How a DePaul student built his concert photography business
Jim Slife is always conscious of the fans behind him — but he needs the shot. He is standing between the artist and their number one fans, a Canon T6i camera poised for the picture that will be reposted all over Instagram the next day.
Slife is a 20-year-old student at DePaul University, studying communications and media with minors in film production and music business. Outside of school, Slife has three jobs, enjoys hanging out with friends and snaps photos of some of the most popular music artists of the year.
“Photography is my ‘hobby job,’” says Slife. “It pays, and it’s also fun.”
Over the last year, he’s shot over 15 shows, with notable artists like Clairo and Lizzy McAlpine reposting his shots on Instagram.
One photo of Lizzy McAlpine is taken from below. It’s a waist-up shot, and she is bathed in a yellow wash from behind. Slife’s photo is so crisp and detailed that it captures the hair on her arms and the details of her in-ear monitor.
In a photo of Clairo, Slife captures the artist mid-song with a guitar in her hands. Her head is tilted back, a half-smile on her face and an orange light illuminating the right side of her body.
“I like stuff that is a bit more soft and has a glowy type-of-feel,” Slife said. “I don’t think of my style as the best style, it’s just mine.”
Slife has been professionally photographing concerts since he was 19.
“The first show that I ever shot, technically, I snuck my camera into a Conan Gray concert,” Slife said. “That was the one thing I did pre-COVID, and I just kind of did it for fun.”
After the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, Slife realized he wanted to pursue his passion for photography in college. He just didn’t know where to start.
“For a while, I was like, ‘I’m confused on how I do this as a young person,’” Slife said. “I thought I would only be able to do this post-grad.”
Slife decided the only way to begin was to take risks. He started reaching out to small venues in Chicago, asking them if they would be able to get him a press pass. He shot a couple of shows at Schuba’s Tavern and made his portfolio in one week.
“I then reached out to Japanese Breakfast’s press team, and they got me a press pass for their show,” Slife said.
Within weeks, Slife built a sizable portfolio of live concert photography. Using a 24-70 mm lens, Slife has built a brand, his photos focusing on the intersection of light and color.
“His photos are extremely unique and the [perspective] he shoots photography through is unlike other photographers I’ve met,” says Rebecca Rhodes, a friend and colleague of Slife.
Rhodes says she admires Slife’s passion and work ethic.
“I try to always go in there with a plan, and then try to not stick too closely to that plan if things change,” Slife said. “I get a photo pass, shoot the first three songs in front of the barricade, and then I edit and publish the photos with the publication I’m with.”
Slife also recognizes the potential for photographers to block fans. “With fans, I really try to be super considerate, because I have been in the position where I have been a short fan behind a tall person,” Slife said. “I stay low and duck when I walk in front of people. I never want to be in the way.”
Slife is now the creative director of Blue House Magazine, which covers the music scene in Chicago. His credentials and portfolio have opened doors for him.
“Sometimes an artist will pay me to join their team for a day, and I’ll shoot content for them,” Slife said.
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Slife believes he’s barely scratched the surface of concert photography for himself.
He views his work now as the building blocks to his future career. “It’s a way for me to get into general music photography and the creative producing side of music and entertainment, as well,” Slife said.
“He is involved in the music world, photography world, film world, and so much more,” Rhodes said. “I think the students at DePaul can definitely learn from Jim.”
For Slife, it’s only up from here. “I’ve been able to achieve a goal of being a concert photographer, but it’s also shown me that there are so many other things that I want to do to expand my vision.”
Header Illustration by Magda Wilhelm