Few people are able to turn their passions in life into a successful and rewarding career. However, this is not the case for Roger Vai, proprietor of Roger Vai Images, a local photography service based out of Westbury. Vai was able to combine his passion for art, music and photography into a self-made career.
Vai has had a love for art since childhood. He began playing guitar at age 10 and always had an interest in the artistic elements behind album artwork, band promotional materials and the images that portray a band.
“When I was a kid, I used to take my grandfather’s 35mm black and white camera out to take photos of everything from my horror movie action figures, to landscapes of my hometown,” said Vai. “The thing I love the most about photography is that it allows me the freedom to capture the essence of pretty much anything in a new and interesting way.”
In 2007, Vai’s interest transitioned from a hobby to a freelance side job that he continued to practice for many years. Vai continued to hone his photography skills by shooting live rock shows, band promos and essentially anything he could snap a picture of in order to improve his craft. His passion for photography soon surpassed all of his other interests, and it was then that Vai knew that his hobby would become a full time career.
“It may sound dramatic, but when I’m taking a photo of anything, it makes me feel alive—I am completely in that moment, and I am there to capture it,” Vai noted. “I’m so excited to be taking the photo of whatever it may be, that photographing never feels like a ‘job’ to me.”
After several years of freelance work, Vai began working with Simon Elliot Events, a successful event company started by his high school friend. He wanted to move away from one-off photo shoots and start developing a professional portfolio. The experience he gained from shooting events gained Vai the confidence to start shooting weddings and other significant life events. He also continued his passion of shooting live rock shows, which eventually caused his photography career to “come full circle” as Vai stated.
As Vai’s popularity in the field grew, word of his rock photography began to spread. Bands and artists began contacting him, asking him to photograph their shows and promotional material. At the time and still today, Vai noted that it is “an amazing feeling” to be contacted by and conduct business with these artists, providing them a service that he is passionate about.
Vai decided to start his own photography business, primarily because it provides him the freedom to shoot whatever and whenever he wants. “I’m not locked into any one thing,” Vai said. “I can do a rock show on a Friday night, a bar mitzvah on Saturday, and a wedding on Sunday, and since I’m not pigeonholed, I can take all three gigs.”
Vai also noted that he started off doing many jobs for free in order to get more experience in the business and acquire the skills needed to have the privilege of people paying for his services. He finds that word of mouth and showcasing his work are the most effective ways to advertise himself. For example, whenever he does a shoot for a band, Vai promotes them and showcases his work by posting the shoot on his social media pages. The bands often reciprocate by crediting Vai, which hopefully leads to more jobs as a result.
Although he specializes in rock photography, Vai prides himself on the versatility of his business.
“A description of my businesss would be versatility, with an eye for all forms of photography,” said Vai. “Whether it’s your band, your wedding, your bar mitzvah, or your family, I’m your photographer.”
Vai’s interest in rock music runs in the family, as his uncle is guitarist, Steve Vai.
“We are very close, and talk quite often about music, art, as well as life in general,” said Roger. “Having been, and currently being so successful in the music industry, he is an invaluable mentor for me to bounce ideas off of, and to pick his brain about where the industry is going.”
Vai had the experience of accompanying his uncle on tour through Europe and Russia in 2007. Vai was offered multiple opportunities to photograph his uncle’s band multiple times, which helped his photography progress from “cool photos of your show” to professional shoots.
“It has been very cool to go through that process with him,” said Vai, “because if someone of his caliber, or any artist/client appreciates my work, it really means a lot.”
Many people find it difficult to pursue just one passion in life and create a successful career out of it. However, Vai has managed to intertwine his lifelong love of music and photography and, with dedication and hard work, has produced a business that allows him to do what he loves every day.
“Music has always been a huge part of my life,” Vai noted, “and photography allows me to make a crossover between my two biggest passions.”