Home Lifestyle Young Dunn photographer has an eye for music at Epicenter

Young Dunn photographer has an eye for music at Epicenter

Jordan Lester takes a break from photographing bands at Epicenter Festival in May. The 16-year-old has been freelancing movie and music reviews for the Dunn Daily Record since he was 12.
William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — During the inaugural Epicenter Festival in May, there were representatives from myriad media outlets, ranging from newspapers and magazines to radio.

But there was one individual who stood out — mostly because of his age.

Jordan Lester, 16, ran back and forth from stage to stage and back to the media tent, representing the Dunn Daily Record.

The rising senior at Triton High School has been freelancing for the Harnett County newspaper, one of the only two family owned dailies left in the state, since he was 12.

“I always loved music and I always loved movies,” he said, adding that he started out as a movie reviewer.

While photography Lester’s “main gig,” it’s his writing that gets him “in the door.”

“I’ve had quite a few good English teachers over the years and I’ve always been someone that’s interested in writing,” he said.

In fact, it was one of his English teachers who suggested his work to former Daily Record Editor Lisa Farmer.

Lester said he also wanted to be a filmmaker, “but couldn’t figure out how to channel both of those together.”

He then discovered the work of Adam Elmakais and “dug deeper into the whole music photography scene.”

“And pretty much it was just like a stroke of luck,” he said. “I hit up the marketing manager of Red Hat (Amphitheater) in Raleigh, just said, ‘Hey, I write for a newspaper, they’re cool if I do it — I’ve never shot a show before, I own a professional camera and know how to use it. Just give me a chance.’”

And the following day, he got the approval to shoot Shinedown, which he recently photographed again at a concert in June.

Lester used to shoot on a Nikon D-3300, but has since switched to Sony a7 III.

The biggest challenge in shooting bands, he said, is capturing something “different.”

“I do a lot of research on their stage shows, set, so I can sort of get a feel for what they do,” he said. “Usually I try to do bands I love so I’ve seen them before, I already know what they do on stage.

“It’s really hard to get something that’s different, especially in a festival setting because (there’s) a bunch of photographers in a pit, you’re all pretty much in the same place and there are gonna be 400 photos from different angles, but they’re all pretty much the same photo,” he continued. “So … what I try to do is learn how to make myself unique in editing and just trying to capture something different when I’m in the photo pit.”

Some of his favorite recent photos at that point had been from J. Cole’s Dreamville Festival in April and the Metallica show in January.

“There was something different about (the Metallica concert),” he said, which was shot from the soundboard. “You had a lot of hands in the crowd, you could see the crowd around them and some of those shots are unique to me.

“They look more like artwork than photos.”

Lester said he shoots mainly in Raleigh, but will sometimes make the drive — with his mother, Jamie, behind the wheel since he doesn’t have a license — to Charlotte, if the band isn’t coming to the capital.

However, if there’s a band he likes playing in both cities, he’ll go to one show as a photographer and the other as a fan.

His mother doesn’t mind being his chauffeur because she gets to see bands that she likes, as well — like when he shot the Paul McCartney concert at the end of May.


“She’s awesome,” he said. “She’s supported me through all of this … it’s cool to be able to take her to these concerts, have really good seats and photograph them and be able to say, ‘Hey, I shot this band that you love.’” 

Being at Epicenter, Lester was able to photograph two of his current favorite acts: Machine Gun Kelly and Badflower.

“Their music is very unique,” he said of the Los Angeles-based rock band. “It speaks on stuff that rock stars don’t like to talk about anymore.”

Lester said he’d like to get into videography, but music photography is his main passion. He likes the idea of being able to take both portraits of bands and shots on stage.

“Nothing can beat the atmosphere of that anticipation, waiting for the artist to come out, how fans react to it,” he said. “That’s what I want to do, that’s what I want to create.”

Some bands have used his photos, which he said makes it easier to get in to shoot them the next time.

Lester said he would like to work for a music magazine like Rolling Stone or Revolver. Other options he mentioned were going on tour with a band as the official photographer — which he can’t do yet due to his age and school — or being a festival staff photographer.

“I love … where you can go into a photo pit, shoot a band and you come out and there’s another band playing at another stage,” he said. “I love hustling, that’s my favorite thing to do.” 

“There’s a couple of bands that I’ve worked with before … and hopefully that’ll lead to something.”

(Editor’s note: Jordan Lester’s movie reviews will soon be published on the Richmond Observer.)

Jordan Lester, right, interviews a member of New Zealand-based Alien Weaponry at Epicenter Festival in May.

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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.