If you mix self-belief, creativity, and intuition and apply that combination to your vision, success will be attainable.
For NYC photographer Setor Tsikudo these are the ingredients that have allowed him to snap pictures of famous music artists and their fans at the wildest events.
His aesthetic goes way beyond just snapping a picture on his iPhone 7+ and uploading it to the Gram. He adopted a covert technique, going right to the center of crowds at shows, giving way to a “right in the moment” style.
The man behind the lens is even more intriguing and his respect for the craft is unmatchable.
We caught up with Tsikudo to see what’s really good with his unique style and photographic brand. As he told us, this all felt like divine intervention,
“It’s crazy how the universe helps you move towards pursuing your passion.”
Tsikudo’s decision to pursue his passion didn’t come right away. He decided to chase his dreams after losing two offers from Ernest & Young. What would you do in order to succeed? Tsikudo made the choice to bust his ass for his passion rather than money.
“I was chasing the money and not my dreams. That’s a recipe for misery and regret. My first step was thinking, ‘what do I actually what to do regardless of the odds?’ When I lost those offers at EY, I had to have a real moment with myself to decide if I wanted to go back to working at firms and busting my ass till 2 am every night for something I wasn’t passionate about, or bust my ass till 2 am trying to get a dope shot of an artist. I chose busting my ass for my passion.”
Fuck a corporate 9 to 5 hustling for someone who just sees you as a number. Tsikudo gambling all his chips on his photography career was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
He went full throttle getting himself access into events thanks to apps like Songkick, which allows music fans to keep up with their favorite artists while they’re on tour.
Tsikudo would then go on the hunt searching for the right events and who to contact for press passes, which he sometimes didn’t even receive.
So, how’d he gain access when the plug didn’t come through? Finessing the situation.
“Most passes go to blogs or publications over freelancers and also as a freelancer you always have to be on the hunt for the right events first and then worry about how you are getting access. I owe the majority of my success to an app called Songkick.”
Tsikudo explained that sometimes you just gotta hustle and find specific contacts to get into the right situation,
“With Songkick, I basically get a schedule and information on every music event happening. The app lets me know when tickets are going on sale and where the shows take place. After this step, it comes down to identifying who I need to email. Sometimes I finesse these situations where I can’t gain press access by buying two tickets and resealing one at an inflated price to offset the cost for me. Of course this only works with big names or trendy artist.”
One of his most exciting shoots thus far was when he got to see Frank Ocean perform at Panorama Music Festival this past July. Ocean’s amazing set made the music festival rank within the top three concerts Tsikudo has ever experienced.
But although he was a huge fan he didn’t let a moment pass by where he was unfocused.
“Hands down, Frank Ocean was that person. I got the chance to see him at Panorama Music Festival this past July and that was by far my top three favorite concerts ever. His set was just simply amazing. In regards to the excitement and being a fan of an artist I shoot, It’s sad to say, but with time your excitement for big artist decline. You develop a sense of numbness to stardom that takes the awe of these experiences. I am so ingrained to getting good content that everything else is irrelevant. That’s what’s important versus having a fan moment.”
One thing that I admire about Tsikudo is his persistence and endurance to hold strong even when he has to go against the current.
Besides the peeving process of copping access to shows, the daily struggle also entails getting paid. Tsikudo stressed the importance of building a brand for yourself as a photographer,
“The most frustrating part to me is a tie between getting access or getting paid. It’s honestly a daily struggle. It’s almost impossible to find artist’s management contact to get passes, and even when you do get access most people aren’t willing to pay you because they can find another photographer who would be willing to do it either cheaper than you or for free. That’s why creating a brand as a photographer is essential to seeing success.”
Building his brand intertwines with a respect for the craft of photography. You can’t just say you’re a photographer because you have a camera, it takes years to get nice with it.
Don’t sleep on his skillset.
“For me, the biggest misconception is this is a skillset. With camera technology becoming more and more accessible every year, people are able to get their hands on camera equipment that in the past was just way too expensive. This has opened up the gate to a lot of people to self-proclaim themselves as photographers when in actuality they shouldn’t because they haven’t studied this craft. I mean there are basic things people don’t understand about the camera that you just absolutely can’t call yourself a photographer, especially if you don’t even know how to focus it. I want people to understand that this is a craft. It takes time to get good. I’m not even there yet and I’ve been at this for six years now. Respect the craft is what I’m getting at.”
Tsikudo’s eye sees past concerts and fans as he loves to capture portraits and is infatuated with beauty shots. “I capture a lot of portraits. In fact, love beauty shoots.”
Tsikudo’s obsession with his craft is admirable.
His aesthetic developed unintentionally. The energy felt from his shots makes the viewer feel like they are right there at the stage.
“I’ve developed an aesthetic unintentionally. When I first started out getting access to shows was very difficult, so most times I was shooting from the crowd. My shots are mostly first person POV of a fan who is right in front moshing or singing their heart out. I’ve learned with time you develop an eye for certain shots and from there you begin to develop a style.”
The NYC-based photographer has a huge list of priorities he wants to check off. At the top of the list of someone, he wants to shoot, stands President Barack Obama. He sees Obama as a beacon and the “epitome of achievement.”
“To me, [Obama] is the most iconic figure of our time. Shooting President Obama is one of those things I want to show my kids in the future. I want to show them that photo and tell them about how great this man was. Obama is the epitome of achievement. I want to show my kids that anything is possible and Obama definitely signifies that.”
How will he get there? A complete rebrand of self. As he grows within his career, Tsikudo sees branding as an opportunity for an artist to showcase their identity, land gigs, and gain bigger clientele.
“My number one priority right now is rebranding myself. Branding is needed as you grow. It allows you the opportunity to showcase your identity and skill set as an artist/photographer. This, in turn, gives way to landing gigs and gaining bigger clientele.”
“Later this year I’ll be creating a portrait series again, but this time around my focus for subjects will be musicians. I believe this will get me outside my norm of shooting concerts and events, giving way to explore editorial style shooting. Creating images of high caliber that can be seen on album covers or magazine features.”
Another skill Tsikudo is looking to add to his covert and street photography expertise – editorial style shoots and cover art for music artists.
“My thing has always been more covert and street photography. As I’ve progressed with my skillset I’ve taken more interest in studio work. I want to move into the editorial style shoot, more specifically with cover art for music artists.”
For young aspiring photographers, this is definitely someone’s lane you want to follow – individualistic, social, and confident.
Tsikudo’s message for the youth dem is oh so inspirational.
“I would say if it’s where you wanna be, then don’t give up. Also, don’t compare yourself to anyone because everyone’s path is different. How one person comes up, will be different than you. I have this problem myself of comparing myself to other photographers out there and had to realize that Setor’s story and journey is Setor’s story and journey. How one person makes their Starbucks drink is totally different than someone else.”
“It’s ok to look to people for inspiration, but trying to emulate them won’t do you any good. You are good enough. With music photography, you have to look at yourself as a photographer and as a business person within the music industry. Networking is the main way to excel in the music industry. It’s not always about what you know, but it’s more than likely about who you know. Whether you’re the best photographer or the worse, your networks get you access.”
Be yourself, follow your vision, and good things will happen.