“I suppose photography is like target shooting. You aim for the perfect shot, and when you get it, it’s a fabulous rush."
Scott Willis has been on the hunt for that perfect shot since he was a kid.
He grew up in suburban Louisville. His dad took pictures of everything—birthdays, reunions, vacations, new clothes, visitors, the dog, the sky, the backyard, families, friends, cars—with his old workhorse the Argus C3, nicknamed “The Brick” for its shape and durability.
Scott was hooked on photography after watching his father in action and seeing the results in the final images. His first camera was a Polaroid Super Shooter Plus at age 7, followed over the next few years by a succession of cheap Instamatics. But he’d gotten his first taste.
Photo: Alan Messer
Music was also a big deal to the Willis family. His father collected records, his older brother was a music fanatic, and his sister influenced his taste in music as well. Scott joined his first band at age 15, and by college he was starting the band Government Cheese. That band signed a record deal, made it onto MTV, hit top 10 on the CMJ chart, played CBGB several times, and toured constantly for 7 years. Today the Cheese still plays the occasional reunion show to a packed house.
Scott’s interest in photography and his interest in music had begun overlapping. He got his first serious camera, an Olympus OM-2S SLR, in 1985 for college graduation, bought some lenses and started shooting. Among the first acts he photographed were the Ramones in Houston and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Louisville.
“That adrenaline rush when I shoot photos, especially live shows, is always there. When I am photographing a big show and the lights go down, it’s "game on" as I get into position for that first shot and often that first photo is one of the best."
Three established photographers cemented Scott’s interest in the craft. In 2011 Nashville photographer Gregg Roth stopped by during a Government Cheese rehearsal, took a couple shots of the band, then left. “A day later he sent the most incredible picture of the band we had ever had,” Scott recalls. “He was so fast. ‘I got it’ was all Gregg said. It blew me away.”
British photographer Paul Needham was in the states when the band was playing gigs to raise funds for an anthology album, Government Cheese 1985-1995. Paul and Scott became friends, and Paul was hired to design the packaging for that two-disc package.
A couple years later the Cheese decided to record another studio album, and another British photographer, Alan Messer, came to the rehearsals and to the recording studio. “Alan had photographed the Beatles, the Stones, Johnny Cash, Bowie, Iggy Pop, and countless others. I was thrilled that he was interested in us. Right away we became great friends. He shot several shows we were playing to raise money for the latest album, The Late Show. We hired Alan to do all the photography for the album.”
Inspired and intrigued by the work of these professional photographers, Scott jumped back in in 2015 and bought his first DSLR with Paul's advice on a great starter camera setup, a Canon T3i body and a Tamron f/2.8 17-50mm lens. Scott hit the ground running, has been shooting like a madman ever since, and has acquired the professional gear needed to be top level.
Judging from the portfolio that he’s amassed in the few brief years he’s been shooting professionally, his passion for music photography is exactly where he needs to be, having already done extensive shoots with two-time Grammy-winners Cage The Elephant, as well as the album cover for ex-Black Crowe Steve Gorman’s new group Trigger Hippy. Scott has stayed busy photographing music festivals and has been published in Rolling Stone, Billboard, Vintage Guitar Magazine, Fender USA/Gretsch Guitar catalogs and many other media.
This website features a few examples of Scott’s work. You can also follow him on Instagram, Scott Willis Photography, where there are more images.
Have Scott work for you and make you look fantastic. Hit the Contact tab and message him for a quote and he will respond via email.