Adam Kennedy unexpectedly became a globetrotter during the pandemic.
The Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K. music photojournalist ventured to Finland, the U.S., Australia, Russia, Israel, Italy, Japan and other far-flung locations to shoot established and emerging artists – all from the comfort of his own home.
In fact, Kennedy’s international photographic jaunts have occurred online as part of a successful virtual photo shoot project he launched in April 2020. To date, he’s conducted more than 570 virtual photo shoots with rock, metal, jazz and blues artists over Facebook, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime and other online platforms.
“It’s just to create a feel of coming together online and being in the moment. After an hour, you usually have something cool. Every session has been completely different, and every artist brings something different to the table,” he said.
“Every environment is different because I’m not working in a studio. I’m predominantly working out of someone’s home, or a person takes me out on location. I’ve been in Los Angeles on the strip, in Sochi overlooking the Black Sea, in Jerusalem at a park and in Victoria near the Great Ocean Road.”
Kennedy’s virtual global travels originated in Helsinki with Erja Lyytinen, a blues singer-songwriter and guitarist, during the early days of the pandemic lockdown. He contacted Lyytinen after coming up with the idea of doing virtual photo shoots during a sleepless night at home.
“We were both feeling creatively frustrated, and during a conversation with her I said, ‘You’ll never guess what I was thinking about last night,’ and she said, ‘What’s that?’ And I said, ‘Doing virtual photo sessions,’ and she didn’t even question it. She said, ‘Adam, When are we doing it?’” said Kennedy, who’s photographed Lyytinen in the past.
“It took about a week from that conversation to get together with Erja. I had a distinct vision of how I wanted the shoot to look – something really moody and dramatic to reflect the times. She had a different idea and wanted to capture what a normal day in her life was like.”
Lyytinen suggested a “blues mom” session with shots by the window and in the kitchen with her two children while holding a frying pan and a Fender Stratocaster. Kennedy conducted his first official virtual photo shoot with Lyytinen using Facebook video messenger.
That initial tool encouraged Kennedy to experiment with other photographic options, including using screen grabs and shooting the screen with an SLR. By shooting virtually, Kennedy decided to abandon all preconceived in-person photographic notions of having crisp, clean and sharp images.
“I had to say, ‘Look, this is going to be lo-fi, soft and grainy. It’s not going to be what you’re used to, but the reality is all I’m trying to do is capture this moment in time,’” Kennedy said.
Kennedy harkened his virtual photos back to grainy film images of Jim Marshall during the 1960s. Those Marshall images inspired Kennedy and captured the beauty of the moment at that point in history.
“People really resonated with that when they saw the images. They weren’t judging it by ‘Oh Adam, that shot is not sharp enough.’ I used a variety of techniques over the past year and discovered FaceTime worked because it has a built-in facility that allows you to capture an image during a call,” he said.
Using the Right Gear
Kennedy intently studied his new virtual photographic “gear,” including smartphone back cameras, to determine the optimal settings and equipment for shoots.
“Most people don’t realize the back camera on a smartphone is usually twice the resolution of the front camera. Different places around the world lean toward different types of phones, and in some parts of the world, they don’t switch their phones out as often,” Kennedy said.
“The closer you are to the subject, the sharper the image. Phone cameras are difficult it you want to do nice, wide compositions. I always try to keep the subject closer to the camera to get a sharper image.”
Other photo shoot challenges include finding the right lighting and identifying a minimalist backdrop in an artist’s home. Instead, it’s a matter of working with natural light from a window and asking an artist to temporarily remove paintings, instruments and other objects in a room.
“I’ve become used to using window light now, and I’ll take them in that direction. It changes the dynamic of the shot, especially with phone photography because phone cameras don’t do well in low light,” he said.
“I’ve also got a reputation now for rearranging people’s houses, and you have to be quite ballsy because you can’t be soft and sit back and say, ‘Hey, we’ll just work where you are,’ because the composition is going to be rubbish. You have to make it look good.”
Achieving 365 Virtual Photo Shoots
By December 2020, Kennedy had conducted about 345 virtual photo shoots and realized he was 20 shoots away from his project goal of 365 shoots. At the time, he published a fateful post on Facebook asking artists to help him reach that goal by year’s end.
Kennedy received an overwhelming response from artists and scheduled another 30 shoots from Dec. 30 to Dec. 31. Before the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, he surpassed his goal and reached 375 total photo shoots.
“I shot in Galilee, Israel, and all over the U.K. and the States. I just kinda followed the sun for 24 hours, and I finished up in London at about 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. I only stopped because my wife came upstairs and said, ‘Are we actually going to even see each other on New Year’s Eve?’” he said.
Kennedy regularly follows the sun while shooting artists across continents, countries and time zones. One day, he’s photographing intimate live gigs with jazz musicians in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Russia while the next day he’s capturing images of metal fusion bands in Osaka, Japan and a cappella groups in Venice, Italy.
In a sense, each virtual photo shoot feels like a growing musical family tree for Kennedy. He can easily trace the origins of one shoot to the next artistically and geographically.
“I got adopted by this jazz scene in Russia and ended up doing a few shows out there. I got to do this jazz quartet at a little jazz club in Moscow. The beauty of this thing is that I can just get a message with somebody saying, ‘Do you want to do a shoot?’ And I can shoot them within five minutes from that point; we can just connect online,” he said.
Capturing the Best Images
Kennedy’s virtual photo shoots run 60 minutes to 90 minutes per session and include ample time for breaking the ice with artists across the globe. Establishing a connection upfront allows Kennedy and the artists to create and capture the best possible images.
Those images typically feature artists in their performance attire holding instruments while highlighting the emotions they’re feeling in the moment. Each image beautifully illustrates a distinct virtual experience with a different artist.
“Most of my shoots are very organic. I’m trying to capture the feeling of an artist wanting to return to the stage. An artist is looking away from the camera almost fully gazing out the window,” said Kennedy, whose photos have been featured in a growing number of music publications.
“The vibe I give an artist is ‘all dressed up and no place to go.’ They’re sitting there in their stage clothes and they’ve got their instrument, but they’re in their living room and not backstage at a venue.”
After conducting virtual photo shoots for over 16 months, Kennedy never imagined they’d become so successful. What started as a quarantine project has blossomed into a new field of niche music photography for Kennedy.
“Everywhere has had some kind of crazy new story, and I feel like I’ve been there. I could have never anticipated that it would go on this long. It was just a simple experiment to keep creative,” he said.
Becoming a Music Photojournalist
Kennedy got creative with music photography at age 13. He used a 35mm camera to take live shots of artists at concerts in his teens and later pursued photography in college. At the time, Kennedy took his images into a darkroom, blew them up and made prints out of them.
Music photography continued as a passion for Kennedy, but his career as a photojournalist didn’t start until about a decade ago. He snuck cameras into venues until Vintage Trouble, a Los Angeles rhythm and blues quartet, started performing in the U.K. in 2011.
“When Vintage Trouble first came to the U.K., they were not well-known, but they got their break on Jools Holland. Within a few weeks of that appearance, I got to see them perform here at a local festival, and I connected with them there. We became friends, and they allowed me to shoot their shows,” said Kennedy, who’s also the official photographer at the Newcastle Rock and Blues Club.
Kennedy continued to photograph Vintage Trouble during their U.K. tours with The Who, The Rolling Stones and other bands. His Vintage Trouble images (and later photos of other musical acts) found their way into music publications, including Blues Matters Magazine, National Rock Review, Emerging Rock Bands and HRH Magazine.
Today, Kennedy interviews artists (including Ace Frehley, Billy Gibbons, Steve Lukather and Walter Egan among others) and writes articles for an increasing number of online and print music publications. He recently started hosting “The Crossroads with Adam Kennedy,” a late night online blues radio show every Sunday and Wednesday through Hard Rock Hell Radio.
With a growing music photojournalism career, Kennedy plans to continue conducting in-person and virtual photo shoots nationally and internationally. He may release a photo book or create an exhibition of his virtual photography spotlighting blues artists in the near future.
“The initial purpose of the virtual photo shoot project was to just capture that period. I’m not putting an end date on it because as long as there’s still some interest I’ll continue to do it. I will always continue to explore that idea, and it gives me a chance to work with artists from all around the world,” Kennedy said.