A day in the life of a gig photographer

AWilliamsPhotographyProfileAlex Williams gives us a detailed insight into his life as a gig photographer and juggling a full-time job as a photography teacher. In this article he talks us through his time photographing Stereophonics during their UK tour in March 2013.

Over to you, Alex…

Teaching photography at an FE College in the UK gives me a unique view of the “next generation” of photographers. Many are passionate about photography, and some find their way and photographic interests along the way. I have had many conversations about music photography, and some students (and parents!) look at music photography with rose tinted glasses on. “It must be great to meet all the celebrities” is a usual line, along with “it must be easy, just turning up to a gig and having a free ticket. That’s easy.”

The following “A day in the life” information is to give more of an insight into my approach to music photography – this is not the standard across the industry, and many music photographers have their own style. This is to purely show that it isn’t about “getting a free ticket”!

I was fortunate enough to photograph Stereophonics on their first three gigs over four nights, on a tour promoting their new album Graffiti on the Train, for Welsh music magazine Plugged In. The following information details my first day documenting the tour.

Friday 15th March – Stereophonics Tour 

5:30am – With a couple of dogs in the family, it’s usually an early start! Also an opportunity to make sure everything is packed and good to go for the day. I tend to pack everything the night before, ensuring cards are cleared and batteries full. Always need to check and make sure though!

7am – Leave the house for work – job role of Curriculum Leader of Photography means that there are always meetings, interviews, planning and marking to be done!

8am – Coffee!  I always use the window of 8:00 – 8:30 to listen to some music and plan for the day.

9-11am – Interviews. Friday is always my day for interviewing new students for the photography course enrolling in the following academic year. Interviews are a great opportunity to really find out about a potential students’ interests, skills and ambition within the industry.

11:15 – 12:30 – Student Workshops.

12:30 – Lunch.

13:00 – Organize taster sessions, course planning / reviewing, discussions and one to ones with students.

15:30 – Review recent opening tracks. I’ll always try to review the opening 3 tracks of any recent gigs the band have performed. Sometimes they are the same, sometimes they might change a little. It gives me the opportunity to listen to the tracks and work out when there may be time to capture the lead singer away from the microphone (guitar solo’s etc). I think this has been acquired from my rugby playing & photography days – in my opinion it always helps if you can “read” the situation, so knowing where a guitar solo will happen can benefit the photographer.

16:00 – Travel to venue. I’ll usually listen to music, read or review my previous work and sketch or plan out any new ideas.

17:30 – Arrive in Leicester, and check the venue. As it’s been a busy day, and I’ll be busy from 19:00, this is the only time for food and refreshments!

19:00 – Pick up photography & media passes. Some photographers only arrive for the main act. I prefer to get their early (when possible) to check the area, visualize and plan my shoot etc. It’s also an opportunity some to catch up with sound engineers etc, to confirm on opening tracks and set list.

19:30 – Support act – Josh Weller. The support act is always a good time to check potential issues, e.g. space (or lack of!) in the pit, distances on the stage and potential lens changes. I do take a good amount of kit with me “just in case”. It has saved me a few times before – in once instance, shooting Katy Perry was going to be from the photographers pit, all until about 5 minutes before she was on stage.  Photographers were then told we had to shoot from the mixing desk – that’s when a couple of larger lenses (70-200mm, 100 – 400mm) came in handy!

It’s also a good opportunity for a bit of marketing – sometimes supporting acts are on the cusp of something big. I’ve been lucky enough to photograph bands including The Enemy, The Courteeners and Kids In Glass Houses while they were supporting other acts previously.

20:45 – Main Act – Stereophonics. First 3 songs, no flash. As planned previously, I’ll be mainly stage right for track 1, then stage left for track 2, and stage right again for track 3. This may change a little through the gig, largely depending on the stage, lighting, and potentially the other photographers in the pit!

21:00 – First 3 songs finished – time to pack up kit, and begin gig review. I’d usually leave at this point to edit and email images within deadlines, but this is for Plugged In magazine, and I have a few days before my deadline.

22:50 – Gig finished – train home!  If leaving after the first three songs, I’ll usually edit and send from a hotel with wireless close to the gig.  If staying for the whole gig, I’ll stay over or travel home by train – using this time to select and edit images. Many photographers travel various distances to and from gigs – I feel it’s important to use the time efficiently.

00:15 – Arrive home – images have been selected, edited, and left to load onto my website. It’s been a 19+ hour day – and I’ll have the same to do tomorrow in Wolverhampton, and on Monday in Leeds. Time for some sleep!

Thanks very much for your time Alex. 

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