.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’m the type of person that goes wherever life takes me. But if I can go on tour with a band in five years that would be pretty sick.
What do you hope to see done in the industry within the next few years? What are you most proud of?
I hope that more women of color and non binary individuals gain more opportunities within the industry. It sucks going to the pit and seeing that I’m the only woman there, let alone the only POC. All the female photographers I’ve met so far are super friendly and we uplift each other whenever we can.
Lastly, what saying do you live by?
Do what makes you happy