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Self-taught photographer Casey McPerry tells us how he turned his Instagram into a career

January 09 2017, 10:30 AM EST By Griffin Elliot


[Photo by Adam Elmakias, provided by Casey McPerry]

Casey McPerry has a dream job. When we caught up with him, he was fresh off a trip to Mexico, where a hotel brought him out to Instagram his stay at their opening... Yeah. How does one get paid to Instagram? We were immediately determined to find out.

A self-made man, McPerry started out on the beaches of Southern California capturing his friends skating and surfing. Now he tours with Machine Gun Kelly, Of Mice & Men and other huge acts, all while keeping his Instagram an evolving collage of places you’d love to visit and people you’d want to hang out with.

We spoke to him about the path he took turning his adventurous lifestyle into a paying gig.

How did you get into what you’re doing now? Did you go to school at all?
Yeah, I went to the school of YouTube and Google. I pretty much taught myself. I always had a camera in my life growing up. Coming from Southern California, everyone is skateboarding or surfing, and the only way for us to document was through photos. And then my friends got really good at these sports and they got sponsors, which then led me to start traveling around the world. While I started traveling, I started meeting musicians. From there, I got on the road and started taking my photography to the music industry. It all started in action sports, which a lot of music people like. They like to skateboard or ride motorcycles or surf, so it was an easy crossover for me. I bring a different look to the music world because I come from a different industry, so I don’t shoot traditionally like basic photographers.

And you fell into the art direction from there?
Since Instagram and social media are a big influence with the fans of the artists, you need to always think of a creative way to interact with them. Instagram is the perfect example to have a little more creativity in your work. I started playing around, thinking of how I could incorporate all these photos without over-flooding Instagram. I started collaging them all together and making this abstract collage. It reminds me of back in the day when people would cut out pictures in magazines and put them on the wall—it’s just a modern-day perspective of that. When I was on tour with all these artists, the fans would always direct message me and be like, “Can you post more? I want to see all these photos,” but I didn’t want to post 20 photos every day on Instagram. So to take four or five photos and tie them all together uniquely, I feel is more impactful than just flooding it—that’s how I came up with that concept.

Where do you see yourself going with this current direction?
It’s hard to say exactly, because it’s an ongoing adventure of my life, my Instagram. I just incorporate everything because, in theory,  I don’t know where I’m going with this. I know that’s not a good answer, but I’m having fun with it and I’m enjoying the ride. I remember when I was in high school, I pretended to work for Alternative Press and snuck into a concert. It was for Of Mice & Men in 2006 or 2007. Now, being able to go on tour with them, it’s kind of a full circle effect. I know AP doesn’t like to promote that, but it’s a fun job, and it’s cool to say that. (You’re welcome, Casey. You owe me sushi. —ed.) Now I’m getting more work for social media than photography, which is a little weird to say.

Social media is a huge aspect of what you do, as well as for any band or big brand these days. How has social media changed photography and videography?
Dealing with music artists, you forget how big their reach of people are. When they post a photo tagging you, so many other brands that you would never expect to see your work are now seeing you work, then those brands reach out to you. It’s making me shoot more in a retail aspect. You’re always trying to sell something in photography, or capture a moment. This moment—maybe you got to capture the instrument in a certain light, or a microphone. It’s all product placement, in a way, and if you can do it organically and they don’t know you’re promoting something, then that’s the perfect photo.

I’m also always trying to look for that iconic photo that when people look back in music they’re like, “Oh shit, he took that photo?” I look at all the old Jimi Hendrix shots on film, with the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, and I want to try and capture something like that with one of these artists. That’s always a game focus of mine when I’m shooting.

Trying to leave a legacy. What do you love about going on the road? Why did you make the leap from athletes to musicians?
Machine Gun Kelly has definitely been my main friend and artist I work with closely. Long story short, it all started because Ryan Sheckler, who’s a professional athlete skateboarder, invited me to a Machine Gun Kelly concert about six years ago. I met the Kells and from there we became friends. Then one day Kells is like, “Hey dude, we’re going on tour with Limp Bizkit. If you’re available, do you wanna come with?” At that point, I had never gone on the road, and I didn’t know what to expect. I went into it with an open mind and man, do I have stories to tell. [Laughs.] It was something new that I wanted to experience, and it was a great opportunity to venture into music.

What would you have to say to an aspiring photographer, videographer or art director? What sort of advice would you give?
The best way to be a photographer is just to go out and take photos. It doesn’t matter what the equipment is, because everything can take a great photo now. The best way to get involved in the industry is by going to an event and taking photos, making yourself presentable, being friendly to people and eventually people will notice. Surround yourself with people and things you want to do and the work will come. Lastly, you have to at least have good work. You need to be able to take a good photo or video, but that comes from practicing and shooting. That’s my main advice: Have fun and get out there and shoot and document, because you never know what happens. ALT

Keep an eye out for McPerry creepin’ around the peripheries at your next concert, but for the meantime see what it’s like to be “Inside the Photo Pit” with him at ADTR or MGK

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