Women's month

Behind Niña Sandejas’ lens: What’s it like to be a female music photographer? 

Juno Reyes

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Behind Niña Sandejas’ lens: What’s it like to be a female music photographer? 

Iya Forbes

From going on tour with Rivermaya to documenting FlipTop rap battles, get to know renowned music photographer Niña Sandejas

MANILA, Philippines – A quick scan of the crowd at a concert or music gig will immediately make one thing evident: there aren’t many female photographers in the pit. Photography remains to be a male-dominated field after all. But the few women behind the lens continue to carve out spaces for themselves. 

Meet Niña Sandejas, a renowned Filipina music photographer crossing the 20-year mark in the industry this year. 

WORKPLACE. Music photographer Niña Sandejas on the space she knows best: the concert stage. Photo by Iya Forbes

Music photography seemed to be a natural path for Niña to take. In 2004, she was already working in the music industry as a fashion stylist for Rivermaya, which meant that things like photo books of bands who doubled as fashion icons – case in point: The Rolling Stones – were always within her reach. 

It was veteran photographer Annie Leibovitz who had taken some of The Rolling Stones’ most memorable photos on tour, and Niña knew she wanted to follow suit. But it was a minor exchange with Rivermaya frontman Rico Blanco that had really set it all off for her. 

“While with Rivermaya, Rico showed me this black and white photograph of him as Judas in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar and mentioned that he wished more photographers could capture memories like that. In that exact moment, it all clicked. I wanted to do that. It was something that I knew would be worth something to someone someday, even if it were just for the memories,” she told Rappler.

While Niña did momentarily go back to fashion after Rico asked her to take photos of the band, music photography had found its way back to her, but this time, in full force.

The art of immortalizing music beyond sound

Niña has since photographed even more of the OPM scene’s biggest names: Spongecola, Kamikazee, Armi Millare, and Kitchie Nadal. 

These were the music icons of her generation – the people she had experienced the local music industry’s changes with. So, it only made sense for her to be drawn to documenting them from the get-go, allowing her to boast a more-than-impressive portfolio over the years. 

But music photography really isn’t all just about taking photos of an artist onstage. There’s a lot of work that goes into successfully documenting them, which includes finding a way to connect to the musicians themselves. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, though. 

“An artist’s humor is usually the hardest to get. If we don’t have the same humor, you have to find other ways to connect so [you] can relate to their journey. This gives me a sense of how far they’re willing to go, how fast they’re moving, how much trust and access they’re willing to give me, and if they see me as a partner in documenting their history rather than hired help or just someone they need so they have something to post,” Niña shared. 

“You’re only given a window to peek through an artist’s life. I started at such a young age and was exposed to various situations in a musician’s career. It made me try and see a possible ending before I begin. All songs have an ending, so I have to know how to use my time wisely,” she added. 

Beyond taking photos on tour, Niña also serves as the official photographer for FlipTop Battle League. If you’ve seen those action shots of emcees embroiled in intense rap brawls, you have her to thank.

FlipTop, however, calls for an entirely different approach from taking photos of the bands she’s gotten so used to shooting that she knows their body language by heart. Photographing rap battles almost seems like a tricky process of spontaneous calculations to get well-timed shots – and that’s on top of making sure you aren’t getting in the way of the videographer and other crew members in the pit. 

“With FlipTop, it’s like shooting a new band every time. Rematches are rare, and even if I’ve photographed an emcee several times before, they always have to deliver something different because they’re up against someone new, and they work their set around that…. With concerts, I can rely more on rhythm to see where the music goes,” Niña explained. 

A woman behind the lens

But any line of work comes with its fair share of challenges – especially if you’re a woman. Niña is a mother to a young son. While juggling motherhood with long hours of work has proven to be a difficult ordeal, she finds a way to make it happen anyway. 

“My son is neurodivergent, he’s on the spectrum. He has many unique talents from math to music and art, so he needs more attention because his dad and I are the only ones who truly understand him…. So I have to make big sacrifices just to be able to shoot now, so as a woman, the line ‘work twice as hard to get half as good’ was the norm. Now, as a mother, you’d have to work four times as hard as that to just keep your head in the game, and that’s just for starters,” Niña shared. 

Despite this, she soldiers on. As someone who has been in music photography since 2004, Niña has one piece of advice to aspiring female photographers looking to break into the field: 

“There’s so many ways now to forge your own path, there are no set rules. The beliefs you held prior should just be considered guidelines. Follow your intuition, and photograph what best resonates with you and not what you think others will appreciate. Your perspective is unique and important,” she said. 

And as time passes, she only hopes that her images will help people continue to remember the music that once served as the soundtrack of their lives. – Rappler.com

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!