Tell us about yourself
Hi my name is Melanie Smith and I’m from Newton Le Willows, nr Warrington. I mainly shoot in Manchester and the surrounding areas. I’m a freelance photographer, head of photography for the award winning music site Louder Than War and also a house photographer for O2 Ritz, Manchester. I’ve had my photographs used on a variety of music sites and press both online and in print. I shoot with a Nikon D750 and Nikon D3s, with Nikon low light lenses.
Where did your journey with gig photography start?
I’ve been involved in the music business since 2008 when I started an online music site called Mudkiss Fanzine, we reviewed shows and conducted interviews, it all took off from then. I began to get photo passes for shows which we were reviewing and during interviews I’d take shots, it all developed and I began to buy better professional equipment, till I ended up with two full frame camera bodies. I started off in the smaller clubs like Sound Control, Ruby Lounge, Deaf Institute and after a while I ventured into music festivals and larger venues.
Although I often say I have been photographing since 2010, I have actually shot gigs as far back as 1977. I only had a tiny cheap camera with disposable flash bulbs back then, it was a wild and exciting time though, documenting the punk era for fun in Manchester and Liverpool.
In a world of ever changing technology, do you think it is important that gig photographers still shoot gigs?
Oh god yes, without the gig photographers how would we be able to look back and remember how good a show was? I think in the future it might end up where bands just have their own personal photographer though; many artists are doing this already, like The Killers and Jack White and they don’t allow other photographers to shoot the shows, which is a shame.
What do you get asked most as a photographer?
I suppose the no 1 question is always how did you get into it, then what’s the most famous person you have photographed. New photographers might ask what lenses do you use and what settings, how do you get passes. I don’t mind them asking as we all started off naïve about music photography. It’s not as glamorous as it looks, its hard work and can be challenging.
What photographer/s do you look up to?
When I started off there were a few I followed who had a great style like the legendary Kevin Cummins, who I kind of knew a little back in the late 70’s, as he was always shooting at the punk gigs we went to. I even interviewed Kevin for my website. Shirlaine Forrest was one of the first women photographers I met in the pit and she was very friendly and inspiring, another person I interviewed for my website.
Mick Rock’s work I admire, such iconic shots especially in his work with Iggy Pop and David Bowie. I loved the documentary about him – SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock.
8 – What would be your dream gig and why?
My dream gig would be to tour with any of these artist: Nick Cave, Jack White, Gaga, Madonna and be their official photographer. The lighting would be perfect, with just the right blend of smoke machine effects and coloured lighting with white lights to the front. Access would be unrestricted and I would have all expenses taken care of and be paid for my work.
How do you use social media to engage with your audience?
I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler and Flickr. I like to write a blog on each show, or shoot I am involved in, post up one or two shots on the night on social media. I like to keep a record of everything, although have only been using Tumblr for around two years. I don’t post too many personal things and try and keep it photo related. I do sometimes find it hard to keep promoting myself, it can feel very egotistical and me, me, me.
I’ve recently started a Women Who Rock online album and Women Portraits on Facebook. It’s an area I really enjoy promoting and ties in with celebrating the Suffragette 100 years of women getting the vote and a photo exhibition I was asked to take part in called Suffragette City: Women in Music, in Manchester. I had my portrait taken for this and also submitted three portraits of women in music. It’s being held at The Refuge, Principal Hotel, Manchester until March 10th. Go and see 25 incredible portraits of Manchester women in a great location.
What has been the biggest challenge in your gig photography journey?
I think the biggest challenge is always chasing photo passes, constantly back and forth to PR, getting ignored sometimes, finding the right PR for the band, waiting for confirmation. This is by far the most challenging…..oh I forgot to mention stage lights, once your pass is confirmed you have to pray for good lighting, with this you can achieve much better results and a sign of relief when they are bright and white. Another challenge might be the one song only rule, the likes of Nick Cave has this stipulation, so you have one song to get a variety of shots. Very high stages can be another challenge, as in Arenas or festivals, best advice take a stool – if allowed.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
It’s kind of an unwritten rule but treat people in the pit with respect, don’t be pushy, don’t stand in people’s shots or hog the best spot for the entire 3 songs. Be kind to others, we are all trying to get good shots, its not a competition, don’t be a dick. Wear ear plugs!!
What inspires you?
Women are a great inspiration to me, so I would say photographing female artists and also colourful, creative people, the ones who make an effort on stage. I love hair shots, wild hair blowing everywhere, be it male or female.
I also enjoy photographing models, themed shoots like dance flour shoots, art nudes and vintage, which I started to do more of in 2017.
Finally the music, it is what drives us music photographers, you can’t beat the thrill of the band who are really enjoying what they are playing and interacting with the audience. Alice Cooper’s stage shows are 2nd to none and Nick Cave’s shamanistic, emotional interactions with his crowd are breath taking (I once gave up a photo pass just to be by the rails to see his show up close).
You can interact wtih me on my social media:
www.facebook.com/Mudkissphotography – Facebook
https://twitter.com/mudkissphotos – Twitter
www.instagram.com/mudkissphotos – Instagram
http://mudkissphotography.tumblr.com – my blog
www.flickr.com/photos/vivamel/albums – Flickr
or just browse my work here: www.mudkissphotography.co.uk