Music Photographer Spotlight: Makena Cummings

There is no denying that without sound, music just wouldn’t be the same. But if you’re only listening to music through speakers at home or in the car, you’re missing out on a good amount of what makes music such an experience. In the 90s, music videos on MTV were the de facto standard. Nowadays, while music videos are still a large part of the industry, music photography has taken off as a means of conveying what a concert experience is like for fans who cannot attend the events. Makena Cummings, a “PR professional by day and a photojournalist by night,” combined her love of music with her love of photography a few years ago, and has never looked back.

Makena’s work has been published in The Wild Honey PieResound Magazine, Garnet & Black MagazineOne One Thousand, and QRO Magazine

Born and raised in the South, but currently living in Brooklyn, Makena graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2014 with a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications. She knows first-hand that photography is an incredible way to share a moment with a large number of people. Just like music, each photograph leaves similar but different impressions on everybody who sees it. In this interview, we talk to Makena about how she got into music photography, what that entails, and how you can get involved too!

Also, every photo you see in this interview was taken by Makena! How cool is that?

Panoplay: Hi, I’m Makena and I ____________

Makena: Am a freelance music photographer.

 Milky Chance
Milky Chance

Panoplay: How/why did you get into the music industry?

Makena: Music has always been a huge part of my life. Growing up, my parents did an excellent job of exposing me to classic rock, which is where I found my roots. The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin were always playing in the car. My mom gave me her old records for me to play, and made sure I knew not only the names of bands, but albums and members of the band as well. My dad told me he would take me to any concert I wanted to go to and I held him to it. He even drove me three hours on a school night to see Matchbox 20! Music was a way to bond my family together, it still is. So it was natural that I would want to find more ways to get involved.

In college I began to explore photography and was still figuring out how I could make it work in my life. I took portraits and was photo editor of our university magazine which was a blast. After college I moved to New York and was overwhelmed at the amount of concerts constantly taking place in the city. I had met a wonderful friend who is a photojournalists and asked her how I could get involved. I then began shooting for her magazine and it just grew from there through hard work and great relationships.


Panoplay: Your website says you are a photojournalist by night. Can you explain that a bit more?

Makena: As much as I would like to hope, photojournalism is not the best full-time career. I work at an awesome PR agency during the day doing nothing music-related, but enjoy it nonetheless! It pays the bills and is a great place to learn and grow.

 Punch Brothers
Punch Brothers

Panoplay: You do lots of concert photography. What are the best and worst parts of that?

Makena: The best parts are by far getting to go to almost any show I want to — and everyone comes to NYC. I’ve had the privilege of shooting some really incredible shows that people paid a lot of money to see, and I certainly don’t take that for granted.

Worst parts I would have to say is that it’s a lot of late nights and waiting around when I may have had a long day at work. Sometimes my back hurts, I have a headache, and I just want to go home. It can also get kind of lonely. I have awesome photo friends, but we don’t always go to the same show. Many nights I’ve sat in a pizza shop by myself, reading and passing the time before the show starts. But as I’ve spent more time in the industry, I’ve made more friends and this happens less often, thank goodness!

 Sleater Kinney
Sleater Kinney

Panoplay: Is it awesome getting a photo pass for all the cool music shows? Are there any shows/festivals you haven’t shot that you want to?

Makena: It’s the best thing ever! One of my favorite parts of this job. I would love to shoot some more big festivals. Lollapalooza would be cool, Coachella, Austin City Limits, SXSW. Also the non-US ones: Reading & Leeds, Glastonbury, Primavera Sound, and Fuji Rock Fest are on my list.

Governor's Ball 2015
Governor’s Ball 2015

Panoplay: What’s been your craziest music photography experience?

Makena: Hmm…I feel like I experience pretty crazy things on a daily basis. But one of the ones that really sticks out was at Mac DeMarco this past August. There was no photo pit at this show, so I was deep into the packed crowd of people. He’s known for having crazy shows, so this is expected. When he went for his signature stage dive (a front flip into the crowd), something happened and a bunch of people fell down. It was like a big dip in the crowd, and everyone banded together to get him back up. It was insane. I left with a big bruise and it was more than worth it.

Mac DeMarco front flip

Panoplay: For people interested in getting into concert photography – how did you get started/how can they?

Makena: I would say see bands at super small venues. They usually don’t care if you have a camera. And just start shooting! It’s all trial and error.


Panoplay: Your work has been published in Resound Magazine, Garnet & Black Magazine, One One Thousand, The Wild Honey Pie, and QRO Magazine – how did those opportunities come about?

Makena: A lot of them were through friends. Resound is the magazine that got me started through a dear friend, Kristen Abigail. Garnet & Black was my school magazine. One One Thousand came about through a college class. The Wild Honey Pie is where the majority of my work is published now, the opportunity came about through a college friend. And QRO was through a fellow photographer friend. I guess a lot of publishing has to do with who you know!


Panoplay: What are your long-term goals in the music industry?

Makena: Long-term goals…hmm. I’m really not sure right now. I would love to shoot some of those big festivals mentioned earlier. Perhaps broaden my range of publications I shoot for. And maybe make a little money doing this job!

 Passion Pit
Passion Pit

Panoplay: Any final words of wisdom?

Makena: Be patient and don’t let the present discourage you or cause you to make any decisions you may regret. I truly believe in seasons of life. Sometimes things are hard and you just have to ride it out. But good things always come along at the right time. Work hard and be professional yet kind. It will get you far!