A self-proclaimed “late bloomer” into the world of photography, Chelsea Kornse may’ve gotten her first camera only some time ago as a high school graduation present – but she learned sooner than later that snapping shots was her calling. Now 23, she says moving to Athens, GA and taking pictures at local shows opened her up to an addiction to music photography and today she’s lucky enough to work as a tour photographer.
Kornse believes photography “is all about telling a story without words.” Which is why you can see something more when you look at her shots. Working in a calm chaos, she notes of her style, “There is a lot more preparation for shoots because I have to make sure I tell it right, and I make lists on top of lists. If you ever see my shot lists and notes for all my different shoots, you would probably think I’m crazy because they’re always a jumbled mess of my thoughts.” Along with how she makes her pictures storytellers, she opened up about mantras, selfies and more in the latest chapter in the Women in Music series.
Kendra: You have this mantra, “Don’t just take pictures of music, make music with your pictures.” When did you first started to apply that to your craft?
Chelsea: Ah, yes. This quote completely changed everything about how I look at shows. I was reading an interview from a favorite photographer, and that was a quote she used in the interview, and ever since then it just stuck. I remember the first show where I went in with that mindset, and I captured some of my favorite shots, and eventually started working with the band from that night (Family and Friends) as their official photographer.
Kendra: Some think anyone can just pick up a camera, take a picture and done. Thoughts on those who think it’s that easy?
Chelsea: “All you have to do is press a button,” said a friend who didn’t quite understand one night so I handed them my camera as a dare for them to try. Since I shoot in manual, and lighting and movement is always changing during shows, he apologized and hopefully had a bit more respect for what I do. Yes, I do have to push a button, but there’s also knowing every part of my camera like the back of my hand so my settings are always right, then the hours of editing, and then there’s also the sheer will you have to possess to make a career in photography work. It’s difficult because you’re having to be vulnerable with the entire world. My work is a part of me, and with that, there’s always a bit of hesitation to release it because you never know how others are going to take it, but like I said earlier, you just have to go for it.
Kendra: What kind of photographs evoke the most from you?
Chelsea: The ones that possess movement and emotion. One of my favorite photographers, Joshua Halling, has this photo of a singer right as he goes into the crowd, and everyone is pulling at him and he’s still singing. There’s just so much movement and emotion that I feel like I’m there right in the middle of things. The photo is nothing but chaos, but so beautiful because it releases so much excitement when you look at it.
Kendra: What I noticed most about your concert shots were that they were all so vibrant, so it made me assume you were a lively person as well. Do you think you can tell a photographer’s personality from the pictures they take?
Chelsea: Thank you so much! That’s such a huge compliment that you can see a bit of me in my photos. And yes, I think a bit of every creator’s personality flows into their work, willing or not. Or at least I would like to think so because that’s always been a goal of mine since I began because including your personality into whatever you create adds that extra spark of life.
Chelsea: I think in a sense they are an evolution of photography; they’re such a huge part of today’s society. I don’t consider selfies as a form of art, but I think they do provide non-photographers with a sense of appreciation for the more professional photography. I think they show others that photography is not just the snapping of a button and boom you have a great photo. There is the search for lighting, background, and that great angle that will make the subject look good in their selfie.
Kendra: Okay so we’ve all taken great selfies and horrendous ones, and we all have those more than embarrassing pictures of ourselves in our parents’ homes BUT as a photographer, do you have any shots you’ve taken that are like, “Oh my god, I never want that to see the day of light?”
Chelsea: YES. Gosh, there are a few popping up in my mind and I cringe just thinking about them. But I think all photographers have those horrible photos, especially at the beginning of their career, because we all have to start somewhere, and like anything else, it takes time and effort to get where we want to be. For me, it was like I knew I had a good eye and I knew I saw things differently than my friends, but I just couldn’t get that to correlate over to my images. I think it literally took 20,000 photos of me trying things out before I finally was like, “Yeah, this is good. This is what I was aiming for.” There’s a great video called “The Gap” by Ira Glass, and I recommend everyone watch it. It’s seriously so inspiring plus so beautiful and well-made. It’s wonderful.
Kendra: What is the one piece of advice you have for those starting out to get their presence known in the photography realm?
Chelsea: Figure out the story you want to tell and tell it. Forget any fears you may have and what anyone else says or thinks. This career is one a lot of people don’t understand, and you’ll probably get a lot of criticism for it (I definitely have), but if it’s something you’re really passionate about, forget about them. Tell your story and make it stand out. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
Kendra: Going with to the idea of photoshoots, if you had to make a mixtape to play while you did one for your favorite camera – first, what is the camera, and second, what five songs would have to be on it?
Chelsea: My favorite camera is the one I have now, a Canon 6D; I understand that there are probably way better cameras out there, but this one will always be my favorite because it’s been the camera where a bunch of firsts happened: first album cover, first festival, first tour, etc. etc. And the five songs that would be on the playlist would have to be from some of my favorite shows that I’ve been able to shoot so I could relive the memories. Warning: this playlist is about to get random.