Tell us about yourself
Hello, my name is Greig Clifford (say Greig as “Greg”). I work between London and Brighton, UK, and have been photographing professionally for the last 5 years. I have been commissioned directly by magazines such as Rock Sound and Metal Hammer and I have been lucky enough to see my photography used by Q magazine, Kerrang! Rolling Stone, and many other smaller music sites and blogs. I studied photography at college before the digital revolution so I have an analogue grounding and like to develop my own film. That’s not to say I haven’t embraced the digital world, the majority of my live shots are made with a digital SLR. My current gig camera is a Canon 5D, mainly because I feel its unique among DSLRs. Its files inherently look very much like film with any noise seeming quite random and aesthetically pleasing, to my eyes at least.
Where did your journey with gig photography start?
I started as a teenager by photographing local rock bands in pubs. One of my earliest actual music venues to shoot in was the Underworld, Camden where I photographed Passion Street and Enuff Znuff in 1996. Although the stage and lights have changed since then it still has the same vibe and is a place I still love shooting in today.
In a world of ever changing technology, do you think it is important that gig photographers still shoot gigs?
Of course. Good music is all about emotion and how it makes you feel and a good photograph can capture that live essence and keep it forever. Technology can get in the way of that human element a lot of the time but on the whole I think it is a good thing, as long as the photographer remains in control. Although technological advances have allowed video to come ever more to the fore over the last few years it isn’t a replacement for a great still image. Watching a video (even a few seconds long) takes time that many people don’t wish to invest. A good photograph hits the senses immediately for maximum impact.
What photographer/s do you look up to?
In general I love Storm Thorgerson’s creative approach, and the documentary style of a lot of Magnum agency photographers, particularly the original classics like Henry Cartier-Bresson. For live gig photography I like Ami Barwell’s work, especially as she still uses film. However, it is more the individual shots that I wish I had taken through music history that I come back to the most. The “This Guitar Has Seonds To Live” shot of Pete Townsend from the Who is a favourite. Also The Clash “London Calling” cover photo by Pennie Smith is great. There’s a fantastic jump shot by David Baird of The Subways that won an NME photography award a few years back. All fantastic and inspiring images.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting gig photography?
Leave the flashgun at home, or at least use it sparingly! Either invest in a fast prime lens (f1.8, 35mm or 50mm for example) or a body that handles high ISOs well. Technology is on your side here! When you get to larger venues you’ll likely be told you can shoot the first three songs without flash so if you practice without one you’ll be fine when this day comes. It will force you to find what light there is, understand how it falls and get creative with it. A lot of smaller venues have fixed lighting so they are good places to see how changing your shooting position alters the effect of the light, and how you need to change your settings on the fly. Shoot into it for silhouettes, side lighting for strong shadows, etc. There’s nothing worse for a band and audience than someone firing their flash gun a hundred times, and it’s always good when a band never even knew you were there.
How do you use social media to engage with your audience?
Well, I use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter because that is what the whole industry uses. I post mainly to help promote bands, artists or publications I’ve worked with – there’s usually a tour or release coming up, and of course it helps promote my work too. When I write something on my own website blog I’ll share the page via Facebook and Twitter, and occasionally through my email subscriber list. I don’t have a Facebook page for my photography, it’s just a standard profile. If people want to know what I’m up to they can follow my posts, or send a friend request if we’ve met or are likely to meet in the real world. I’m not famous enough to be anywhere near reaching the friend limit!
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Try to form your own style and develop it. Do not try to copy others, they will always do it better than you! When it comes to gig photography a little research into how the band performs goes a long way to catching good shots. Also, fans tend to prefer shots of the band, and bands tend to prefer shots that show off cool lighting and/or include the crowd. In my experience this seems to generally hold true.
If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?
Streaming services. I feel they have helped devalue music to such an extent that today’s audience almost expects music for free. It seems to me that much of the audience do not appreciate the time, effort, skill and cost of equipment that goes into creating good original music. Making a living from record sales is only doable by a tiny minority of artists. Record labels tend not to want to invest and help nurture a band these days without seeing a quick return on that investment. As a consequence bands have very limited budgets and that has a knock on effect all over the industry, from PR companies to designers, studios and of course music photographers. If the music itself doesn’t have much of a monetary value how can the music industry as a whole thrive?
What inspires you?
It’s always the artist and the music they make that inspires me. Anyone who wants to put their heart and soul into the public domain is interesting to me. Everyone is different, personalities vary widely so it is always exciting seeing how different artists present themselves in their performances. That gives me ideas on how I’d like to catch them. Whether it’s gauging the timing of a jump shot or going for a more subtle approach. It’s also cool seeing artists move on up the venue ladder, and feeling I’ve helped that success in some way, even if only a very small amount… it gives a lot of satisfaction.
If you were a box of cereal, what would you be and why?
A supermarket’s own brand. Just as good but much better value for money! 😉