A Picture of Success-Ashley Osborn
By: Taylor Ostrick
In 2009, Ashley Osborn was just a 17-year old who loved music and was beginning to nurture a genuine passion for photography. That year, one fateful encounter with a photographer at a concert she was attending would inspire her, and set on her own path to success in the photography industry.
“In 2009 I met a photographer at Paramore who was in the photo pit and I chatted with him about his life,” Osborn said. “From then on, I was determined to do that. I saved up my graduation money and bought a little Canon Rebel XS in early 2010.”
That day would be only the beginning for Osborn. Her career has progressed rapidly since then, and in just six years she has grown into one of the most successful and well known music photographers in the alternative rock genre. Her hard work and determination to reach her goals as professional would eventually guide her to the top.
At just 23-years of age, Osborn has toured with some of the country’s most well know alternative rock bands, including Pierce the Veil, Chiodos, Emarosa, Issues and PVRIS. She has been featured in AP magazine, one of the premier printed publication in alternative rock, and has founded her own online magazine called Highlight, which focuses on music photography and reviews. Despite the success she has found, Osborn’s dreams began modestly.
“I was always going to shows and bringing point and shoot cameras (from 2005-2009) and getting pictures was honestly all I cared about,” she explained. “It wasn’t only music; it was a lot of different things. People, places, events. I’ve probably photographed pretty much everything you can possibly think of at least one time. I even had a little Flickr “portfolio” of my point and shoot photos because I was really proud of them.”
Even predating her photography days, Osborn knew from a young age that she always wanted music to be a part of her life. She started small, being sure to get involved with music in her community at a local level.
“I always wanted to be involved in music,” she said. “I was very involved with the local music scene. I helped manage artists, did [merchandise] and promoted at almost every show.”
After high school, not long after her encounter with the professional photographer at the Paramore concert, Osborne moved to Chicago to attend Columbia College Chicago. Here, she majored in Marketing Communications with a focus on Public Relations.
“I never took a photography class there,” she admits. “I really just taught myself.”
Osborn expresses similar sentiments about how about getting the hang of the technological aspects of using professional camera and editing equipment.
“I just practiced,” Osborn said when prompted about learning to use often complex professional cameras. “It was easy; you just have to find your own style and practice.”
Despite being a quick learner, Osborn’s career as a professional photographer did not start out glamorously. For a long time, she worked for free, juggling her passion with her full time job. Her only reward for the former was experience and opportunities to progress in the future.
“I didn’t make a cent off my work for years, and I think it made me the person that I am,” she said. “I invested everything I had in photography, and I started from the ground up. I’ve only been completely freelance for a little under a year, and it’s made me appreciate every opportunity I get now. I was working full time at Starbucks from 4:00 am to 1:00 pm, taking naps and then shooting [photo] all night about five days out of every week.”
“I grew up during those years,” Osborn continued. “I turned into a profession and learned a lot of lessons about the business, most of them in the worst ways. I wouldn’t change any of that.”
After three years of finding her footing in the industry, Osborn landed her first job as a tour photographer with GOLDHOUSE, an electro-pop musician from Chicago.
“GOLDHOUSE was the first artist that gave me a chance to tour because I had worked with him beforehand,” she said. “He took me out for a week in early 2013. It took me three years of working my butt off to get a shot at touring and documenting.”
Osborne’s sacrifices and the connections she forged while she climbed her way through the rankings continued to pay off when PVRIS, an up-and-coming alternative rock band invited her to tour with them. Not only was this another step in the right direction, but it also marked another milestone for Osborn–her first full length tour with a band as a professional photographer.
“PVRIS took my out on my first full U.S. tour in October 2013, because I had known them for a few years, and I also did merchandise for them,” she explained. “All of this was [still] investment though. I didn’t make money, I actually lost money.”
During these first touring experiences, Osborn continued to learn even more about what it takes to succeed as a professional photographer in the music industry, in addition to the approach and mindset she would need to advance in touring. The most important knowledge she came to value was the significance of networking. Building relationships and trust between herself and the artists that she works with is crucial to both maintaining a job as a photographer in music, and facilitating career advancement in the industry.
“You need to build connections with artists,” Osborn stressed. “Value those connections and build a foundation. It doesn’t happen with the snap of a finger. I still struggle with this and finding new opportunities. These things are literally all that matter. Nothing is more important than those connections.”
Osborn took her newfound knowledge on the road again in 2013, when she was invited to shoot a stint of Warped Tour with the heavy rock band Chiodos, by far her most high profile assignment to date. She had met Craig, the band’s lead vocalist back in 2012 while working with an online publication where they did a photo-shoot together. Warped Tour is a well-known and unabashedly chaotic rock festival that runs each summer, traveling to over 40 locations around the country and featuring over 150 of the most popular bands in the genre. She fondly recalled this experience as one of her most special moments as a professional photographer.
“In 2013 I did a few dates of Warped Tour with Chiodos,” she said. “One of the dates was in Minnesota. I grew up there and had gone to Warped Tour there for years. It was my first Warped Tour back in Minnesota in three years, so being home for that show, photographing on the main stage was very surreal for me.”
Osborne set out on tour again with PVRIS in the beginning of 2014, before landing a paying gig with Chiodos, once again capitalizing on the connections and relationships she had forged while working her way up.
“I went out with PVRIS again in 2014,” she said. “Then after that I got hired by Chiodos.”
Osborn would then go on to tour with a band called Emarosa, whom she met while touring with Chiodos.
“The Emarosa guys are some of the most genuine and creative I’ve ever met,” she said. “I don’t know any artists that I work better with. Their album Versus (2014) is one of my all-time favorites. I was really excited to hang out and do what I love simply for fun. The end result of this run contained my favorite images that I’ve ever produced.”
Osborn would once again join Chiodos, a band she had grown comfortable working over the course of several years, on another tour, before deciding to work freelance for Warped Tour during the summer of 2014. Here, she continued to hone her skills behind the lens, and forge relationships with important people in the industry.
“[That] year I did five weeks freelance for Warped Tour and it was one of the best experiences of my life hands down,” she explained excitedly. “Warped Tour truly is summer camp. It’s eye candy for a photographer, because everywhere you look there’s a photo-op.”
One thing that her life as a professional photographer has taught Osborn is that the travel involved can be both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time, though this is one of the things that she enjoys most about touring.
“That’s why I love tour so much,” she said. “It is completely exhausting mentally and physically. It really takes a toll on you. It’s constantly documenting people in new environments, and the overall experience that each individual, crew member and fan has.”
When asked about her favorite place to travel, Osborn answered without hesitation: “My favorite place in the world is the Pacific Northwest.”
With extensive travel demands, and a hectic schedule, it is important to nail down a somewhat consistent and organized routine for each show-day on tour. For a coffee lover like Osborn, one the most vital aspects to her routine is discovering a place where she can get a quality cup before starting her work for the day.
“On tour, I wake up, find an “office space” a.k.a. a place to set up all of my equipment,” she explained. “Then I go find coffee anywhere I possibly can, typically it’s local, then I start shooting. Usually I’ll shoot around before the show starts before editing and uploading those. That way I only have half of the work to do at the end of the night and can turn over the photos from the set much quicker.”
In the fall of 2014, Osborn continued to make headway touring when she was asked to join the band ISSUES on what would be their first headlining tour together. They were a band she was already familiar with after having photographed them extensively on Warped Tour during the previous summer.
“I had been a fan of photographing ISSUES up until Warped Tour when I finally worked face to face with the guys and clicked with them instantly,” she said. They were all so unique and their music is so catchy. After five long weeks on Warped Tour photographing them nearly daily, I was asked to come out on their first headlining tour.”
‘It was a pretty big deal for them to have content since it was their first time headlining. I was more than willing to bust my butt to make sure that happened, and was so excited I was asked to be a part of their team. I flew out to Atlanta on October 25th. We had a week of rehearsals and pre-production before the tour began in Atlanta on the 3st. The tour went until December 13th, and it was the longest run I’ve ever done. I was exhausted, but it was so worth it.”
Osborne had quickly gained a reputation as one of the most talented photographers within the alternative rock genre. She is special as a photographer because her professionalism, and the emotion she is able to capture through her images. Whether she’s shooting action shots of a band on stage, stills, candid shots, or portraits, Osborn has a genuine knack for snapping the perfect shot. She effortlessly captures the aesthetic and artistic spirit of each band in her images, while creating a completely unique visual documentary of their journeys. One doesn’t have to be a fan of the music to appreciate the artistry and depth within Osborn’s photos.
“You can’t forget to appreciate the actual aspect of art during it all,” she said. “It really is, at least to me, about documenting performances and capturing emotions.”
Osborn is also unique as a woman professional photographer in the alternative rock genre. It’s a job often dominated by men, within a style of music also largely dominated by male artists and performers.
“Definitely, but there is no need to discuss these [instances],” she responded when asked if she has ever had any experiences where she had been made to feel uncomfortable, or was treated differently because of her gender. “But that is how you weed out the professionals in the industry. Any band or artist that is professional isn’t going to care about my gender. They care about my work and my work ethic.”
So far the talent and work ethic have undoubtedly won out. Osborn continued to reach new heights as a music photographer when she was asked to join PVRIS on their World Tour, which opened at the end of January of 2015 and ended in early February of the same year. PVRIS, who were considered to be among the most talented and exciting newcomers in the alternative rock were rapidly gaining popularity as a band. They opened the tour for two titans in the genre, Pierce the Veil and Sleeping With Sirens.
“I’d done two previous tours with PVRIS, and it had been nearly a year since our last one together,” she said. “When I was asked to come out on the World Tour with them I was beyond excited. Their new album White Noise is one of the best, if not the best album that came out in 2014. I was excited to photograph their style again.”
“I’ll never forget seeing PVRIS play in front of nearly 5,000 people. That was such a great experience. They killed it on the tour and I am so happy to have been a part of their career because it is about to take off. This band is about to dominate the world.”
Despite beginning the World Tour with PVRIS, Osborn landed her biggest gig yet when she was asked to finish it out with Pierce the Veil.
“What ended up happening was unexpected and awesome,” she said. “I ended up finishing the tour with Pierce the Veil. It was such a great time. When the opportunity to finish the tour with them came about, I was really excited because I had heard so many incredible things about those guys. I had the best feeling in my gut about it, and I was right. The month I spent documenting their life on the road was one of the most insightful months I’ve ever experienced as a photographer.”
“What happened was their photographer, extraordinary alien and friend, Adam Elmakias, was heading off to Europe for another run. I gladly accepted, and began photographing them when Adam left the tour in Omaha. It was wild. I’ve never been treated so kindly and with such open arms. It was the best time I’ve ever had on a tour, and it truly opened my eyes.”
After an unimaginable run with Pierce the Veil and PVRIS that was filled with life changing experiences and unforgettable memories, Osborn had reached a summit of sorts within alternative rock music photography. She decided that it was time to take a break from touring, to explore more freelance work in addition to other areas of photography.
“Being off tour is refreshing in a lot of ways,” she said. “The main thing is it gives me time to really think outside of my normal routine, and photograph some artists that I rarely get to see.”
After everything that she has experienced and accomplished as a professional music photographer, Osborn is admittedly unsure of the direction her career will take her from here.
“Honestly I’m not sure,” she revealed. “Right now I’m taking time off of touring full time. I’ve turned down Warped Tour. I want to spend the summer focusing on other areas of photography and new genres of music. I loved every second of touring the last 16 months, but it’s time for me explore some new things.
No matter what dream she decides to pursue, Osborn is likely to reach them due to the wise words she adheres to that have become a blueprint for her success:
“Just work hard and create something. It doesn’t matter what it is. Don’t get an ego, because it’s not worth it. Stay genuine, say thank you a lot to everyone because they gave you a chance to do what you love. Just be yourself, and grow with your work.”
These are certainly wise words to live by.