It’s noon on a Friday, and while most people are halfway through their last workday of the week, music photographer Michael Haight is just starting. Haight’s routine begins with a cup of coffee, followed by a quick workout at the gym before returning home to sift through photographs needing to be edited. He’ll be in post-production up until it’s time to head out for the night—documenting Orange County’s music scene with just a flash and a Cannon 60D in tow.
“I try to keep a rigid schedule,” Haight says as he settles into a rhythm that, he says, “gives me structure.”
In a time in which pretty much anybody can take great photos, it’s become more about executing a visual concept or focus that sets you apart. Haight’s photography embodies a surreal visual style that has a way of not only stopping time, but also crystallizing energy. He produces dynamic images of lucid color that illustrate the DIY scene that drives him, including everyone from the LA punk band Side Eyes, Melted and VAJJ to the mighty Kim and the Created.
He double-majored in photography and film at Chapman University. But Haight wasn’t as inspired by film as he was by photography, especially the black-and-white works of Anton Corbijn. “I wanted to do cinematography, but I didn’t like film people,” he says. “I thought they were all kind of douchey, so I gravitated to the photography department.” Looking carefully at his snapshots, you can see subconscious cinematic elements.
After graduating, Haight started working for Lifetouch (remember all your awkward yearbook photos?), assigned with the numbing task of photographing students until “one day I cracked and didn’t go into work,” he recalls. He filed for unemployment and used that time to get a digital camera, posting ads on Craigslist for portraits and weddings. And then he fell into events. “I had a friend who was an assistant event planner and their photographer was a no-show,” he says.
Corporate events would lead him to what he always set out to achieve: photographing bands. “I love music; I wanted to be in a band and it didn’t work out,” he says. “Photography was my way to be around it.” He started shooting concerts and, in time, found himself riding on the tour bus of a well-known artist. But for Haight, shooting big-name acts turned out to be a soulless venture.
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So he took a step back from the music scene. He credits his re-emergence to bands Kitten and Holy Child, specifically, his conversations with Holy Child’s Liz Nistico. He found his niche shooting DIY events such as the ones put on by Top Acid in Santa Ana, embracing the pure honesty and raw talent of the bands. “One of the aspects about DIY that I love so much is that people come from all walks of life and different backgrounds and gather in a room to be in the moment,” he says. “That’s what life is, being in the moment, and that’s what DIY shows are: Everyone is present.”
With talk of some Orange County DIY spots opening up in the new year, Haight says, he plans to do whatever he can to help make them successful. “If you want to do what you want in life, you have to sacrifice a lot of shit,” he says. “And music means more than anything in the world to me. I get that from DIY shows—they’re pure, and it’s everything that music should be.”