Time / Date:
Camera Body: Nikon D3, D800
Lenses: Nikon 14-24, 24-70, 70-200, 35mm 1.4, 50mm 1.4 & 85mm 1.8
Shutter Speed: Various
Focal Length: Various
I have been a music photographer for over ten years now, first at club nights in London and later as a photographer with touring bands. I shoot not just live performances, but also backstage, travel, and life on the road of musicians as they write music, promote their work, meet their fans, warm up before the shows, and unwind after.
What I’m looking for when I take a shot is less the scene in front of me, and more the story that it’s part of. I want to capture an artist at the moment of highest excitement, but also the total exhaustion post-performance. The miles traveled and milestones lived. Although I enjoy music photography in almost any context, the greater part of my work is in touring with bands for an extended period of time, meaning that I have the opportunity to capture the stories as they unfold, the way almost no one else gets to see them.
I started touring with Bastille in 2011, and this long relationship allows me to fade into the background, meaning I can get on-stage shots without disrupting a performance or capture the camaraderie or tension backstage without interrupting a moment. I’m incredibly excited that, with the publication of BASTILLE: The Bad Blood Tour, I am able to present the band’s journey as I have witnessed it so far.
Because I travel with bands, I get to know them both as people and as performers. For live shots, this means that I know when some big moments are about to happen, and can position myself to be in the right place at the right time. That’s a huge advantage compared to those who only have the chance to photograph for the first three songs of a band’s set, which is more common in live photography. I am so lucky that I have the chance to capture a story, and a more complete reality of the band’s experience. It’s not all about the live shows, although every day on tour does build toward that.
Likewise, being part of the touring family of a band is part of my job. Being a touring musician is stressful, and they won’t include someone who doesn’t help put people at ease and improve the experience of being on the road. So I am close with the musicians and working crew members I work with, and this leads to opportunities to catch shots where I’m part of the scene around me, but also invited to capture images of it. This is only possible if my camera is constantly semi-present. I don’t walk around with my camera up to my face, because no one wants to hang out with a friend that way. So when I’m on tour, I’m always watching for a moment, but also always present as a friend.
The photos I’m sharing here are all part of the tour photography book—BASTILLE: The Bad Blood Tour. The project focuses on the full sweep of the band’s career, and has allowed me to present my photos as a story, with the context and narrative as a focus for each image. The real “scene” behind these photos is the context of a band’s experience from basement pub shows to winning a Brit Award and really taking the world by storm, with everything in between.
I use a Nikon kit: a D3s and a D810, which is the newest addition to my kit and has made an enormous difference in the flexibility of my camera work–not only because it’s a fabulous camera, but because I now carry two cameras at all times, with lenses set for the different shots I know I’ll need to make. Lenses; 14-24, 24-70, 70-200, 35mm 1.4, 50mm 1.4 & 85mm 1.8.
I don’t carry a flash in my kit. In a way, a flash changes the scene in front of you. I want to photograph what’s happening, as it’s happening. This presents significant technical challenges, but I believe it’s a significant part of what makes my photography work.
Making the Shot:
I consistently look to capture the intimate and unseen—the celebrations and connections between the band members, or the quiet spaces when they grab a bit of time alone. While I rarely ask people to pose for photos, I notice that sometimes when my camera is present some natural personality quirks just get bigger. The camera itself becomes part of the scene. Lighting in live music photography is always a key to a successful live shot. I have no control over the environment, and there is no reliable ambient light or consistent color or level of lighting. So I have to watch for times when a great moment on stage lines up with sufficient light, ideally with some depth to the background as well. Sometimes I’ve even used the flashes from audience cameras to get a shot.
Editing & Processing:
I use Adobe Lightroom for all editing, and from time to time I edit a photo in Photoshop as well. I edit on the road, dumping photos each morning after the previous day’s show and supplying edited photos to the label/artist daily.
The most important thing I always look for is to make the artist look like they imagine they look. I try for a consistent “feel” for the shots I get on any given tour, and edit based on that.
When possible, I try also to augment and play with the band’s existing imagery. For example, Bastille is heavily influenced by David Lynch and cinema in general, so I try to achieve a heavy contrast epic feel to both live and behind-the-scenes photos, looking for the cinematic quality in any given shot. In contrast, the other artist I’ve toured the world with is Frank Turner, who has a punk background and therefore requires grittier imagery.
As we were working on the book, we tried to select images that told the story of a day on tour—the travel; the ‘around town’ or tourism; the promo and fans; the set-up; backstage; and then the show. For this Image Story piece, I have tried to choose a similar range of images. I love live shots that feel like a truly unique moment–that freeze the whole sense of the scene around me. But I also want to show the band as they are away from the stage. That “day in the life” idea is a powerful one for me.
I have always wanted to make a book like this: something that draws from a whole range of my work as a photographer and a band’s growth. I am particularly thrilled with how the project has come together as it’s truly telling a story not just of Bastille but of the band as I’ve seen them. I hope that the fans look at the book and see what life is like for the guys on the road: that they feel invited to witness how complicated and busy the day-to-day of touring can be. I’m excited to have the chance to share photos from 2011, from cramped and anxiety-ridden early performances, right up to goofy moments from more recent travel.
There are about 400 photos in the book. This was narrowed down from over 4,000 I considered “good enough” to include. I’d be lying if I said I was anything but enormously proud of this project. For a photographer like me, who got started taking live music snaps for free and who has often toured not knowing if there would be any money in it… this book is a dream come true.
If you’re going to be working in low light, nothing beats a lot of practice. And for the business/expectations side of things—plan to work mostly for free for a long time. Make connections. Shoot small, local venues. Be careful to put out only your good work, and to really get yourself out there as much as possible. Make friends—you never know where you’ll be able to go professionally together.
My biggest inspiration in photographing bands is their passion and work ethic. People work ridiculously hard to create music and build careers. I love it when I can step inside that world and capture just a piece of that experience. I want to show it the way I’ve been lucky enough to see it—to get an image that no one else can get.
About the Photographer
I got my start as a music photographer in the early 2000s, when I was running music nights in London. I started showing up at various nights in the underground/indie scene, photographing whatever caught my eye, and have been working with live music ever since. Maybe because of that start, I’ve always loved photographing not just the live music, but the full scene around it–the lifestyle, the crowds, backstage, the after parties and the full story and context. My newest project is www.UnmadeInIreland.com, which is a photo essay/journalism project which explores the lives and aspirations of unsigned musicians in Ireland. I’ve recently published a book of my tour photography with Bastille. You can check it out here: BASTILLE: The Bad Blood Tour.
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