By Davonna Gilpin | @DavonnaDarling

Stray Kids, 2020 District 9 UNLOCK Tour in NYC

It’s pitch dark as the room is filled with ear piercing screams, dozens of colorful lights start to flash and the floor underneath shakes as the first few notes of a bass heavy song begins to play…

Having shot a number of K-pop artists including Tiffany Young, NCT 127, SEVENTEEN, ITZY and many more, Karen May, experiences those first heart-racing movements of a show very differently from the average concert-goer. As a concert photographer her mission is to capture these once in a lifetime moments in a photo that lives forever.


In addition to photography, Karen May spends her days as a graphic designer for a well-known fashion brand in New York City. Pursuing digital media and art was her childhood dream, and she considers herself “very fortunate” to snag such a coveted position right out of college in a predominantly male dominated industry. The position allows her to express her creativity, and be involved in different facets of the company—from designing billboards in Times Square to bus wraps.

Karen May grew up as a typical late millennial in New Jersey, born to Filipino parents who encouraged and nourished her dreams of going into media.

“I feel very lucky and very blessed to have parents that supported me pursuing something in the art field, knowing that it’s very competitive and not as stable [financially].”

In fact, her parents’ support is what got her started with photography. She began taking pictures as a young child, using her dad’s camera equipment on a whim. She enjoyed it so much and started photographing local dance competitions on a regular basis.


Using her experience from shooting dance competitions, Karen May was asked by a friend working at a K-pop media site, if she wanted to try her hand at shooting the KCON NY 2017 red carpet. Though she didn’t have prior experience with red carpets specifically, she did have a lot of photographer friends who did. With their advice and expertise, Karen May was able to successfully shoot her first K-pop event, and from there it just kept going. 

“For the past three years I’ve been networking and making connections with concert organizers like SubKulture, MyMusicTaste, and Studio Pav, that bring K-pop artists to us in the US.”

NCT 127, KCON NY 2017 (Red Carpet)

Being a fan and a concert photographer doesn’t always come easy. The balance of being able to enjoy the performances of her favorite K-pop artists while focusing on the assignment of taking engaging photos is a big task. However, unbeknownst to the fans in the audience, the photographers don’t always get to shoot the whole show. 

“After the first three songs, or the allowed number of songs allowed to shoot, they ask us to put away our equipment and I can watch the rest of the show. We’re [invited] as press so we don’t necessarily have to pay for tickets, but sometimes I buy tickets anyway for the added benefits like hi-touch or group photo.”

Seemingly the best of both worlds, at times this process doesn’t always work out in Karen May’s favor. Depending on the setlist, there are songs she would like to experience live as a fan, but has to be professional instead.

She shared a particular example of when she photographed the group A.C.E back in December of 2019. “‘Take Me Higher’ is one of my favorite songs EVER, and it was the third song they performed. Part of me was trying to take photos and the other part of me was just singing along in my head, it was a battle trying to balance it all.”

A.C.E, UNDER COVER: AREA Concert in New Jersey, US

As a fan, one of the bigger benefits of being familiar with the music and the choreography of specific tracks is having a better idea of what moments throughout the performance to capture. 

She also stated that, in her experience, boy bands have been harder to shoot than girl groups due to their choreography. “They’re moving everywhere and they’re changing positions all the time, it’s very hard to keep up sometimes. Shooting SEVENTEEN, thirteen members, is just a challenge on its own.”

SEVENTEEN, 2017 DE Tour in NYC

Since she usually gets a limited amount of time to get good photos, Karen May “keeps her hands on the capture button” and ends up with well over one thousand photos at times. She  describes the sentiment of being in the press pit and just getting the feeling that she took a money shot.

“You know mentally that you’ve captured a good shot. There are always some moments that I’m looking for when going through my photos to see if I actually got the shot I was thinking of,” Karen May spoke about the process. “Sometimes we have companies who ask if they can review the photos before I publish them and they come back with revisions on the selects. It’s all about best judgement, you don’t want your idols to look bad in the photos.”

Tiffany Young in NYC


With COVID-19 putting all concerts and live events on pause, Karen May has not had a lot of opportunities to shoot lately. But, she has high hopes for the future and is waiting patiently for concerts to start happening again when it is safe. 

Karen May plans on extending her reach in media and working with a number of other K-pop publications for more opportunities in the future. She even wants to branch out to photograph outside of Korean artists and travel with them. She named the Fillipino boy group SB19 as her dream subject to shoot.

“I have such pride in them, seeing a Filipino boy group in the K-pop space. My biggest dream is if they ever go on tour in the US, that I could go on tour with them as a photographer.” 

An avid cosplayer, Karen May also looks forward to the day that anime conventions come back. As part of a cosplaying photography group, Team Lens Flare, she photographs what goes on behind the scenes at events with the group, and does post-production cosplay photos to make sure they are edited properly.



When asked about what advice she would give to other young women looking to break into graphic design or concert photography, Karen May had a lot of insight to share. She stressed the importance of being a self-starter and not needing professional experience.

“You shouldn’t be afraid, and you shouldn’t think that getting a degree or professional training is the only way that you can get started in industries like this,” she started. 

“It’s very easy to be self taught in graphic design and to teach yourself the fundamentals. YouTube tutorials are an efficient and free way to get started. Even now, I find myself on there learning new things.”

Karen May believes mentorship is incredibly important for young women getting into professional spaces—especially in the digital media industries—and is willing to help out anyone who comes to her for advice and guidance. 

“I think reaching out to people you look up to in these industries is also a good step you can take if you’re looking for advice. It’s very easy nowadays with social media. That being said, if anyone would like to ask me for advice I would gladly help out to the best of my abilities. If it’s something you’re even remotely interested in doing, you just have to take that first step!”

Be sure to check out our spotlight on Seoju Park, another woman creative and photographer!

Thumbnail by @karenmayc