You’re never too young to be a gig photographer

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 19.39.04Caitlin Mogridge is an internationally published freelance music and events photographer who is based in North East London. She is a music photographer for NME Magazine, Redferns Music Picture Library and Getty Images. She was also overall winner of the Rokpool Music Photography Prize in 2011.

Publications she has contributed to include NME, Q, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, The Observer, The Independent, The Times, The BBC, The Fly, 1883 Magazine, The New York Metro, The Evening Standard.

Caitlin’s commercial clients include Sony Music, EMI, Raw Power, Channel 4, Red Bull, Rekorderlig, Mama Group, Communion Music.

Caitlin is only 23 years old.

When we saw her credentials and her work we had to contact her to see if she was up for a chat – and luckily for us she was!

How did you get started? I started music photography at my local youth club’s gig nights aged 14.All my friends were in bands but I had no shred of musical talent so it was the only way I could hang out with them.My dad is a photographer so I had always been interested in it, but it was only a lot later during my photography degree, that I decided I could make a serious career out of it. From that point I haven’t stopped to think about it.

Your credentials are really impressive. How did you become an official photographer for the likes of NME and Getty Images? Everyone approaches it from a different angle. I thought I’d learn the most by meeting the photographers I admired. I think there is a lot to be said for people who accept they have a lot to learn. I set up interviews and arranged to shoot alongside them. Eventually they trusted me enough to impart their knowledge and were kind enough to give me advice about my portfolio and who to approach. They were realistic and told me that it’s an incredibly competitive industry but I didn’t give up. I think it took two years of me contacting NME to finally get accepted! Without their advice I wouldn’t have known where to start.

Talk us through a typical gig for you when you are booked by a publication or stock-photo agency A publication will send you to a gig with a brief and you get a commission fee. An agency will allow you to use their name to gain access to a gig, and then sell the photos on your behalf. You only get paid if the photos are used, and then they take a substantial cut of every sale. It’s hard to earn a living from stock agencies as the price of photos is falling every day and their cut keeps rising, but you’d never get that level of exposure without them.

Do you have a particular style or routine when your in the pit? I think in the pit I try and move a lot to get variation, but there are always some obvious shots that I get first. I’m addicted to flare, I try and use the light to highlight things or sometimes just so I can increase my shutter speed. Every show is different so I guess you just have to learn how to use what you’ve got and be inventive!

We always strive to get the perfect shot ‘in-camera’ but that is not always the case. Certain tweaks and changes might be necessary to get the best out of our photos. Are you a fan of post-processing? Are there certain things that you always tweak, remove or look out for? For agency gigs only minimal processing is allowed, normally only what you could do in a traditional dark room. For commissions you sometimes have a bit more freedom and would tidy up a distracting mic stand or wire. On the whole I don’t really like overly processed live images so I try to frame things carefully to save me the trouble later.

How do you see the music photography industry in 2013? I think the photographic industry is in crisis, or at least, it’s certainly not what it used to be. I wish that I had started doing this in the golden years amongst Pennie Smith and Philip Townsend etc.The assumption that people will work for free, and the exploitation of young photographers really gets to me. It’s something I feel we should all stand together against, but people who offer their work for credit or promised opportunity are only devaluing themselves and others.Music photography is suffering the worst because the music industry is changing too. You can almost see a direct coloration between the introduction of Napster/Spotify and ‘free’ access to music, and the rapid decline of fees in the industry for everyone, including musicians and photographers.However I feel if your portfolio is strong and you deliver consistently then you will never struggle to find paid work.

We interviewed Jason Wilder who has firm opinions on working for free and the on-going issues around artists photo releases. How do you feel about the growing trend of artists’ photo releases and the seemingly unreasonable demands put onto photographers? I spoke to an American portrait photographer who had started shooting live. He told me he didn’t understand why there are so many crippling demands in place that are stopping photographers from earning a living and why they should be treated so badly. We deal with constant pass chasing, photo releases that demand full ownership of copyright, the three song rule, only being permitted to shoot from the sound desk on a 300mm lens, bad lighting, and then if we manage to get some salvageable shots that miraculously sell, then the agency takes the largest cut. Sadly it’s become an accepted part of it and I don’t think it’s fair. The releases are often written by labels without the band’s knowledge, and seem so unnecessarily strict, when after all, we are there to market their bands and get them exposure in national and international press. You’d think they would support that.

And, how do you feel about photographers who work for free and ‘hobbyists’ in the pit? I love music photography and want others to enjoy it too. I understand that people do it for different reasons. I’d just ask people to be aware that their decision to work for free has an impact on others. 

Is there such a thing as a full-time professional music photographer these days, or do most of the photographers you know have jobs alongside their music photography commitments? I know lots of people who still have jobs and a stable income and do this on the side, I think that’s down to personal choice. It’s not easy not knowing when your next paycheck will come. Equally I know several photographers who made the jump and are doing incredibly well now. I decided to go full time in February and I’m the happiest but the poorest I have ever been. I think it takes a while to become established but if you put in the work you see the rewards.

What’s in the bag?

  • 2x Nikon D800
  • 24-70mm f2.8
  • 50mm f1.8
  • 14-24mm f2.8
  • 70-200mm f2.8
  • Nikon SB600

Which photographers do you admire? Ian Gavan, a staffer at Getty Images, and the kindest man in the game. When I first met him he scared me to death, but he taught me to push myself to be the best photographer I can be, to do things by the book and never be dishonest, and to make friends not enemies along the way. All great advice. Simone Joyner, an editor and sports/music photographer for Getty. She has had the patience of a saint and explained every detail of the industry to me. Andrew Whitton and Danny North because they are both kicking arse in this game and are a constant inspiration. They remind me every day how lucky we are, and how incredible this job is.

Your top tips for music photographers? Be considerate to others in the pit. Go above and beyond. Arrange extra access, do portraits, maintain a good relationship with the PR. Make yourself stand out from everyone else for the right reasons. Wear good earplugs, or if you’re serious about doing this then invest in some custom moulded plugs. My biggest regret is thinking I was immune to hearing damage. I have to sleep with the radio on to distract my brain from the constant high pitch whistling. It’s enough to drive you insane.

How can we find out more about you and find more of your work?

Photo details:
Muse at the Emirates Stadium, 25/05/13
D700, 24-70mm.
ISO 2500, 1/3200, F2.8

Alt-J at Shepherds Bush Empire, 18/01/13
D700, 14-24mm.
ISO 1000, 1/160, F2.8

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Sylvia Borgo says:

    Fantastic interview! I really appreciated her honesty when in defining her style/how she approaches a shoot, and how she got started in the business. Thanks so much for this great interviews!

  • Suzi Pratt says:

    Fabulous story, not far from my own. Way to go, Caitlin!

  • Lucy Onions says:

    Caitlin, you certainly have your head screwed on the right way. What an excellent interview! At 23, you’ve already done so much and it’s plain to see you’re not scared of hard work. I’m a gig photographer and I’ve managed to shoot some of my all time favourite bands, in most cases, even arranging promo shoots and interviews with them too.

    I’m all for “hobbyists” because after all, that’s how I started BUT as you so rightfully say, people who just give their work away really put a strain on the business. I do some of my shoots for free but that’s because I do them on behalf of the online music magazine I work with; they’ve got me into gigs of my favourite bands for free. They sort out releases, AAA passes, photo passes etc for me. i give them one or two images (along with my review) and the remainder of the photos are then all mine to do ad i wish with. i’ve been able to fill my portfolio with shots of my favourite bands and have sold prints as a result. However, I also approach bands myself (usually unsigned, local bands) and that’s when I earn my money for shoots.

    This is a very refreshing interview to read and I will certainly now add you on twitter and check out your work!

  • Alex says:

    Top interview with a top photographer. A great insight and inspiration for the younger photographers out there!

  • Lynne says:

    But are you ever too old? Seriously. If you haven’t broken in to genre as a relatively young person, are you ever too old?

  • I don’t think one is ever too old. I shot my first gig last year, and I’m 38 in a few months time!
    I’ve no intention of stopping anytime soon either.

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