I’m a big believer that live shows are the most important thing for a band to get right. – Stephen McGill
MM: How did you get your start in concert photography?
SM: Started with an amateur interest in bringing my point and shoot camera to shows, eventually I met a proper show photographer and became friends with them. I bought my first SLR (the painful D50) and asked the webzine I’d been writing for whether or not I could shoot for them.
I was pretty wretched for the first couple of months, then eventually started to get the hang of it.
MM: What are some of the pros and cons of being freelance versus working for a magazine or website?
SM: I think the model has changed somewhat now. The chances of there being staff photographers for live concerts on magazines are pretty much nil these days. Nearly every site has their live photographers on a freelance basis.
As a photographer this affords you the chance to shoot for a number of different sites and helps you build a larger base of contacts in order to grow on the business side of photography.
MM: How important is it for bands to have good concert photos in their portfolio?
SM: I’m a big believer that live shows are the most important thing for a band to get right, therefore a good set of live photos can show people who may not have been exposed to you before that there is something worth checking out.
It’s also the sort of stuff that looks great in an EPK rather than generic photos of your band.
MM: What makes a great live photo? What are you trying to capture?
SM: A great live photo is one that captures the essence of the band, so each band will have their own shots that speak volumes of their show.
Some bands are known for their wildly chaotic shows, you go into these looking to capture a bit of that mayhem. While with a calmer band, you merely try and frame them in such a way as to gives the photos a bit of heart.
MM: Anything bands should avoid doing? Things that don’t translate well in photographs?
SM: There is a very fine line with posing, where it seems forced and terrible, and where it can be fun. Try not to do it too much, it can distract from the natural energy of the photograph. Also red light is not a photographers friend, it tends to blow out detail in photos.
MM: Do you think the importance of social media in an artist’s career has changed the role of a concert photographer?
SM: With the advent of social media, it means that all those people who come to your show are now tagging you in their photos and you’re getting a pile of free photos to use.
This means that if a band doesn’t care about the quality of their photos, they can get away with using material for credit and not having to pay.
It also means that the market is getting increasingly crowded, and the biggest problem most photographers are facing these days, is that there seems to be more and more people who will do your job for free. By extension, there are now fewer clients who are willing to pay for quality photos.
MM: Do you have a favorite venue to shoot at?
SM: From a strict photography stand point, your best bets are venues like the Sound Academy, the ACC and such places. They nearly always have excellent light, and make your only concern framing your shots.
However, the energy of smaller venues can’t be beat and it’s always a blast shooting at places like the Horseshoe and Lee’s Palace.
MM: Do you have one photo you’re most proud of?
SM: I have some that I’m quite pleased with, my favourite from 2012 would be the shot I got of Iggy Pop with the Stooges at Riotfest in Chicago.
MM: Any other tips for bands that want to look great in their live photos?
SM: The photographer is there to help you out, if you do things to piss them off, they’ll turn on you quick.
I’ve had bands deliberately turn off the lights, not to mention a few who have thrown mic stands at me, and one that kicked a shot glass in my direction. Needless to say, I don’t shoot those bands anymore.