Shout About It loves to see people get into gig photography. It’s so important that we help and support fellow photographers welcoming them into the pit with open arms. As part of our 12 Days of Christmas, we asked our good friend Alex Williams to put some advice together for people looking to get into gig photography. Alex has a wealth of knowledge and helps so many people up the ladder as well as being a phenomenal photographer himself. Be sure to have a good read of this one!
I’ve been in the photography industry for twenty years, and for the past ten I’ve been in charge of photography courses at an FE college. I frequently get asked for advice by students looking to break into music photography, and recently I was asked to provide a bit of info on this subject by the lovely folks at Shout About It. The following information is just a bit of advice, guidance, hints and tips.
Mentor (or maybe two)
Gain feedback from people. “Likes” on social media is one thing – a proper “critique” now and again is extremely valuable, giving you feedback and direction. Some times it can serve as reassurance too. But remember – a critique or review of your work is someone’s opinion, and it is subjective. It doesn’t make it fact. The real skill you need to develop when you receive a critique is to absorb the feedback, process it and decide what to do with it yourself. I’m not saying to be stubborn and just do you own thing. Look at the positives, and the negatives, use the information as you wish.
Communicate & Network
Talk to other photographers and where possible, create your own community. I have been really lucky to meet some fantastic photographers, PR’s and fans, especially this year. By keeping in touch with people, forming a network of contacts can lead on to more positive opportunities.
There are lots of sayings and quotes that go along the line of “Surround yourself with people that reflect who you want to be and how you want to feel” to “You’re a product of your environment. Surround yourself with the best.” This is definitely true within photography. Feeling stressed? Talk about it. Under pressure? Communicate with others, as there might be someone that can help. Sometimes, just by letting other creative people know about your thoughts can be enough, as this can ease your mind.
Creative or Technical?
When I prepare my students for University interviews, I’ll ask the question – what’s more important, having good ideas or having technical skill? Some will say being more creative is important. Others will say you need to be more technical. My answer – it’s a balance. It’s pointless if you’re fantastic technically but you have no originality to your work, just as it is pointless if you have fantastic ideas but don’t know how to achieve them because you don’t know your aperture from your elbow. My other advice on kit – don’t get hung up on whether your camera is full frame or crop sensor. Just take the shot! There’s a saying that goes along the lines of “the best camera you can use is the one you have with you”, so just shoot. However, if you’re a photography student then you might have access to kit and lenses. Utilise the camera stores where possible so you can experiment with gear, and at school, college or uni – access to this will be free. Again, it’s all about getting the balance right.
Style – be you
There is always pressure to copy, mimic, and “be like the famous photographers”. I think it’s more important to be you, and be daring. The younger photographers are the “next breed” of the industry. Things evolve by people thinking out of the box, by trying new things, and not copying everyone else. There is definitely a new style of music photography emerging, and it is great to see.
From the outset – you need to be able accept that people will say no, and you will be declined. Hell, sometimes you won’t even get a reply. When this happens, don’t take it personally. You want to shoot the big bands – so do hundreds of others. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything. Remember – if you have been declined, it doesn’t mean that your work isn’t good enough. It might just be that the allocation is full, or your work might not even fit with the style of the band or publication. I’d also say not to be negative on social media about it either – if you have been declined, and then you moan on social media about it, it might not be beneficial in the long run.
I know not everyone researches bands, set lists etc, but I find it beneficial. What are the first 3 songs going to be? Where is the guitar solo? Is there a trend, technique or mannerism that the lead singer uses that you might not pick up on during the gig, but can prepare for it if you research? Another quote, this time by Robert Capa “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. I have talked to my students about using this quote in all forms of photography – get closer to the story. Not physically, but mentally. Absorb yourself in what you’re looking to capture. If it is music photography – then think about what the band are trying to perform and portray.
You don’t just need to look at photographers to inform you, or bands to know the songs – but what about contacts within the press? PR? Local photographers? Key people within the industry? Many photographers within the industry may not need to do this type of research as they have picked up the info along the way. If you’re new to the industry, it’s probably beneficial to try and catch up with others around you.
Applications and Opportunities
Start small if you need to. Really small. You know the pub or club with a red light and blue light – yep, start there. Because if you can achieve some strong images in the poorly lit venues of a band with minimal stage presence, when you have the opportunity of a professional set up you will be flying. Whether it is workflow, access to gigs, people you know, try and spot the opportunities. If you don’t ask – the answer will always be no.
Push other skills and abilities. Shoot portraits. Shoot in the studio. Use flash. Try off camera flash. Try video. If you can do those, you’ll be able to make the most of any situation when you get the chance.
So you’ve started shooting, you’re picking up skills, you’re networking, and you’re getting on with people. How about assisting a photographer? It’s highly likely to be unpaid to begin with, but it is great experience with a seasoned professional on a photoshoot or two. And it is much more than making cups of tea! Remember – it’s an opportunity not only to help someone, but also to show off your skills, aptitude and ability.
Show your work! Whether it’s on the wall of a local pub because you know the landlord, the wall of your school, college or Uni, or as part of an exhibition (Shout About it 2018?!). We are saturated with thousands of images on screen every day. It is important for you, and the public, to see your work in print and in frames.
The things I have mentioned are hints and tips as there are no guarantees, and we work in an industry of small percentages. However, if you’re a little bit better than someone else, your attitude is a little more positive, if you have a few more skills than the next person – you never know where it may take you.
If you’re just starting out, and want some inspiration, check out the following photographers on Instagram. In my opinion they are fantastic at what they do. However, some of them are students or have just graduated, but they are doing all of the things I have mentioned earlier. They might be able to inspire you to make a dent in the industry too.
One of the links, Holly Marsden, is currently one of my photography students. I have been lucky enough to teach holly over the past two years, and she is showing the right attitude to do really well within the industry. Holly has photographed Sundara Karma several times, Wolf Alice, Black Honey, was given access to shoot legend Robert Plant, and Charlatan Tim Burgess selected Holly to shoot at a recent gig. The more you try and the harder you work – the luckier you get. Holly is making the most of the opportunities and creating very strong visuals.
Another link is for another student of mine, Emily Hankey. I gave Emily an opportunity at Truck Festival this year, where she showed her ability and skill to work hard and achieve strong shots within time constraints. It was not only Emily’s first photo pass at a festival, it was her first festival full stop. And the first time camping on her own. Talk about thrown in the deep end! Her attitude and commitment that weekend was rewarded with a photo pass at Leeds Festival. Again, Emily did really well over the weekend, with some of her work reposted by rapper GIGGS, which was seen and liked by over 13,000 people. Again, it’s amazing how hard work and positivity can push you in the industry.
People to watch:
@amifordphoto @jake_haseldine @laurenrvmcd @katefloracreative @hollymarsdenphotog @annakinsmithwalker @antadamsphoto @shotbymxles @photography_e.h
A couple that I’ve been watching for the past few years going from strength to strength: @oliviaahw, @nialllea & @benmcquaide