Seeing the Music

Jazz photographer Anthony Dean’s is a Philadelphia based photographer that is known for his portraits, music (jazz) photography and events.

His images of renowned jazz musicians in the Philadelphia Jazz scene and his great images have been put together in a book titled “Seeing the Music“.

Although he loves street photography, his portraits of jazz musicians transport you to the scene where he’s making the pictures and straight into the heart of the musicians.

Watch the video:

Herman Leonard is another great photographer who immortalized music through his photography. He is described as the “first photographer to bring images of jazz into an emotional context, by preserving the moments of great jazz musicians such as Loius Armstrong, Miles Davis, Billy Holiday, Quincy Jones and many others.

His images for one, captured the political atmosphere of the African-American jazz musicians. These musicians pushed boundaries and wanted to be seen and heard – and given equal opportunity to showcase their talent, originality and individuality.

Leonard was successful in capturing this spirit in a time when technology was not as advanced as today. He used an old Speed Graphic handheld 4×5 camera which he wired two strobe lights to capture the intensity of the light in some of the smoky, low-light New York City jazz clubs. His mastered his lighting technique so well that made him a pioneer in capturing the jazz musicians in a way no one had ever done.

Without the pressure of working for a production house, Leonard made images for himself which gave him more lee way to produce the kind of images he wanted. His images show the jazz musicians in their solo element as well as in their human moments – having a glass of wine, enjoying a cigar, reharsing etc.

In this 1948 mage below, Leonard captured both the action and the reaction. Ella Fitzgerald was performing in New York City as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman watch her. To accomplish this, Leonard had to position himself in a place where he captured both Ella performing, and the audience responding to her music.

Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington & Benny Goodman, NYC, 1948. Photography by Herman Leonard.


  • Photographers take pictures – cameras don’t. Its just a tool that is used by the photographer to record unique moments.
  • The decisive moment (which Henri Cartier-Bresson describes it as ‘the moment when your eye sees a composition or an expression in life and the moment you  click the shutter button in your camera. If you miss the moment, its gone forever) is the most critical element of any photographic composition
  • Since photography means drawing using light, you need it to record the event as well the time. It could be at 1000th of a second, more or less.
  • Admittedly, jazz performances are done in very low light conditions. To get a decent exposure, use a low shutter speed, a wider aperture or a faster/sensitive film.
  • Remember to capture the expression, composition, mood before you click the shutter



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