Rob Morgan is a curious person—that’s actually the title of his acclaimed podcast series—but who is Rob Morgan? I listened to several of his podcasts in preparation for this article (which is the fourth installment of my interview series). There’s a lot of value for the artist, no matter your medium or genre, in those recordings, and I found them helpful well beyond the scope of this interview. Give one a listen, perhaps Becoming Five Stars, You’re Delusional Until You’re Not, Nobody Wants to Listen to Your Music, The Mistake of Avoiding Mistakes, or How to Fake Extreme Talent—you’re sure to be hooked!
Rob Morgan is an internationally touring bass guitar player. He’s a super talented musician that’s often in-demand. He’s a creative director for live shows and world tours. Maybe you’ve even seen him play before in an arena, dive bar, or coffee shop—he’s even performed on The Today Show. Rob’s out on tour right now, so maybe you can catch him live if he’s coming to a city near you.
Aside from the music and podcast, Rob is also a photographer. It started out as a hobby—simply another creative outlet—but has turned into something much more. His photographs have been printed in media globally and he’s regularly commissioned to photograph musicians. He often uses a Fujifilm camera loaded with a Film Simulation Recipe.
Curious yet? I hope so! Keep reading to learn much more about Rob and his photography.
FXW: Hi, Rob! You play bass guitar—how did you get started with that? Why the bass?
Rob Morgan: There’s a common trope in music: a band needs a bassist, so they convince a guitar player to pick it up. Me, I’ve always been in love with the electric bass. The moment I got one for Christmas when I was 14, it was game over. I knew that was it for me, and there’s never been a Plan B.
FXW: What are the biggest music projects that you’ve been involved with? What are your most memorable musical moments? And what are you currently doing?
Rob Morgan: I mean, if we’re talking about memorable musical moments… it’s always the weird ones that stick out, no? A drummer (mistakingly) trusting a fart fifteen seconds before going on stage and playing in front of thousands in Beijing, China—our guitar player and I laughed during the entire set, knowing he was going to need a new drum seat after this show.
But opening for Foo Fighters at Fuji Rock Music Festival in Japan a few years back while playing bass with the band Owl City was definitely up there. Getting to have a private moment with Dave Grohl and telling him how his band’s documentary Back and Forth was one of the reasons I didn’t quit music years before while in a dry spell… that felt like a full circle moment.
As for right now, I’m currently sitting on a bus as we drive through Washington on tour with Caitlyn Smith.
FXW: Let’s switch gears. How did you get started in photography?
Rob Morgan: Growing up, there were these photography kits for kids—it came with a film camera and instructional book—that my mom got me back in the day, but I didn’t really start diving in deep until a few years ago. I was halfway through an Asia tour when I found myself wandering around Tokyo with my friend, guitar tech and stage manager Alex Perkins, who always had a Fuji X camera on him. On a tour that big, you don’t have access to your instruments outside of shows, and through him I realized one of the things I love most about photography: at any given moment, you can enter into the creative process.
FXW: Tell me about your cameras. Why Fujifilm? What do you shoot with now?
Rob Morgan: You can absolutely get a killer synth sound on a laptop, but there’s something about the tactile feeling of twisting a knob to change a sound on an analog synth that I love. While on that tour, I picked up a Fujifilm X100 for the same reasons. The fact that you changed the aperture and shutter speed via actual knobs (instead of touching a screen) reminded me of the cameras I grew up with, and the X100 series is still the closest digital version of a film camera I’ve found—its small size and vintage profile also play a large part in my love for it.
Artists and musicians (uncomfortably) can sense a large DSLR being pulled out instantly. This thing feels far less invasive and my propensity for zone-focusing and manually dialing in the exposure in advance means I can be extremely fast.
Through the years, I kept advancing through the line, moving to an X100S, X100T, X100F, X100V, and back again to my current camera, an X100F. The reason for going backwards is a pretty unpopular opinion: although the technical specs of the X100V are “better” it lost the mojo of the earlier models. The feel of the metal, the tilting screen, and even the shape all seem clunky to me, and I found myself reaching for my camera less often.
I love the X100F’s 35mm equivalent prime lens, but I also travel with the TCL and WCL adapters. I feel like I see the world in 35mm, but If I’m taking portraits of an artist, I throw on the 50mm TCL. If I’m bringing my camera in close quarters, on stage, or in the tour bus, I like the 28mm focal length (that the WCL allows me to capture) while in the middle of it all.
FXW: What Film Simulation Recipes do you use and why?
Rob Morgan: Whether it’s Daniel Kramer’s photographs of Bob Dylan, the authentic moments backstage captured by Danny Clinch or the iconic photographs of Anton Corbijn… as I started paying attention to the images that moved me, I realized the majority of them were shot on Kodak Tri-X 400 film (often pushed to 3200). As I said, I treat my X100F like one of my film cameras, and, thanks to your “Pushed Tri-X” recipe, I’m able to take it a step further and make it feel like I’ve loaded the camera with a roll of that film. It’s seriously been a game-changer for me! Shooting JPEG+RAW also allows me to not question it and focus on light and composition knowing that if it calls for something else later, I have the option in my back pocket. Sometimes, I’ll switch over to your HP5 recipe to change it up, but 99% of the time I stick with Tri-X.
FXW: How does being color blind affect your photography?
Rob Morgan: It’s tough to say. I’ve always had a propensity for the timelessness of black & white photography despite being red-green color blind. Ted Grant said, “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!” I love that, and I think I’d still be shooting the way I do even if I wasn’t color blind, but it’s definitely cemented my style. Now that I shoot portraits of artists, record labels will often ask for color options, too, so I’ll shoot RAW and use a wallet-sized grey card to adjust the white balance in Lightroom. But normally, they’re bringing me in to shoot because they want my gritty B&W style.
FXW: Tell me about your behind-the-scenes photography. What do you try and convey through these pictures?
Rob Morgan: I’m fully aware of how incredibly fortunate I am to get to travel the world playing music. But, once you do anything on a regular basis, it’s easy to start taking the small moments for granted: whiskey cheers in the greenroom before walking on stage, a candid moment on the tour bus, the band goofing off during soundcheck…. Like anyone else diving into photography, I started taking photos of the world around me. As I started sharing them online, and people connected with them, I realized how rare of a vantage point I have. I’m no Linda McCartney, and I’m not married to one of The Beatles, but the candidness and behind-the-scenes trust seen in her photography have always been something that inspires my work. I’m glad artists and fans connect with the photos I’ve taken, but at the end of the day, it’s purely selfish—I want to remember all the tiny details of this wild ride.
FXW: Tell me more about your interest in street & documentary photography.
Rob Morgan: I adore the documentary photography of Dorothea Lange, and she’s often quoted as saying, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” That’s everything to me. Whether I’m on tour with an artist or traveling Europe with my wife, Sarah—as long as I stick to my rule of NO ‘CHIMPING’ (looking at a photo you just took), photography helps me to see the moment and my surroundings more clearly. The street photography approach of “F/8 and be there” (setting your aperture to f/8 and hyper-focal zone-focusing) has been massively impactful to my approach, whether backstage or wandering a new city. It’s taught me to anticipate a moment and has given me the speed to capture it, especially if I have a bass in my left hand. See a moment, grab the camera, snap the shutter, put it down, and get back to rocking out.
FXW: Thank you so much, Rob, for carving out some time while on tour to do this interview!
More of Rob Morgan’s wonderful pictures:
The photographs in this article are © Rob Morgan