Welcome to another episode of Filter, a photography podcast where you ask the questions.

Question 1, from Damograph

Hey man, I’ve been listening to Filter. It’s sick and so insightful. And a huge wake up call about the industry because up until now, I just thought the thing about up and coming photographers rise with up and coming bands was how it worked. Thanks for doing it!

Well, you’re welcome!

I have a question as well. How do you make the most of and make the band you’re shooting look the best that they can look if they don’t really do much on stage or aren’t the best visual performers?

It’s a good question, and honestly, it can be pretty standard. I don’t like shooting bands who are choreographed. It feels so clinical. But I do like shooting bands who move around a lot, just not in the same ways each show. Having said that, it must be insane having to remember notes and play music while putting on a show. I can’t imagine doing that or doing two things at once. So sometimes we as photographers need to do our part to find other elements of energy to capture. You’re covering the show, so there are so many elements you could look at capturing.

A couple are:

The performer

The performer might not be moving much, but their arms and mouth will be moving because they have to in order to make the sound. So instead of trying to capture wider shots, focus on those movements. A close up of the head when the mouth really stresses certain notes, for example. Many acoustic artists will really emote the notes, so while they might not move around much with their feet, you can really see them get lost in the music. They pull their head back, they mumble through an emotional line. It’s all there, but you have to look a little closer to capture the energy. It’s a nice contrast to your other portfolio images when you’re creating content that shows the brittle, vulnerable side of musicians.

The stage setup

I look for things that set the context of the performer. Little trinkets on the amp, the way the smoke wraps around parts of the stage or speakers. Things like that. It’s about capturing the energy of the show, not exclusively the artist.

The lighting

Acoustic performers or performers that don’t move around a lot often have static lighting setups. Makes it easier to shoot using spot metering so that’s a plus. If music is quiet and isn’t wild, then try capture things that are isolated by the light. Make the performer sit square in the spotlight and let everything else fall away into darkness. It showcases intimacy which matches the music. That’s one idea for lighting anyway. I’m sure you could come up with many more.

The audience

One thing you can bank on at almost every gig is the front row of fans. The fans of that band will be up the front yelling the lyrics and getting lost in the music. They’re always happy to pose for a photo, and if they don’t see you, even better! They’ll be exuding energy and you can capture the love they have for the music.

Question 1.5, also from Damograph

Also, this may not be a question you can answer depending on your situation, but how do you network or talk to people in a live environment (as in bands) with a pretty bad social anxiety? I feel like I come across as self-indulgent when I am actually just freaking out.

Not many people know this, but I started with music photography because I was suffering from some really bad depression and social anxiety. I used to be someone that would talk to anyone and be able to really get out there and make my way through any situation. And for a lot of different reasons, that changed and I became someone who was scared of risking someone thinking I was boring. So I chose music photography but it relied on networking. It meant I had to go and talk to people in a way that I used to talk to people. Just being outgoing and relaxed, accepting of challenges etc. And it married well with my love for photography and loving feeling the pressure of needing to get a photo right in the first three songs. I think its natural to worry about coming off self-indulgent. It’s a promotional game we play and if you think of any connection we make with one another, it starts off by telling the other person about yourself and asking them about themselves. So it’s natural for someone to feel that they talk about themselves too much if you don’t think much about yourself. Because you have to talk to connect, and its a two-way street.

It does feel like you’re going against your personal grain, but I don’t know a single successful person that hasn’t been called arrogant. People who are achieving less than someone else are quick to call someone arrogant, I find. It seems like a jealousy thing, and it happens in any job. Not just photography. Someone once said to me that they wish they had my level of confidence and I told them, ‘if only you knew how little I think of myself.’ But you don’t want to be negative, so you keep it to yourself and people only see the positive side of you, and perceive it as an unbreakable confidence. People don’t think past their comments and realise how it impacts someone. They don’t see me as my own worst critic, which is the truth but me hiding that side away doesn’t mean I am being self-indulgent. It took a long time for me to say two simple words back when someone complimented my work. Those words were, ‘thank you’. It doesn’t mean you agree with them, it doesn’t mean you’re celebrating yourself. It is simply showing your appreciation for their encouragement, positivity and gratitude for our contribution as a photographer. Being arrogant and self-indulgent is expecting the compliment, and acting like they’re stupid for giving it because it is meant to be assumed. So never feel like being yourself, or passing a conversation with someone means you’re focusing too much on yourself. Anyone worth a damn wants to know about someone else, so you just have to remind yourself that after listening to someone else talk, you are just as justified to contribute to the conversation.

There’s a book you might want to check out, called Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search For Success. There’s a chapter in it which discusses how setting certain focuses and how having a growth mindset can reposition your own perception of your self-worth. It works in any situation. Whether it’s in a live music setting or not, the people you’re speaking to are just people. They’re not different because they are in a band. That’s just your mind getting confused with an appreciation for the art they make, like the art you make that they compliment you on. Musicians worry about a change in musical direction or any new material won’t be as well received as previous work. It’s the same for us with photos. It’s a fear of not being good enough. As soon as you realise everyone has them, the sooner you can start with your growth mindset. So I totally feel you, and it takes time. It still happens to me but I push through a bit easier now than when I first started. So hang in there!

Question 2, from Mclean

Hi Matt, I just discovered your work and it is absolutely breathtaking! I’m really looking to transition into the photography line of work from the current gig as a news camp. Do you have any suggestions for types or brands of camera and gear for beginners? PS, You’re definitely my favourite photographer in Brissy. Cheers, Mclean

That’s really kind of you to say!

The best kind of camera is the camera that feels good in your hands. There isn’t a right or a wrong brand of camera and there isn’t a bad quality camera. I would go into a camera store and ask to hold some different cameras in your hands. Think of what feels natural and make a decision based off that. I feel that Nikon makes a boxier camera body, whereas Canon has rounded edges. I started with Nikon and moved to Canon because it felt more natural to me.
I felt I could move my hands around the camera easier and change the settings.

I don’t know what kind of photography you want to do, so I can only really recommend a good lens for a variety of uses. Both Canon and Nikon offer a 50mm lens that has an aperture of 1.8. 50mm is neither too tight or too wide and the aperture of 1.8 will be generous with the amount of light it lets in and they’re really sharp for the cost. Last I checked they are around $100 to $200. So cheap for a lens. Good luck with the journey dude!

Question 3, from Lew

On the next podcast I’d like to know your view on photography contracts when it comes to signing a form before the show in regards to the photos taken. I know there was some debate around the Foo Fighters and also Taylor Swift last year but I’m curious to know your view, as I had something similar after a recent show when after the show was over we were all told that all photos must be sent to the artist management and can’t be published anywhere pending approval. I understand being told before the show but being told after was a bit sour.

I’m surprised it’s taken so many episodes before this came up! I’ve never been told after the fact that I needed to submit photos for artist approval but I have been asked to sign these before obviously. I think they’re fair, especially if a record label has invested a lot in a band but I think many of them are unreasonable with what they ask. When I first started, I remember some really crazy requests:

  • signing over the copyright of the images
  • having the images embargoed for a few days
  • not being able to use the images on my own social media

That’s just some of them, but the worst one was owning the exclusive copyright of the images. When people think that signing over exclusive copyright is appropriate, it makes me question what else is being signed over as part of the wider dealings. I don’t think its the promoter or record labels responsibility to decide if and how much you get paid for being there to shoot the show. That’s whoever responsibility that sent you. So I do see the importance of protecting their investment in the brand, as in the musicians they helped grow to the size they are today but I don’t think that a band is an intellectual property. I think the music they make is, that the marketing collateral is etc but just like that, our photos are our intellectual property. They gave us or the promoter an opportunity to create content. How you get paid by being there to take the opportunity is not their concern. That’s why if a contract doesn’t take exclusive rights, and requests non-exclusive web publishing use of the images, or has some strange requirement that doesn’t take over the copyright, then I am happy to sign it. I’m not happy to sign it if it allows anyone to make money with my photos by selling merch, records or anything that makes money from visual elements without my part being valued within the wider scope. I structure those deals on a per use licensing basis in a way that is fair to both parties. Slipknot has a really great contract that is fair to both the photographer and them as a band. I can’t remember the exact details, and I’ll see if I can find a scanned version of it, but basically, it said that you can’t use the photos on unauthorised merchandise. Which would be anything that Slipknot does not create themselves but it also doesn’t give over the rights to use your photos for their merchandise without an arrangement with you first. That’s a good contract to me – fair in protecting their brand, but also respectful of the value of creating an image that creates a positive vision of them.

As for being told after the fact, that’s really poor planning. It could be a breakdown in communication though. They could have supplied the contract to the publication and they just missed passing on that detail to you. Either way, someone had some poor planning and I wouldn’t be too happy about it either. But you do always have the choice not to shoot it when one gets handed to you out of nowhere. Just check whats reasonable and what you are prepared to do. Based off what you wrote in, I would have shot it. Doobie Brothers had a similar contract but I got that in advance so it wasn’t a surprise but it stated that only photos the band approved could be used. It was fine by me because I was shooting for the venue and didn’t mind any holdup. They ended up approving it within 4 hours, so it was no biggie. Sometimes when photographers shoot music, they get confused on who the client is. The client is the publication or entity you are shooting for. So if you are shooting for a publication, any delay in being able to use the images you’ve taken is only at risk to the publication and the band. As a photographer, you’ve done your job. You’ve checked that your copyright is protected, you’ve made sure you’re comfortable with what the contract is being asked of you and if there is a delay in the photos, but you turned them around by your normal deadline, who cares if the publication can’t use them for a while. Unless you run the publication, I’d refocus on getting a pass for another show. You met your deadline, you did the right thing for your client – the publication so you’re a good egg and have delivered what you needed to. But yeah, read those contracts. That’s the biggest thing to do, and know its ok to say no and head home. If you are working for a good publication, then they’ll understand the value of your work and wouldn’t expect you to have signed one.

Conclusion

Don’t forget Filter is totally rebuilt! Listen to older episodes right here. Watch videos, learn about how I edited various things. But most importantly, keep it positive and have fun shooting this week!

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