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  • Zet Diaz in Los Angeles

09/30/14 Photographer Zet Diaz of Restless Cities

Words by Marga Buenaventura

Distinguishing oneself as a concert photographer can be quite a challenge, given the way smartphones have managed to function almost as well as most professional cameras. Photographer Zet Diaz, however, doesn’t seem to mind. With an eye for capturing the dynamism of live music, Diaz prefers to train her lens on the stage.

Largely self-taught, the L.A.-based 24 year-old has amassed a body of work that many of her contemporaries can only dream of: Phoenix, The Flaming Lips, and Interpol to name a few. It was the move from Manila to Los Angeles that prompted her to pursue concert photography. “I learned very quickly after moving here that being a music fan is an expensive undertaking,” Diaz explains.

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Armed with a filmmaking certificate from the New York Film Academy, Diaz capitalized on her hobby and has since contributed to a number of print and online publications. In 2012, she put up music website Restless Cities (restlesscities.com), an outlet for her ever-growing passion. While Diaz chiefly provides content, a few friends made in the photo pit also share casual snaps and concert reviews.

Between live gigs, Diaz chats with NOUS about covering a concert for the first time, enjoying the music, and enduring head injuries just to capture the perfect shot.

What was your baptism in concert photography?

I was going through a phase wherein I had no idea what I wanted to take photos of anymore. I had zero interest in pursuing fashion photography and the like, so I decided to try out live music. My first show with an actual press pass was BenoĆ®t Pioulard at The Satellite back in 2012. It was absolutely exhilarating – the adrenaline, the beautiful music, the room full of people going through the same emotions as you. I knew I had to do more of it. The funny thing is I’d only been to four concerts in my life before that night.

What’s the formula to a great concert photo?

I honestly don’t know. There are so many existing styles that work and every photographer brings his or her own little something into it. Personally, I like it when I get a good shot of the band in their element. It also depends on the band or musician you’re shooting. A lot of them just stand there, really, and if the stage lighting is good, your job is done without you having to do much of anything. But then you encounter unbelievable live acts like Future Islands, La Dispute, Flaming Lips, or even Tenacious D who really put on a good show and make it very interesting. Those are good nights. I also learned that it’s important to stay focused and attentive of everything that’s going on and to make good use of the three songs we’re allowed in the pit.

Have you ever had to wrestle with fans to get a good shot?

This isn’t really something I’ve had to deal with much, thankfully. When I was just starting out, I did more shows in small clubs without a photo pit and I would always try to get there early to save a spot without screwing over anyone. I’ve had more negative experiences with fellow photographers than fans, actually. In music festivals, I’ve been hit in the head with cameras, shoved, stepped on, and etcetera.

What made you decide to put up Restless Cities?

Considering how much work goes into covering a show, I wanted a music website that put more importance on photography. I set out to create a website with a hi-res layout that offered a more visual experience for readers to sort of feel like they were in the show too. I didn’t create the theme from scratch, but I’ve modified it to death for sure. I also wanted a place for me to talk about my favorite musicians as well as my travels. It’s an ongoing project and everyday I’m thinking of ways to improve the layout and content.

I definitely write more than I’m comfortable with because Restless Cities is essentially a one-man show at the moment when it comes to things other than show reviews. Music writing doesn’t come naturally to me, but once I stopped pretending to be a music critic and instead started writing as a regular music fan, it has gotten easier and more loose.

I’m sure you spend most of a concert trying to compose a great shot. Do you still get to enjoy the music?

Absolutely. I think it shows in your photos when you’re not enjoying yourself and my best photos also happen to be from my favorite shows. There have been some obligatory assignments that were less than pleasant, but they’re few and far between. I try to take on shows that I know will either be enjoyable or challenging for me.