Interview: Music Photographer Christie Goodwin

Duckie 2012 BW 03Christie Goodwin is in high demand as a tour and portrait photographer for top recording artists. Her work appears on CDs and DVDs, tour merchandise, posters and calendars, in international publications, books and exhibitions. She is known for her no-nonsense approach and connecting with the artist. Fast, creative and a little bit crazy, Christie delivers mind-blowing end results for her clients. 

How did you get started in Music Photography? For a long time I was an editorial photographer. I shot music in my free time, until one day Joe Satriani hired me to shoot his show in Brussels.

Was there a big break in your career? When Usher hired me to go on tour with him for two months. That was the day things really changed for me. That’s when I started believing I could do this for a living.

How did you find the experience of that first tour on the road? At that time I had already done shoots for Taylor Swift in the UK and in America, so I had already tasted big tour life, but I hadn’t done a two-month tour yet. Tours of top artists are well-oiled machines. Everything is perfectly organised to the smallest details – all is taken care of. The artists themselves are top professionals. Being on that tour really opened my eyes to how hard they work. Usher would film every show. He would get into his tour bus after the show and watch the whole thing and take notes. The next day he would have meetings with the light designer, the set designer, the band, the dancers and changes would be made. The show was constantly fine-tuned. He just wanted to give the best performance ever, each and every time. The stories of wild parties and what have you not are so far removed from the truth. They bloody well work hard to get where they are.

Usher, Ahoy Rotterdam, 2011 by Christie Goodwin

Usher, Ahoy Rotterdam, 2011 by Christie Goodwin

The other thing about that tour was that Usher was really interested in what I did. He would sometimes come look over my shoulder and go over the pictures I had taken and give me pointers for the next show. One day I walked into his dressing room and one of the pictures I had taken was blown up on a mega-sized flatscreen. He sat on his sofa looking at it. He said it was the best picture he had ever seen and had spent all day looking at it. Quite a humbling moment. But my fondest memory of the whole tour was when I had to go on his bus to shoot a bit of fly on the wall of ‘artist on tour bus’. We were both drained because of lack of sleep. He suggested we skip the shoot and just watch a film instead. So he made me a cup of tea and there we sat together watching a film like we had no care of the world whatsoever. Precious. It’s liberating to have full access on a tour and it is a rude awakening when you come back and two days later you do a show for press and whoever it is has put you a mile from the stage at a sound desk behind a couple of thousand people taking and sharing iphone photos. One day you are allowed to do your job to the best of your abilities, the next day you’re no longer allowed to be the best you can be.

Looking back at that tour with Usher, that was also the time I became very aware never to underestimate the job. They pay you good money to produce extraordinary pictures; they expect you to deliver something different, something that they can identify with, something that they can be proud of. It’s not just taking a picture of a concert; it’s taking a picture of what they try to convey to their fans, you have to be able to capture what the artist sees in his mind. I still feel like a child handing a school report card to your parents each time I deliver a set of photos to the artist.

Slash, Download Festival, Donington, 2010 by Christie Goodwin

Slash, Download Festival, Donington, 2010 by Christie Goodwin

How did you go about becoming a touring photographer for ‘big name’ artists? Was it something you fell into or was it a strategic process of events? From the get-go I aspired to work with top artists because they come with the full package: creative performances, great shows, perfect lights, excitement, visual perfection. I have somebody who pitches me to potential clients. I have been very fortunate that my clients seem to like what I do and keep coming back.

Would you say you have a particular style? I like to think I am a storyteller. At least that’s what I try to do with my pictures. As music is about conveying emotions of some sort, what I am after is to capture that. Some clients say they recognise my work immediately. I don’t see that, because when I look at my own work I am my own worst critic. But it’s nice to know they do see something I tried to capture.

Alter Bridge, Manchester Arena, 2013 by Christie Goodwin

Alter Bridge, Manchester Arena, 2013 by Christie Goodwin

How do you go about achieving it? Do you have any particular routines, techniques or viewpoints that you always like to cross off – like a shot from behind the artist in front of the crowd? I never work with lists and sometimes even ignore the briefs I get from clients. If I have a long list of shots to get, I might miss the best shot, the one that we didn’t know was there. I like to go into a show all-innocent, not knowing what to expect. That’s when I am at my best. I basically get absorbed into the show just like the audience does. It depends on the artist of course how deep I get pulled in. It does happen that clients ask for the reverse shot of the artist with the crowd behind them. If that is requested I will usually wait till the encore. Otherwise I feel I have to leave the magic to tick off somebody else’s boxes. And you know, in the end I usually get the shots they were after anyway, without looking at the list.

Taylor Swift, Houston, 2010 by Christie Goodwin

Taylor Swift, Houston, 2010 by Christie Goodwin

How do you see the music photography industry in 2014? The landscape is changing drastically and not for the better. Everyone owns a camera these days and the profession of photographer has become quite insignificant. Where you would hire a professional photographer for photography ten years ago, now every Tom Dick and Harry will do the job, for free, for a credit, for the glory. But it’s not just the poaching of our livelihood by giving away pictures for free that annoys me. They are also dragging down our reputation. Because of the antics of these non-professionals more and more artists and managements have strict rules for photographing their shows. I have a client who used to allow photographers to shoot his show but now has banned them after an experience during one of his shows where photographers were arguing with each other in the pit to get the better spot. They were arguing so loud that one of the microphones picked it up and the artist heard it in his earpiece while he was singing. Now that, I know for a fact, wouldn’t happen if only professional music photographers were allowed into the pit. Music photography is a serious profession but unfortunately there are too many outlaws.

What do you think can be done to try to resolve this issue – that can benefit both artist and photographer? The value of music photography has declined massively. How can value be put back into our industry? The law is a bit ambiguous on working for free. The law says that you are allowed to shoot without being paid as long as in the end these pictures aren’t sold. Then again how are you going to check that? I don’t think anybody is going to change the law just to suit a couple of photographers. The only way forward is for professional music photographers to get organized. Like actors. There are enough photography organisations. Some might even have the resources and the manpower to support our cause. You could house “music photographer” under the umbrella of the NUJ or a similar organisation and protect our profession. For instance, at bigger venues only allow photographers in the pit with an official music photographer’s card issued by an official body like the NUJ. It’s just a thought. But if we all just moan to each other and do nothing about it, it will only get worse – and it’s already pretty bad.

And if I may go a bit further, it should be legal to physically hurt somebody in the pit jumping in front of me with an iPad.

Dream Theater, Wembley Arena, 2014 by Christie Goodwin

Dream Theater, Wembley Arena, 2014 by Christie Goodwin

What do you think makes a great live music photo? My teacher back in the day said that a good picture is a picture that draws you in and you can’t take your eyes off it. I still believe that. There are two kinds of live music photos. There are the generic fast food photos. Same angles, same shots, same expression of the shows in Manchester, Birmingham and London. Then there are the wow shots, the ones that jumps out, take you by the throat and suck you in. That to me is the great live music photo.

Some of the great iconic music photos had a certain raw quality and feel to them. A lot of them were not ‘technically perfect’ photos – some were out of focus, incredibly grainy and some had motion blur. But they were still fantastic because they captured the moment. Nowadays a photo that had those ‘qualities’ would probably never see the light of day. Is that a sign of the times that the equipment enables us to not let those things happen now because it is perceived it’s ‘a badly taken photo’ – do you see that as a sad thing? I don’t think a great photo should depend on technicality. Back in the day when you shot analogue you had more chance of shooting grainy or motion blur. These days with the digital cameras it is hard to go technically wrong as these cameras have been made is such a way that they do a lot of the thinking for you if you like. On the one hand I celebrate the incredible advanced technology of the digital camera but on the other hand my heart weeps that the advanced technology has turned our visual world into monotone scenery of bland and uninspiring imagery. If you see the covers of Rolling Stone Magazine these days you cannot tell who these people are anymore or what they stand for. They are all shot in the same glossy, generic way with the same generic Photoshop touches. It’s bland, uninspiring and boring. It doesn’t excite me. I blame that on the unlimited possibility for technical perfection these digital cameras offer these days.

Justin Timberlake, Forum, London, 2013 by Christie Goodwin

Justin Timberlake, Forum, London, 2013 by Christie Goodwin

How much freedom do you have when you are doing a shoot with a band or an artist? How does the creative process between you and the artist usually work? It varies from artist to artist. Most of my regular clients know how I work and they give me carte blanche. They let me do what I do because they know I will come up with more than they have imagined. But I have been hired a few times by people who have a strict idea of what they want to see. Which totally restricts the creativity. I usually never hear from them again, and if I do, I might decline the offer. I assume they chose me after seeing my work. But then they want to change the way I get there. That doesn’t make sense to me. But like I said, most of my clients have faith in me and let me just get on with what I do.

Are you a big fan of post processing? Post processing (for me) is tidying up, cropping, straightening, bringing out the colours, sometimes colour correcting. I don’t do Photoshop – that is against my religion. My problem with Photoshop is that there are too many options to drastically alter reality. A picture is capturing one moment in time and holding it for eternity. When you alter that moment then it becomes a lie. That’s why I don’t ever change somebody’s shape. A hundred years from now people will look at photos of 2014 and in some cases look at one big fat lie and they will not know it. They will think that everyone was a glossy, thin, tight skinned glamour puss with a touch of orange and especially without any identity.

McBusted, Royal Albert Hall, London, 2013 by Christie Goodwin

McBusted, Royal Albert Hall, London, 2013 by Christie Goodwin

When you are on the road with a band or artist how do you keep the photos fresh and new when it’s the same show and the same artist every night? Every show is different, even the perfectly orchestrated shows will vary one day to the next. It depends on the venue, the crowd, and even the mood of the artist and the mood of the photographer. I do push myself every show to seek out the different, the other, the not seen before. As time goes on it almost becomes a challenge I set for myself. Every show I want to outperform my previous show. I like challenges like that.

What’s involved on a typical day on the road? It depends where you are and it depends on the distance between two cities on a tour. Two hours after the show the busses head to the next town. If it’s a two-hour drive, I might have a decent night in a hotel. If the two cities are 600 miles apart, you sleep in a bunk on the bus and head straight to the next venue. Not easy to sleep in a bus. Depends on the country and the state of the roads. I usually work half the night anyway, so I don’t actually mind the bus ride. Although after a while, the lack of sleep does start to add up.

I pick up my cameras again at 3 in the afternoon. I might shoot a bit of behind the scenes, a bit of soundcheck. There is a lot of waiting and playing games on your phone at this point. Some days I might wander around outside when the fans queue up. Some more waiting. Shoot the show, upload photos, start editing. After a week or two you have no idea where you are or what day it is.

Johnny Hallyday, Royal Albert Hall, London, 2013 by Christie Goodwin

Johnny Hallyday, Royal Albert Hall, London, 2013 by Christie Goodwin

It’s clearly a tough job and not as glamorous as all of us may think. Many music photographers dream of being on tour with their idols, hanging out at the bar, sharing a joke and a beer with them. They envision a glitzy lifestyle but that is a serious misinterpretation and far from reality. Its very long hours, very little sleep – it’s lots of waiting and doing nothing. And everybody’s too tired to party. And you work for the artist – you are not his or her friend, you’re not there to hang out with them.

What’s in the kit bag for a show? Very basic, I have my two cameras, 5D Mark III, a 24-105 and a 70-200 lens and earplugs. Loads of cards and batteries and a shoulder strap belt holster contraption to carry my cameras hand free.

Which music photographers do you admire? Baron Wolman and Linda McCartney originally inspired me to do what I do. They both have a truthful feel to their work.

Haim, Forum, London, 2013 by Christie Goodwin

Haim, Forum, London, 2013 by Christie Goodwin

Do you have any tips for new music photographers? Enter the pit with the notion that you are a photographer and not a fan. Be respectful to other photographers. Don’t be the jerk that blocks everyone else’s view with your pointy elbows. Don’t give your work away for free or for credit.

What advice would you give to professional photographers just starting out in their career? Be friendly to everyone – the doorman today may be the manager you have to deal with tomorrow.

Thank you very much Christie.

You can find see more of Christies’ work and connect with her via the following links:

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Aside from Christie’s work, which clearly speaks for itself, she is a true professional in every sense of the word. Her pit manner is exactly what photographers should aspire to emulate – discreet, focused and polite. Always a treat to be in the presence of and learn from greatness 🙂

  • Great insights into the business of a professional music photographer. I totally agree with Christie about being on tour with a band has not so much glamour as most of the people might think. I was traveling with the german balkan band Shantel for 10 days through europe with the nightliner bus. Sure it´s hard work but I don´t want to miss this experience. I also agree on the fact that it´s getting harder and harder for music photographers to make money with their art. It seems that it´s common sense to give photos for free. The main problem in my opinion is, like Christie mentioned, that there are a lot of other photographers who will happily give their work for free credits. It might be alright for online usage with the logo in the picture but never give your photos for promo and press release for free! What will happen is that other bands also take notice of you and are not willing to pay anymore.

  • Nice work! Nice perspectives from front and back of stage.

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