NME Music Photography Awards 2010: Advice From The Pros

As part of the NME Music Photography Awards with Nikon, our crack team of photographers impart their invaluable knowledge for the benefit of budding snappers everywhere…


Richard Johnson on Starting Out
“When buying your camera, do your research. The internet has loads of great photography sites with reviews on cameras, lenses and equipment. You don’t have to spend lots of money to get a decent camera and start shooting gigs but make sure you invest wisely. Also, a camera that has good quality images at high ISO is quite important. Enrol on a photography course to gain confidence and learn the basics. This gives you the opportunity to explore the creative side and borrow equipment to make a body of work.”

Richard Johnson on Getting Online
“One of the first things you need to do is get a website and start using social networks to your advantage. A website is a cheap and easy way to get people to look at your work instantly and blogs/ facebook are a good way to inform people of what you are up to.”

Richard Johnson on Making The Leap From Amateur To Pro
“I made the jump by assisting other photographers, just emailing those people I wanted to work with. I also made good contacts by doing work experience at NME in my holidays. The old ‘it’s who you know’ cliché is true. All of this experience working with other professional photographers gives you confidence and money to make a portfolio and start getting work. I learnt more in two months assisting than three years in college.”

Richard Johnson recently shot Mumford & Sons for us and was the man behind the lens at Rage Against The Machine’s free gig. He started out shooting local bands while studying photography at art college before doing a degree at Falmouth College of Arts and gaining work experience at NME, assisting other photographers and finally getting paid work. Website

Kele by Richard Johnson

Danny North on Finding The Right Equipment
“My advice is spend as much as you can on the lens. The cheap mega-zooms like the 18-200mm are absolute rubbish and technically flawed, and it won’t be long before you want to upgrade. If you’re shooting in smaller venues, the 24-70mm (for full frame sensors) or the 17-55mm (for APS sensors) are pretty much the standard. If you can’t afford Canon or Nikon, look at alternatives by companies like Tamron or Sigma. I’d also suggest you take a serious look at prime lenses if you want optimum quality. A prime lens basically mean that you have a fixed focal length, but because of this there’s less glass inside and the images can be a hell of a lot sharper and refined.”

Danny North on Shooting Live
“Experimentation is the key to getting original shots. One of the best bits of kit to experiment with is the flash. Personally I hate on-body flash. It’s OK if you’re shooting naked people against a white wall – just ask Terry Richardson – but at a gig it just looks pants, the light flattens the subject and makes your shoots look boring. Try bouncing flash, or buy some cheap radio triggers from Ebay and using it off-body. Have a go at balancing flash with the ambient light at the gig. Oh, and always, always use manual mode.”

Danny North has shot many covers for NME (including the infamous Fucked Up feature) alongside tour shots for Kaiser Chiefs and pictures for the Muse tour programmes. He’s recently branched out into video direction, most notably with Chickenhawk’s zombie-fest ‘I Hate This, Do You Like It?’. Website

Fucked Up

Andy Willsher on Being In The Right Place At The Right Time
“There’s a lot of luck and patience involved, but you also need knowledge of the band and what they are likely to do. That way you’re prepared to capture a great image that hopefully might go on to be a classic. I always find the best moments actually occur in between songs, or when the singer isn’t singing, or right at the end of the set – essentially the opposite to what you’d normally be concentrating on. Negotiating more than just the first three songs helps.”

Andy Willsher is an NME vet and has been with us throughout the festival season. His recent work also includes documenting the Biffy Clyro tour and shooting U2 for their 360 Tour programme. He didn’t study photography at all, but shot gigs while at school and read the appropriate books. He got his big break one weekend when NME were short of photographers and, again, he was in the right place at the right time. Website


Andy Whitton on Shooting For Bands
“Shooting for bands presents lots of challenges. Every situation is different as is every artist. You have to work fast, intuitively and entertain them too. You may have five minutes or five hours so you have to make the most of that time. Make a plan and stick to it. Your early experience will help you through and learning your kit will mean you can act fast and decisively.”

Andy Whitton has worked for a whole range of diverse artists, from La Roux and Take That to Yeah Yeah Yeahs and has shot numerous covers for NME. He started out shooting in all kinds of realms, from advertising to fashion and even underwater, and it was this range that helped progress his career. Website

Snoop by Andy Whitton

Dean Chalkley on Shooting Portraits
“All types of cameras or lights pale into insignificance when you realise that a portrait session comprises two things: you and your subject. The connection between the two is the most important thing. Think about who the person is, what they represent, how you perceive them, and what their image is. Your preconceptions about them, the environment you’re in and any time constraints will influence things but I think it will essentially return to the moment you either connect or do not connect with the subject. Sometimes a disconnection can produce very interesting results too.”

Dean Chalkley has shot numerous covers for NME, including the recent Kele shots. He’s also worked for Levis, the Manic Street Preachers, Tinchy Stryder and Paul Weller. He started his career in fashion design before starting an evening class in photography followed by a degree. Jobs for Dazed and as a photographer’s assistant followed and he puts his success down to a strong work ethic. Website

The Horrors by Dean Chalkley

Tom Oxley on Finding The Perfect Studio
“You’re looking for somewhere with height, width, and depth – lots of space basically. If you’re cramped it’s going to look cramped, although that is good training too. If you can’t afford to hire one, bars are good if you’re friends with staff, or try a local warehouse, sports hall, or community centre. Just don’t shoot bands next to a brick wall! Or you could do what I did, and set one up in your back garden.”

Tom Oxley on Getting That Cover Shot
“There’s loads to consider when aiming for the cover shot. One key consideration is all the other stuff that will be around the picture – the magazine logo, the bar code, the cover lines. You’ll need to explain to the band what you want to do, try and get them into the same area (which can be hard with big bands) and you might not have much time. While the artist may be there for a while there’s hair, make-up, clothes and more. Having too much time can be bad too, as you overthink stuff.”

Tom Oxley is the man behind our recent MIA, Klaxons and Mark Ronson covers. He’s also working with The Coral and on a “top secret” video installation. He studied at the Reading College Of Art before assisting Dean Chalkley and landing some jobs at NME.


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