Steve Hostetler is making a name for himself as a commercial music photographer in Colorado, where he works alongside Denver’s largest radio station to capture unique moments in performance at places like Red Rocks Amphitheater, Fiddler’s Green, The Pepsi Center and the Denver Botanic Gardens.
I caught up with Steve a couple of days before his next shoot, and we talked about how he got to where he is today. Intending to get a job in radio or broadcasting, after high school Steve earned an AAS in Broadcasting and a BS in music with a business emphasis, followed by a Master’s in Informational Business. It was the early 90’s, so Steve had decided to branch into the fast-growing world of information technology. But things didn’t quite go as planned, and until 2011 he worked as a commercial insurance account manager who specialized in commercial aviation.
While working in commercial insurance paid the bills, it didn’t really satisfy Steve’s urge to create. He has always loved music and taking pictures, but he’d always either been talked out of pursuing photography as a career or been forced to sideline it due to other obligations. However, in 2012 Steve decided to take up photography full time. With no formal training or capital, but with full support of his family and friends, Steve took a leap of faith and became a full-time photographer. It’s a happy circumstance that Steve gets to blend his art with his love of music while he takes pictures of iconic artists like Cheap Trick, Garth Brooks, Robert Cray, Luke Bryan, and Eric Church.
Steve got interested in taking pictures way back in 1972. From his blog: “It started for me as a kid at about 8 years old. I can remember getting a plastic camera that took 120 roll film from Shakey’s Pizza. I took pictures of everything: the pets, the snow, my school friends. The photos were terrible in every possible way: blurry, poor composition, poor exposure. It was basically a fixed-shutter-speed, fixed-aperture camera, so you got what you got, and at that age, I had no idea.”
DeLyn: What are some other things you take pictures of?
Steve: I take pictures all the time, mostly of nature, animals, and old stuff. Anything that looks interesting. I also do senior portraits and wedding photos.
DeLyn: What are your favorite subjects to shoot?
Steve: I like working with a local ballet school; I’ve got some great shots of a father-daughter event they had a few months ago. I also liked working with Kristy Lee Cook, one of the American Idol Season 7 finalists. She knew how to work with the camera, so she made my job a lot easier. I also like to take pictures of old barns.
DeLyn: What is the most challenging thing to photograph?
Steve: Weddings. Pictures take probably twice the work to produce than they do to take, so I spend a lot more time with the shots on the computer. With portraits, or with landscape shots, I can take my time and manipulate the exposure while I’m shooting, or use software to alter the properties of the shot in post-production. But with weddings, it’s all about getting the right angle, capturing special moments, and doing it right the first time. There’s only one first kiss, one walk down the aisle, one father-bride dance. If I miss the opportunities, I miss the shots, and I can’t make them up.
DeLyn: What do you like about taking pictures of musicians?
Steve: I love music photography. It’s not structured, so I can go with the flow. I like the freedom of deciding in the moment what will make the artist look best. I liked shooting Bruce Hornsby because he played some really long songs, which allowed me to take my time to get the shots just right.
See Steve’s work on the Bruce Hornsby concert here.
DeLyn: What’s the best piece you’ve done?
Steve: The Japanese maple. I shot it in HDR. I took three shots: one under-exposed, one over-exposed, and one perfect. Then I combined them using software, which really brings out the high- and low-lights, giving a wider dynamic result. This process adds a lot of drama to a piece.
DeLyn: Who are your influences?
Steve: Peter Lik is good. I don’t know, I see what I see. I’m always on the lookout for something interesting to take pictures of. I look at things with an eye toward, “Would that make a good picture?”
Steve and I discussed the idea of how artists get paid for their work, and came to the conclusion that the idea of displaying one’s work and hoping someone wants to buy a print is pretty standard, but it’s not the ideal way to make a living. He can take a shot and produce it, price it, and post it, but it may be awhile until the print gets purchased. Steve knew from the outset that photography doesn’t traditionally have a steady income, so finances can be rough at times, but he’s very optimistic. “As long as people need quality portraits and special photography, I’ll be there.”
It would be nice for those who appreciate the art to be able to look at someone’s prints and contribute toward his/her artistic vision without the obligation to buy as the only option for support. Although crowdsourcing has become a popular way for artists to raise money for specific projects, it’s not very good for generating a stable income. Perhaps with organizations like Patreon and other similar websites, people will find it an easier exchange; artists like Steve can continue doing what they love and sharing their work with others who love it too.
See more of Steve’s work and order prints here.