I first met Zoe Rain at a pre-Lollapalooza rooftop party in 2014. In Chicago for the weekend from Seattle, the talented photographer became someone whose career I’ve followed since.
Involving herself in a wide variety of photography, Rain’s impressive development in the last few years has seen her travel the globe and become a well-known name for various brands, artists and musicians. To get an idea of what it’s like to try and establish a career in a market like America, Zoe tells me some of her story.
“Growing up, I had always had an interest in visual mediums of art,” Rain says of her initial exposure. “I was always doodling in my notebooks, using art programs on the computer to play with textures, colours, shades and shapes. It wasn’t until high school that I really took a focused attempt at photography. After meeting my mentor Jason Koenig in high school, he offered me a job sorting wedding photos. For three years, I assisted him on shoots and gathered the knowledge I needed to slowly begin my own personal brand and business model.”
As many creatives are likely to tell you, when developing a career path in the arts, a formal qualification isn’t entirely essential. For Zoe, although she was studying at Seattle’s Central Creative Academy, her work outside the classroom proved to be far more of an education for what she now does as a job.
“I dropped out the summer after my first year, because I had been offered the job of going on Macklemore’s World Tour. Ultimately, it would have been nice to finish up my schooling, but it definitely wasn’t necessary for the specific opportunities I have already been exposed to. I learned a lot of basic knowledge about lighting, composition, studio and Photoshop work, which absolutely transformed my work and self confidence as a young professional in this ever evolving business.”
Before she was 21, Rain was touring the world with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis as their full-time tour photographer and was working as a videographer for the hip-hop act as well. As one of the global break out acts of that year, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis saw their audiences and stages grow bigger and bigger, while Zoe was given the golden opportunity to truly test her talents on a global level.
“I was so blessed to be in the right place in the right time with those guys. They were just coming up in Seattle and I happened to be working closely with the shooters (primarily Jkoe Photography, my mentor), who were documenting their process. The entire experience of tour was totally life changing. It was hands down the most exhausting and physically taxing three months of my entire life, but also the most rewarding work.”
“I have never felt more in my element, and it is good to know that I have put countless hours into the specific craft of live show/documentary photography. I learned a lot about not only photography, but also about the music industry and touring in general. I have a much greater respect for artists who spend huge chunks of their lives on the road in tour buses. It is not a glamorous job at all; it takes so much manpower to put together shows like that.”
In an age where retweets, regrams and favourites can make writers, photographers and other creatives, having the backing of someone with the following Smith has is no bad thing. It’s never easy though, as she notes.
“It was thrilling to have Sam Smith repost my images!” Rain enthuses, referring to the UK singer’s praise for her work in 2015. “Although that would have never happened if I hadn’t strategically figured out the best way to contact him, produced quality images, and delivered them right after the show.”
“I have used my connections I made on tour to network with a larger pool of artists, and I will use those connections to strategically place my work where as many people see it as possible. Most times, I send images to artists and I never hear back. More often then not, I can at least get another photo pass when they come through my area again. It’s all about the hustle and putting in the work knowing it may never amount to any positive steps aside from practice.”
Speaking of massive touring artists, who rates highly on Zoe’s dream list of musicians to photograph?
“My dream artist to shoot on tour with has got to be Miley Cyrus,” she says. “I have always been obsessed with her over the top sets and flamboyant costumes, or possibly Taylor Swift – I mean come on, even if you aren’t a fan, you have to admit, she is the princess in the music industry right now!”
Though music photography is a medium she is well-versed in, Rain comments on what she enjoys most about shooting different subjects and how great a connection between photographer and subject can be.
“I just love creating, whether is be a moment frozen into one single image, or a set of images played out through video.” she says. “As long as I am shooting something aesthetically pleasing, having a good connection with my subject, working hard and happy with the final product, I thrive. I would say music photography is actually one of my less enjoyed subjects to shoot, because there is a really a lack of connection that you get when you are shooting one-on-one with a subject who is making eye contact.”
With her work being featured by the likes of Rolling Stone, The New York Times and Billboard, as well as Nike and even The Grammys, it seems fair to say that opportunities do exist for photographers to flourish in the US, once such media outlets take a shot with them. Perhaps not surprisingly, the industry – as with most of the major markets – is still about the hustle and jumping on those opportunities at the right time.
“I think it is extremely difficult these days for any photographer to be able to have their images featured in these types of media outlets, and nearly impossible for them to get paid doing so! I was super lucky to be one of the only people shooting Macklemore at a time when his image was sought out by those larger publications. Right time, right place.”
“After tour, there was a very extreme decline in those types of opportunities or jobs being on the table. The industry in so saturated with free imagery these days and if people are paying, it is through Getty Images, or larger ad agency shooters.”
Now based in Chicago, the Seattle native is expanding her portfolio and exploring the opportunities the Windy City has to offer. On her new digs, Rain describes the vibe of Chicago and why she decided to make the move mid-west, as opposed to making the jump to New York or LA.
“While on tour in 2012, I was exposed to quite a plethora of US and European cities,” Rain explains. “Chicago always stuck out strongly to me, and I also met some friends who now make up my social circle here. When I turned 21, I realised Seattle was too small for the aspirations and work style I had in mind, so Chicago became an easy place to escape to.”
“This city has everything a photographer could ever want; a huge metropolis city with a New York feel, a huge white sand beach that mimics LA weather in the summer, a thriving art and fashion scene, as well as a large network of people willing to help out other artists and professionals.”
To find out more about Zoe’s work visit zoerainphotography.com.
All images by Zoe Rain.
Cover image by Jonathan Gipaya Photography.