HOW TO SHOOT CONCERTS

STEVE HARRIS – IRON MAIDEN 2018 COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

I am writing this in response to several ‘How to’ guides I have seen online that don’t quite hit the mark on how to take great live concert photographs. Most of the articles focus too much on the obvious, like concerts are dark and avoid things in your way like mic stands and such. Personally I think it is a bit patronising to suggest that you are letting the photographer in on the ‘professional secrets’ if it is written by a non-professional music photographer, so this is my guide.

JANICK GERS – IRON MAIDEN COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

A lot of this information focuses on the technical aspects to taking a good picture. The rest of it is pretty straight forward really. If a guitarist appears in front of your lens, throwing shapes with his head back and one arm in the air, then hit the shutter release button. It isn’t rocket science but it isn’t as easy as you may think either.

JASON PERRY – THE BAND CALLED ‘A’ COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Most people who get into music photography do it because they have a passion for music, photography and a love of the music scene. If this is the case you are half way there to making a great music photographer, but it also takes time and practise. I started in 1989 blagging a photo pass for Ozzy Osbourne at the Hammersmith Odeon. It was the defining moment of my life experiencing the exhilaration of standing in the photo pit so close that I could touch Ozzy that led to shooting hundreds of shows in the UK.

ZAKK WYLDE – OZZY OSBOURNE COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
OZZY OSBOURNE – COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

I first shot bands to build up a portfolio and went on to shoot for RollingStone, Q magazine NME, Classic Rock and Metal Hammer magazines. This work regularly takes me all over the world shooting in stadiums, arenas, small clubs and even live stage productions like War of the Worlds.

WAR OF THE WORLDS – O2 LONDON COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

I also work as Official Photographer for IRON MAIDEN and accompany them on their sensational tours around the world on board Ed Force One in their very own Boeing 747 (Piloted by Captain Bruce Dickinson). On average I shoot approx 200,000 images a year so I have some experience of shooting concerts. I also published the No.1 best seller ‘ON BOARD FLIGHT 666’ a photo documentary with IRON MAIDEN capturing 4 years on tour.

IRON MAIDEN, GOTHENBURG COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

FEAR OF THE DARK. Firstly the dark isn’t the problem it once was. Gigs are dark but modern cameras are excellent at producing good results at high ISO – so the dark is not always an issue. BUT SHOOT RAW! JPEG just won’t give you the latitude you will need to correct high-lites, colour balance, levels and noise, so make sure you shoot RAW or there is no point reading on! I also implore you to SHOOT MANUAL on your camera or you will never learn a thing!

COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

With film cameras it was tough getting anything decent above 1600 ISO and technically it was a nightmare having to push process the film to get good results. That said we did get great results but the key to taking a good shot was knowing when the light was good to shoot. This still applies now and is a discipline that is worth learning. KNOW WHEN TO PRESS THE BUTTON. When you first get access to a big gig the temptation is to just hose down every second of the performance. Of course you can do that but you will discover a high percentage of images will be dark, out of focus and probably not useable and an unreasonable amount of time will be spent editing through all your images. This may sound obvious but be patient and wait for the right moment to shoot. Focus on the lead singer, find a good angle where the mic isn’t obstructing their face and try and watch what the lights are doing. When the light looks good and you have a reasonable exposure and the artist looks half decent then shoot. If not try and wait. That said if something spectacular happens like the singer jumps into the crowd or blows a kiss at your camera, then just keep shooting!

SKUNK ANANSIE COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Big shows have follow spots that are usually good quality warm/daylight spotlights that stay consistent for most of the show – they are manually operated by a person and their job is to follow that artist wherever they go on stage. The Lighting Director is in radio control with the follow spot operators and will instruct them to kill the light or go half power at various stages during a show. If you are lucky enough to shoot a show with follow spots then your ISO can stay around 1600 OR 2000. Set your camera lens to f2.8 or f4 and keep your shutter speed above 1/250th (usually you will get 1/500th @ f2.8 using 2000 ISO). Once you know where your exposure needs to be then you can concentrate on capturing that defining moment.

JAMES HETFIELD – METALLICA COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Capture the artist’s likeness. Watch the singer, see what kind of expressions he is pulling. Does he/she look like he or she? Often you will shoot a famous artist and they don’t look like their publicity photos. If so your images may not have much value. It is a picture editors hate, receiving a set of pictures that don’t look like the artist. It sounds crazy but it is more common than you think. If this is the case, change angle and shoot as many different expressions as you can. I remember shooting David Bowie and most of the shoot he just didn’t look like the classic Bowie we know and love. I changed angle and the light changed and I got some incredible photos. This was on film but I knew looking through the viewfinder it didn’t look like him. I got there in the end but it pays to be honest with yourself as you shoot.

DAVID BOWIE – COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

HIGH ISO. Not all gigs are lit up like an Aerosmith show and small club shows can be challenging. That said there is no reason why a modern camera with a good lens can’t produce good to reasonable results in a dimly lit venue. The first thing to consider is how high ISO can your camera go before the noise is unusable? Test your own camera in low light and find out. There are lots of noise reduction changes you can make in post production but I would try and avoid having to over use this. From my experience the effect can make people look like they are made of wax and your photography will look like they are melting if over used!

ROBERT PLANT & JIMMY PAGE COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

If your camera has an insanely high MegaPixel count (over 30million) then chances are your camera won’t be good at high ISO. This is a technical fact due to the way the sensor works and a thing called Dynamic Range. The higher the megapixel the less dynamic range the camera can give at High ISO. At low ISO the large MegaPixel cameras are mostly outstanding. It will be unable to shoot at Very High ISO in bad light and produce good results. It is one thing testing your camera in low light but it is another testing it when the light really is bad. The game changer in high ISO for me was when Nikon launched the D3 – which produces outstanding images up to 6400. All of the images in my IRON MAIDEN book (‘ON BOARD FLIGHT 666’) were taken with the Nikon D3 and D3s cameras.

IRON MAIDEN COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The quality will totally depend on your camera so not every camera is good at HIGH ISO. I have taken stunning shots using 6400 ISO in reasonable light but then as the light changed the quality also worsened giving noise in the blacks and dirty colours using the same ISO. So find out how good your camera is before shooting a show, then you will know how high your ISO can go before it effects the quality.

AC/DC COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

I now use NIKON D5 cameras for the majority of live photography. This is a 20 million pixel camera and shoots great up to 3200. At 6400 the results are reasonable and anything above that is purely ‘get out of jail’. At a very dark show you can do two things. Wait for the light to come on (usually in the chorus or guitar solos) or shoot at the highest ISO you dare. Maybe 6400 ISO and open your lens Aperture to f2.8 (any wider like f1.8 is hopeless if you are close to the artist. The depth of field is too narrow and more than not your focus will miss). Then select the fastest shutter speed your exposure meter will allow (remember you are in Manual mode). Try and keep your shutter above 1/60th if you can unless you are shooting a wide shot of the entire stage. At 1/60th you will get sharp results but any fast movement of anyone jumping or turning will blur. Ideally you want to be at 1/250th if at all possible. Weirdly with modern LED lighting some colours (Blue and Red) will produce incorrect exposure information so your LCD display on the camera is imperative for checking on your exposure. Most modern cameras will allow for a couple of stops of under exposure which you can bring back in the edit (as long as you are shooting RAW). In low light you have to be patient and wait for the lighting to look good. Sometimes the band want a show to be dark as it fits their mood and other times the Lighting guy is just asleep. Either way you deal with it.

2018 Copyright HELSINKI IRON MAIDEN COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

For many years I shot in London’s small clubs using an effect called flash blur. By using flash it solved the low light problem and was an impressive effect to freeze a guitarist in motion.

GIZZ BUTT – JANUS STARK COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The trick is to use a low ISO like 100 and use very slow shutter speeds (1/15th – 1/4) that aren’t long enough to fully expose but enough to give you light trails or blur lines. This setting combined with a flash gun that is freezing the action produces stunning results but it is a trial and error method that takes some getting used to.

DIMMU BORGIR COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Alternatively using flash with a mid/high ISO (400 ISO) will produce good results as long as you are exposing for the background lighting also. Let the cameras through the lens metering automatically select the flash exposure and you set the ambient exposure manually.

JOHN LYDON -THE SEX PISTOLS COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Never shoot with Flash if there is a lot of smoke, it just doesn’t work!

PROPHETS OF RAGE – COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

If the concert is an editorial commission then you will probably only get 3 songs at the beginning of the show. Because you only get to shoot 3 songs you need to prepare and find out what happens during those first moments of the show. The best way to do this is to learn the show from YOUTUBE. On YOUTUBE there will be plenty of fan uploads showing where each member of the band stands, Pyro explosions, Jumps, what the stage show and lighting is like and what are the must see moments to capture. There have been many a gig where I have watched the show before going to the venue so that I knew all the cues for pyro.

AIRBOURNE – COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

With Maiden I am lucky to see the production rehearsals and I make notes so I know exactly when and where things happen. Once you know what you are going to shoot then you can plan where you will shoot from.

2012 MAIDEN ENGLAND SET LIST WITH SHOW NOTES COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Knowing when things will happen, allows you to be calculated and in the right place at exactly the right time.

STEVE HARRIS – THE TROOPER – IRON MAIDEN COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The best images don’t necessarily come from being at the front in the pit, sometimes the best shots are from the back of the venue looking at the entire stage.

2018 by JOHN McMURTRIE 2018 Copyright HELSINKI IRON MAIDEN

AC/DC, MAIDEN, SLIPKNOT, RAMMSTEIN, METALLICA all have an impressive stage show with Pyro’s. Find out when the big production moments happen and make sure you are in position to get the pyro explosions and the full stage show in frame.

AC/DC COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
AVENGED SEVENFOLD 2014 DOWNLOAD Picture Copyright/All Rights JOHN McMURTRIE

Sometimes the pit is the worst place to be if the stage show is impressive. I know modern restrictions with its 3 songs in the pit prevent you prowling the venue for the best vantage point but sometime if you ask, you will get special access to shoot from the Front of House desk or at the back. The big wide shots make great double page spreads in the magazines and pay more than a single page so always get a wide shot of the full stage.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Getting to the back of a venue through thousands of people is never easy regardless of the style of music you are shooting so TAKE A TORCH or what I like to call the crowd separation device. Shine a bright light at someone and they get out of the way! It is that simple. It also stops you falling over stuff in the dark. I never shoot a show without a torch in my pocket. It can also help add light if needed.

IRON MAIDEN 26/4/16 SHANGHAI CHINA
T-SHIRT LIT USING A HAND HELD TORCH
COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

GET THE CROWD TO GO F’CKING CRAZY! Shooting the crowd at any size gig is always great fun but focus on somebody interesting that looks like they are enjoying the show.

IRON MAIDEN COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Some people don’t want to be photographed and if that is the case, move on and keep shooting until you get someone going crazy. There is nothing worse than a crowd shot with someone looking disinterested.

IRON MAIDEN COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Band managers and magazines don’t want to see a luke warm crowd. On the big stadium crowd shots I always focus on one individual and let the rest of the crowd fall off around them. Sometimes 70,000 people in one picture is too much to take in. Shouting at a crowd to get their attention’ also works well!

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

GET ACCESS AND MAKE THE MOST OF IT. If you are lucky enough to get full ACCESS ALL AREAS to a show, then make the most of that opportunity. Shoot backstage. The walk up pictures to the stage are always used and if you can get in the dressing room backstage before and after the show then shoot as much as you can but have some awareness of the bands mood and behave appropriately.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD 2018 – DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL, UK – copyright JOHN McMURTRIE
PARKWAY DRIVE – AFTERSHOW COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
GHOST – PRE SHOW COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Once you have access to shoot a whole show then don’t waste that opportunity. Even though you have a full access pass make sure the security are aware you are allowed to roam the venue. Many times (especially in America) I have been stopped by security even though I have a triple A laminate pass. The Head of Security is the person that needs to be told there will be a photographer permitted to shoot everywhere and that message is normally passed on by the bands Tour Manager or the bands security. If local security stop you , tell them to radio the security boss and stay polite. Being a dick in these circumstances rarely works!

IRON MAIDEN COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

With full access you are not pressured to get all your shots in 3 songs but it does bring other pressures. The 4 principle areas I shoot from are the pit, on stage, Front of House (mixing desk area) and up in the gods. Before the show you need to see how accessible all these areas are and make a plan.

ON STAGE IN MADRID COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

On stage can be thwart with real danger and you need to find the stage manager and introduce yourself. He will be able to warn you of any moments during the show he won’t want you getting in the way. This will either be pyro’s or stage set changes or simply where the guitar techs are or the bands preferences on the night. There are several songs during the IRON MAIDEN set I stay well clear onstage due to the danger of being literally blown up or flattened by a 2 ton stage prop.

ON STAGE – DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Once the details of health and safety have been taken care of you need to work out what pictures you are trying to take up there. The drummer is the first priority as he is the most inaccessible to get good shots from the pit.

NICKO McBRAIN – COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Secondly it is the on stage shots that illustrate the scale of the show. With a gazillion people in the crowd, knowing when the ‘Blinders’ are switched on which illuminate the crowd are essential. Shots on stage with a band and no lights on the crowd are often unusable so check with the LD and on the set list when these moments happen and then work out where the best vantage points are?

IRON MAIDEN COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

In between songs is best to avoid getting in the stage technicians way because that is when guitars are tuned and swapped. Upset one of the roadies and the entire production crew will be on your back. Front of House is probably the most comfortable shooting position during a show but often it is virtually impossible to get to this area once the crowd is in the venue. Using a torch helps get through a crowd but doing a recce of any access routes before the crowd come in will help.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD 2018 – DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL, UK – copyright JOHN McMURTRIE

The same for getting up into the bleachers at the big shows as getting lost or wasting time will lose you shots during the show. Again the impressive shots from high up in the crowd at a stadium or Arena often only work when the blinders switch on and light up the crowd. You have to decide when to shoot on stage with the crowd lit up and when to climb high up into the highest part of a stadium will equally look good.

IRON MAIDEN 19/4/16 TOKYO SHOW 1 COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Looking at a set list I usually plan where I will shoot for each song. You usually have to miss at least one song travelling high up into the gods of a venue so I will plan to leave when I know I can miss that song but know the next will have impressive lighting.

COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Many a show I have wasted time waiting for the lights to come on! Obviously there are plenty of other areas that you can shoot from and every venue will be different but try and work out where before the crowds come in.

COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

USE CONTINOUS SHOOTING MODE. When we shot on film this was called the motor drive but now it is called continuous. I shoot a lot of jumps shooting continuous at 10 frames per second. I pre-focus and hold the shutter down giving me a choice of images.

2018 by JOHN McMURTRIE 2018 Copyright TALLINN IRON MAIDEN

This is a great way of getting the prefect shot. Know when to shoot but when something looks great or something exciting happens then shoot and shoot a lot of frames. You may only use one frame out of 20 shots but you can choose the exact moment where everything works.

BRUCE DICKINSON COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

THESE COLOURS DON’T RUN. Love it or hate it, LED lighting is here to stay! I can see why it has pretty much replaced the older style tungsten Parcan lights, but they can be a total pain to shoot. LED is lighter, brighter, cooler and safer and they give the LD more control, being able to dial in a whole multitude of colours and saturation. But they cause a real headache for modern RGB sensors with over saturation blowing out individual colours. With an RGB CCD each colour is read by the individual part of the sensor for that colour. i.e. Blue records blue, Red records red etc. So if an LED light is throwing out the colour BLUE, the level of colour is so pure it washes out into a blown out block of colour. The sensor is unable to record any tone or shade whatsoever. It is the same with RED and less so with GREEN. It sucks and there is very little you can do about it. It is also worth noting exposure meters over-expose with blue and red light so under expose by at least a stop and check your cameras display for reassurance.

ALTER BRIDGE – ROYAL ALBERT HALL COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

There are a few ways to shoot LED stage lighting and some tricks in post production that help, but the first thing to do is manage your expectations because generally speaking there is not a lot you can do if there is 100% RED, GREEN or BLUE in the mix! You can try some of these tricks below.

  1. Under expose, add Clarity and shadow detail, reduce the offending colours saturation , dial in the opposite colour on colour balance all in post production.
  2. Use fill in flash and slightly underexpose the coloured LED.
  3. Ask the Lighting Director to tone down the saturation and add Reds to the Blues and Blues to the Reds. Only possible if you are working for the band. I have done this with IRON MAIDEN and believe me it works.
  4. Convert everything to B&W (the last resort).
ALTER BRIDGE – RED LED over saturation dialled down in post production COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

There are several methods in post production you can try but from experience very few actually work well and if you edit too much, the colours just look odd! I once spent the entire night editing the opening show on a new tour creating pre-sets to reduce colour burn and the only method that actually worked was to underexpose on the next days show. It is the number one problem shooting music in the 21st century and until sensors advance and Lighting Directors dial out the saturation from the mix, it is one that will continue to be a problem for stills/video in the future.

2018 by JOHN McMURTRIE 2018 Copyright TALLINN IRON MAIDEN

In my IRON MAIDEN book ‘ON BOARD FLIGHT 666’ all the images shot between 2008 and 2009 were shot with Tungsten lighting, 2010-2011 are all LED and you can see this difference in colour saturation.

IRON MAIDEN – COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Follow spots are generally tungsten but I expect that to change also to LED in the near future. On one tour we had the follow spots set to 20% and because of this I was forced to over expose the LED stage lighting behind the musicians so the follow spot light on the artist was the correct exposure. I ended up pleading with the LD to turn up the power on the spots because it was just killing me every night. I eventually got my way but I had 10 shows with virtually unusable colours blown out behind the perfectly exposed follow spot.

AVENGED SEVENFOLD – ATLANTA 2013 COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

BUY GOOD GEAR. The saying a bad workman blames his tools doesn’t apply in music photography and try and to get the best equipment you can afford. The more expensive pro cameras are built so much tougher and will last longer than a cheap DSLR.

COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

You will need a camera that can take a few knocks and has good water (beer & sweat) resistance. A 2nd hand Nikon D3 will cost you around £450 and will be a better investment than a mid-range new camera that costs more. Don’t go for the highest Mega-Pixel camera either as the higher the pixel count the lesser the performance at high ISO. Try and get lenses only with an aperture of f2.8. They tend to be better glass than the ‘kit’ lenses that come supplied with cameras these days and will insure you get sharp results, have a bright viewfinder and allow you take pictures in low light. You will never take good concert pictures with cheap glass. A 50mm f1.8 is a relatively inexpensive lens but excellent for small shows. A 24-70mm f2.8 is also an excellent investment! Get the best you can afford but make sure it can shoot at f2.8.

GHOST – COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

FOCUS LOCK The autofocus on most modern cameras are excellent, so use it, but know how to stop the focus system when you can see things are sharp. Most cameras have a focus lock button and I use focus lock all the time. It just stops the focusing zipping off to infinity when an artist moves in the frame. On a guitar player I focus on the eyes, lock focus and re-compose. Because the way a guitarist moves will mean your autofocus will be on the guitar or a shoulder or some hair which will kill the image. 50% of all published shots of guitarists have the face sharp and often with the headstock cropped out.

METAL HAMMER FRONT COVER

EDIT YOUR SHOTS! I can’t stress to you how important editing is. Firstly a picture editor doesn’t want to sieve through a hundred images from a show. Choose your best and put those out. Probably around 30-40 is a good amount for most publishers. Of those best images, make sure you edit them in a modern editing software like Adobe Lightroom or Capture One. Because you have shot in RAW you will be able to tweak the exposure, hi-lites and colour balance easily without any loss of quality. Just adjusting these a small amount will make a world of difference. Finally export your RAW file as a best quality full resolution JPEG (SRGB for web use and RGB for print publication). I use a secure web server gallery that allows me to quickly distribute links to publishers and enables them (if an agreement is made) to download the full res images for publication.

BRUCE DICKINSON – THE TROOPER COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

MAKE MONEY. So many people are commenting that there is no money in music photography anymore which is simply wrong. The demand for images has trebled because of social media. Because of this standards have dropped though and more and more outlets are looking for cheap or free images. This is why your images have to stand out! A really excellent live shot has value. A mediocre image is probably worthless these days. We used to syndicate our images through picture agencies. Many still do but have discovered that the return is literally peanuts (or maybe enough to buy some peanuts!). So does that mean there is no value in music pictures anymore? The simple answer is no. I have been lucky and work for several publishing outlets but because of this I know first hand that if a magazine wants to publish an image they will pay for it. Social media has forced publishers to up their game on content and if you have a great shot, chances are there will be a publication that will want to pay to use it.

THEM CROOKED VULTURES – HAMMERSMITH APOLLO 18th DEC 2009 COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The music magazines have definitely made cutbacks but do still pay for good content. It is hard to compete with the big agencies with their subscription based image use but put everything you shoot online in a secure gallery so if someone needs an image you can supply it fast.

Also do everything you can to get pictures that no one else has. It is easy to get access to smaller bands so try and grab as much off stage material that you can. Historically there is enormous value in music shots so try and commit to the long game. You may not be making big money straight away but over the years you will build an archive that has enormous value. I have shots of Muse when they first started as an unknown support band and Avenged Sevenfold backstage at the Underworld (500 capacity). Both bands now play Arenas and stadiums and these pictures are regularly in demand.

JOHNNY CHRIST, AVENGED SEVENFOLD – COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Selling direct to the bands management or record label works and often leads to direct commissions. I occasionally give smaller bands free shots for their own social media which usually puts you in a favourable position in the future. As long as any free shots you give are on a limited licence. Whilst you are establishing yourself there is no harm in letting smaller lesser known bands see and use your watermarked images. That doesn’t mean bands are allowed to just steal your pix and use them for free though.

PARKWAY DRIVE – COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Establish a rapport with the artist or management and offer them pictures. I know there will be a lot of photographers getting ready to tear me to shreds for this but giving stuff away at the beginning will open doors for you – only if you establish a clear and concise understanding on the limited use of the pictures (no artwork, press or merchandise and a limited time period). Next time these bands come around and as they become more popular it will help getting hired and getting better access! There is a difference between giving away a few pictures and working for free. DON’T WORK FOR FREE because that denies another photographer a paid commission. If you are shooting and you think you have some great shots and no one is buying, then there is no harm letting the band see and use a few, but make sure you have your watermark clearly identifying you as the author.

MONSTER TRUCK – COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Currently there is a trend to seize copyright from photographers making them sign contracts before issuing photo passes. Just don’t do it! Rights grabs are becoming more and more common and even several of the big publishers are trying it. I agree that photographers should respect an artist’s right to control merchandise and I agree to sign editorial only contracts but beware of any rights grabs hidden in the legal jargon.

DAVE GROHL – FOO FIGHTERS COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Wherever possible retain your copyright as that is your most valuable asset to your business. I shoot for a couple of bands that do a ‘buy-out’ of copyright but I am compensated well for doing this.

If you want to make money from music photography your images need to be good and hopefully better than the photographer standing next to you. Just try and be consistent, original and the most important strength is to be reliable. An art editor will never give you regular work if you don’t deliver the goods each time. Not just great shots but literally delivering the shots quickly with no complications or complaints. Art editors will listen to your tales of woe and how the lights were bad, or how you had a nightmare, but they won’t commission you again. You also need to deliver what publishers want to see. Often it is hard to get the perfect frame due to the stage height or the lighting but try and imagine what kind of image encapsulates that band before you start shooting. If it is Slipknot you need to capture the aggression, the flames, the masks etc.

SLIPKNOT DUBLIN 3ARENA (THE POINT) PHOTO COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2015
IRON MAIDEN it is the stage show and energy that the band have. COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Don’t just shoot from a fixed position waiting for that moment to magically happen in front of your lens. Often it just won’t. Try and anticipate what is going to happen and be ready. The shot below of Jonathon Davis from KORN I set out to get before I walked in the venue. I will admit I had shot them 3 times previously and failed to get a clear shot of Jonathon and his mic stand where you could see his face. But I got it in the end and it is an image that has published many times recently.

JONATHON DAVIS – KORN COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

By perseverance and stubbornly continuing to shoot you will get better and better at shooting shows. Eventually you will build up an archive and slowly you will begin to sell shots and get known to bands, labels and management. It is very rare to just walk into music photography and start making money but it will happen if you keep at it. Good luck!

John McMurtrie and Eddie 2018

ALL IMAGES AND TEXT ARE COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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THE PRINT SHOP

slash web image with copyrightSLASH FIRST PRINT

We have now done a full inventory of all Limited Edition prints and have updated the PRINT SHOP.  I have 7 Mad Hatter (now only 4)  and 3 Skull Mask prints of Ville left – that were set aside for an exhibition – which have now become available.   That is it for both print runs.  Once they are gone, they are gone!  I have added a beautiful shot of Cristina from Lacuna Coil from the Holborn Studios shoot where we really did smash an 8ft piece of toughened glass.  It is 20″x16″  and printed on the most incredibly vibrant 260g Satan paper.  This is a new material for me which I am using on a few select images which suit the style.  I have used the same material for a portrait I shot of the late Sir Christopher Lee which again is just breath taking!  Sir Chris and Cristina are both strictly Limited Editions of only 50 20″x16″.

CRISTINA SCABBIA - SMASHEDSIR CHRIS

I also have Ozzy,  Avenged Sevenfold, Slash, Ghost, Slipknot, Greenday and a few Foo Fighter editions that have all been worked on so they are stand alone pieces of art to hang on your wall.

 

PHOTO COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2015foo-fighters-smoke-FB

These aren’t just regular photo prints! What I am trying to do is bridge the gap between photography and fine art by only using select images that will work well on display and using materials similar to that of a screen print or etching.

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The process from original image to final artwork is time consuming and often difficult.  Each image is test printed adjusted and test printed again by a professional print house in West Sussex (http://kangarooz.co.uk) under my supervision until I am totally happy with the final artworks.  Once approved the Limited Edition is printed, numbered, signed and stored in a temperature controlled environment until sold.  The prices in the PRINT SHOP vary on size, paper used (either satin or GICLEE 100% Cotton, Acid free) and the quantity remaining in the Limited Edition.  Each print is wrapped in protective paper -with its certificate of authenticity and sent recorded, signed for delivery(worldwide) in a heavy duty protective postage tube.  All UK orders P&P are free and international orders are charged a flat rate.

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I will be producing a Metallica edition with James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett in the coming months.  I have also been experimenting with hand made photographic paper and the results are stunning – each print is totally unique.  The process is very time consuming and difficult using real silvers to sensitise the paper and real gold to tone the prints.  I will try a few more tests over the coming weeks and display them here first before making a decision on whether to produce a very small print run.

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SLIPKNOT – NINE (TEST PRINT ABOVE – COMING SOON!)

Thanks to everyone who has purchased a print.  I really hope you love them as much as I do. If you have been thinking about buying some art and have space on your wall for something truly unique and different then I hope you consider investing in one of my prints.

Thanks and I’ll be back with more updates soon!

visit the PRINT SHOP

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The Professional Photographer Vs The iPhone

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‘Just shoot it on your iPhone!’  has to be the most common quote of every marketing department throughout the land right now.

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‘BLOODY iPHONES!!!’  is the No.1 thread of discussion in every Professional Photography Forum online!

I actually don’t hate the iPhone and its built-in camera, I love it!  It is sensational to have the ability to record any moment at any time anywhere.  No one forgets to bring a camera and the convenience to post on social media as it happens is a phenomenon. Many times I have made the judgment call not to take my bulky SLR out with me and opted to cover a personal moment using just my phone.

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Professionally I would have to have a gun to my head to do the same on an actual paying job and that is exactly the point of this article.

If you said to a Professional Photographer 15 years ago that one day there will be a piece of kit no bigger than your hand, wide angle f1.8 and telephoto f2.8 lenses (that can take pin sharp images if used right), 4000×3000 image resolution and the ability built-in to upload images anywhere in the world, you would of had a waiting list of pro’s putting their names down screaming to have this technology! Did I say it can also make phone calls! If you fast forward to 2017, no professional photographer will go near one on an actual paying job!  Crazy really considering our bulky, expensive, but superb camera equipment can’t do half the things the iPhone can.

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So what is the problem with the iPhone? The real bone of contention I have is one that has existed ever since modern camera photography began and is increased tenfold by camera marketing departments.  Just because a camera is of exceptional quality, that doesn’t necessary guarantee you will take great pictures!  That part is done by the operator and some are better than others.  Even professional cameras produce poor results if operated by someone with little understanding of photography and that is the problem we have right now.  A massive amount of professional social media image content is being created and fed by camera phones operated by completely unskilled people.  Just to repeat in case you missed my point.  Professional social media content being created by unskilled amateurs.  There wouldn’t be an argument here if the images were all good, but sadly the majority are mediocre to poor.

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The iPhone is a brilliant point and shoot. There is nothing wrong with it at all.  The camera is fully automatic and has been brilliantly designed to work in most environments.  Some photos are better than others and that is just the way of the world.  Some people have a flair for image making and some don’t.  But also the iPhone has limitations as does every point and shoot camera.  This is why professionals use cameras which can be controlled and used accordingly to a given situation.  A skilled image maker understands those limitations and adapts to its short comings.  I know I said the iPhone is exceptional, it is! But the quality isn’t that great if you compare it to a professionally shot image.  The iPhone is exceptional because of its convenience in modern society.

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Major companies and business’ are increasingly using the power of social media as a tool to communicate with their ‘followers’(customers).  The quickest and most simple method to create content is to do this via their phone.  It appeals to the voyeuristic and the sense of ‘being there’ helps an audience connect.  An image posted of an event ‘as it happens’ suggests a less calculated approach to marketing therefore more trustworthy and ‘real’ than a carefully constructed campaign.  If done well it works!

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Because it is ‘only the internet’ very little budget, skill or forethought is being allocated to creating good content. Why get a Professional when anyone can do it?  If you have a global reach of millions then surely it is worth making your output as impressive as your company?  Not taint the brand with poorly shot images taken on a phone.

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‘Come on, it ain’t rocket science’ I once overheard, as a marketing employee held a camera high above his head to shoot an event on his iPhone.  The picture published on-line shortly after was terrible and showed a bald head in the foreground of the frame. The background was totally bleached out.  It was hard to tell what the event was but because it was on the official feed the viewer already knew what it was thus making it vaguely acceptable.  That image was shared tens of times and liked by over 600 people.  So in theory that was successful marketing.  It has to be, it was shared and liked and went viral all over the world.

If you now analyse how that same moment could of been captured by an experienced image maker (I won’t say Professional Photographer) using a camera phone, then that measurement of success is put into perspective.

An experienced photographer would look at everything happening, calculate what the marketing department was trying to illustrate and produce an image fit for purpose.  That shot would be taken from a carefully considered position including all relevant content, well composed with the timing precisely right. All this whilst making allowances for the limitations of the technology.

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Alternatively they would probably have suggested a phone isn’t the ideal tool and insisted on using professional camera equipment which has the ability to capture the moment perfectly.  If the event has colour and excitement a professional can illustrate that, persuading the viewer to connect with that business or product.  The viewer has an urge to tell the world ‘WOW! CHECK THIS OUT!’.  The image is shared on the internet in thousands and creates a viral buzz whilst upholding that brands high standards.

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Going back to my previous article ‘The Photographer Vs The Internet’  I asked the question why an image has more value in print than used on-line? The exact same question can be directed at marketing departments.  Why are thousands spent creating a companies branding but so little is spent when used on the front line of it’s global audience of millions on social media?  Advertising no longer has to be tailored for an exact demographic or targeted to certain audiences.  A captive audience have already made a connection by following or liking a post online, allowing content to be delivered direct. Communication with an audience was once a calculated process with a precise strategy but that is no longer necessary. The message doesn’t have to be displayed on a bill board on a customers particular route to work or on the back page of their favourite magazine.  Promotion can now be done with a single click from a phone to potentially millions of customers. It is an impressive amount of power –  that is being abused.

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Obviously a £5000 camera with a £2000 piece of glass is going to produce a better image than a phone but isn’t it overkill?  That may have been the case at the turn of this century but these days the quality of our devices are able to display to a much higher definition than ever before.

Nikon & Canon have also got to get their act together fast. They have to build into their cameras a direct connection to the iPhone as standard.  I don’t want expensive additional bolt-ons but a blue tooth connection (I would settle for a lead) direct to my phone so within seconds of shooting I have the ability to upload to social media as easily as the iPhone can.  Just a simple paid for App that automatically does a quick RAW edit into a medium size JPEG ready for distribution.  Simple.

If this doesn’t happen and happen soon more and more jobs and commissions will be lost. Come on Nikon/Canon throw us a rope!

But the client doesn’t want the extra admin of having to deal with commissioning a pro! Why should they wait for the photographer to download, edit and upload when it could just be done on their iPhone? In our minds it is obvious. The quality will be exceptional and the editing will ensure the images uploaded will be sensational.  Guaranteed viral power!

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Us professionals know that but a large proportion of businesses simply don’t get it and refuse to accept it.  You could argue that a post online is not necessary always trying to sell you something and it is just a snap to keep a global audience informed. This is very true but it is still the ‘shop window’ and without care it can look a disaster.

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An experienced professional photographer approaches image capture with a totally different set of skills that are mostly performed sub-concisely – regardless of the camera in his or her hands.  Light, composition and timing are calculated in the split second before the button is touched.  To a professional it just comes naturally, from working day in and day out taking thousands and thousands of photographs.  Absorbing knowledge which is processed neurally to be recalled automatically when a situation presents itself.  We also appreciate a shoot for social media isn’t the same as a Corporate brochure or a front cover.

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So if you ask me what I think of the iPhone I will tell you, I love it!   But what I think of its pictures depends on who is operating it.

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PROGRESS – FILM Vs DIGITAL

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Above: Foo Fighters recording ‘In Your Honor’ on analogue tape. 606 Studio, LA 2005. Shot on Kodak E100VS film (Photo by JOHN McMURTRIE).

I have a flight case at home that is full of old camera gear.  Nikon F90X’s, F100’s, various old lenses, Metz & Nikon Speedlights all sit tangled amongst old flash leads, filters and photographic items that I thought were necessary once but are no longer relevant. The case hasn’t been opened in probably 5 years. I also have darkroom trays and boxes of old film taking up space in my office. The film fridge which was originally a beer fridge is now a beer fridge again so progress has brought some good things. I just discovered that the Contax T3 sitting on my desk as a paperweight is one of the most sort after vintage 35mm cameras fetching upwards of £1200 – I was going to give it away!

It is incredible how quickly the world of film was replaced.  All these artefacts of an era now gone litter my house like the fossilised remains of Pompeii.  I distinctly remember the conversations when digital photography first appeared that it could never replace film.  Never?  Within 4 years it decimated the industry.  Tore its head off and spat down its neck!  Sounds harsh but believe me when it happened it was uglier than that!  150 years of progress since Fox Talbot discovered Salted paper mixed with Silver Nitrates would leave a latent image and the entire photographic industry as we knew it was washed away virtually overnight.

John at the colour printer. Leatherhead.

 

Above: My first job in a Photographic Processing lab, 1990 (photo by Stephen Judkins).

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a luddite. This isn’t the romantic babbling of someone longing for the past.  I am hopelessly in love with digital photography.  I embraced it way before digital cameras were a viable option.  I had several film scanners and celebrated the idea of scanning, editing and delivering from your desktop.  The quality today is exceptional.  The detail, resolution and overall satisfaction I have from photography makes me happier than I ever was when shooting film.  But progress has its disadvantages too.

cristina scabbia/lacuna coil PHOTO by JOHN McMURTRIE

Back in 1998 I could see digital was the future.  I was the Photographic Advisor at Nikon UK when the D1 was launched.  A camera so ergonomically designed you would have never guessed it was digital – especially if you compared it to the periscope pig of a beast Kodak had developed.  At first digital photography was for the Newspaper press core.  They didn’t need phenomenal shadow detail or massive resolution.  They needed convenience, speed and reasonable quality to hit the front pages fast.  The D1 delivered on all of this and was a game changer.  Within days you had press photographers fighting for parking space outside Nikon UK demanding to see this new tool of wonder.  Once the camera was passed into their hands they would wander outside into the daylight like new messiahs reborn on the Richmond Rd.  Their world as they knew it had just changed for the better.  They no longer had to carry bags of film and processing kits in the boot of their cars.  No more hair drying wet film and squeezing it into scanners for transmission.  No more missing deadlines and not getting paid. Shoot download, upload. Job done!  Deadlines could be met within minutes of a picture being taken.  The Canon press core universally ditched their kit and jumped into bed with Nikon like their previous marriages meant nothing to them. Until Canon caught up and tempted them all back to their ex-wives.

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It was fun to watch at the time but for me that is all I did, watched. I had tested the camera before it’s launch and it really wasn’t that good.  It was terrible above 800 ISO and the resolution was way too low for magazine work.  I was shooting for Metal Hammer, Total Guitar, Classic Rock, Q magazine and NME at the time and most of my portrait work was shot on a Mamiya RZ 67.  These were mostly glossy magazines publishing at 300 dpi and their standards were much higher.

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It wasn’t until 2006 when the D2x was launched I reluctantly became a ‘digital photographer and packed my 35mm Nikon F90X Pro and F100 cameras away in a flight case for safe keeping.  I was forced into this decision because the month before I had shot a front cover and spent over £600 on film, process and printing which was un-recoupable on expenses.  The magazine refused to pay the costs and informed me that everyone was shooting digital now.  Everyone?  Well nearly everyone.  But digital still wasn’t that great, it wasn’t better than film.  Kodak and Fuji were producing the most beautiful transparency films in 35mm and 120 formats.  Kodak VS (Vivid Saturation) was my portrait film of choice.  Under expose by one stop and push process it a stop and you had colours and blacks that were like no other.

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But suddenly I was forced to start shooting digitally.  At first I approached each job in the same way I would with a film camera, except I was £100 richer by not having to pay for film or process.  I hated the way highlights blew out on digital (I still do).  With film the graduation is smoother and the effect is altogether more pleasant. Exposure control was widely different in the Nikon D2x than film.  Different colours had mad effects on the metering and exposure –  especially in concerts.  My portrait lighting kit no longer lit to satisfaction, it just looked odd.  Film used to love the way my flash danced onto its surface.  Digital just looked harsh and brash like I no longer had any technique.  The social aspect associated with the film process also disappeared.  I dated my now wife at the time in all the bars around Fulham and Chelsea whilst waiting for film to be cooked at the many labs in the area.  My elation at looking at my results on the lightbox was probably exaggerated by the amount of alcohol consumed but I miss those days more than anything else.  What I don’t miss is the thousands I used to spend.  On an average year I would spend over £10,000 on film, process and an unverified amount on Oysters and drink in Bibendum’s off the Kings Rd.  Nipping out to check on a clip test and continuing the boozing until the ‘work’ was complete.

I now sit in an office at home and ‘process’ my RAW files with enthusiasm but with so many distractions it takes longer than it would to process several rolls of film.  The romance in my marriage and in the photographic process isn’t what it was thanks to the evolution of digital.  The processing labs in Fulham are mostly gone now but Bibendum’s is still there and so is my lovely wife thankfully!

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The Photographer Vs The Internet

COPYRIGHT BLOG 1

ME: I don’t want to be a dick but could you please stop using my image on your website?

THE INTERNET: Why?

ME: Because it is my image and not yours to use!

THE INTERNET: But it is on the internet!

ME: It is supposed to be exclusive for a client who paid me to shoot it.

THE INTERNET: I’ll give you a credit!

ME: I don’t want a credit.  I want you to stop using my image!

THE INTERNET: Or what?

ME: Or I will inform my legal representatives who work on a percentage fee and are extremely aggressive once I give them permission to pursue action against an infringer. So pretty please with sprinkles on the top, stop using my  f’king image.

THE INTERNET: But I found it on the internet.

ME: As I said, I don’t want to be a dick – just stop using my image!

48hrs later!

THE INTERNET: HEY!!!  Why have I got a solicitor letter charging me $1600 for copyright Infringement?

ME:  Because you were a dick and didn’t stop using my image.

THE INTERNET: But that’s not fair!

ME: I know, it sucks!

So this is what it has come to!  Legal action against anyone infringing my copyright.  It sucks! I have a friend who makes more money from suing people than actually working as a professional photographer, but that isn’t me!  Well not yet anyway!

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Recently I discovered one of my images being used illegally on over 200 websites.  129 of the websites were commercial businesses relying on advertising for revenue.  I was never that bothered by the internet but lately I have become more and more concerned at the amount of illegal usage and how it is starting to effect the industry.

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above: Just a few of the offending commercial sites using one of my images.

Someone using your image for profit undermines the company that commissioned you to shoot it in the first place. If someone is permitted to just grab an image off a google search (in this case the image was lifted straight from teamrock.com) and use it, then why would anyone pay a music photographer ever again? Why would they when they can get it for free?  If that is allowed to happen then Professional Photography for me is no longer a viable career.  As I said, I don’t want to be a dick but if a commercial company use my image without permission then they will be pursued for compensation. For the sake of this industry I have to start enforcing some control or it’s game over!  Obviously professional photography will still exist, you can’t google search your own wedding pictures or corporate headshots.  I am talking about Music Photography in my case.

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It is now easier than ever to monitor illegal use.  The company that host my website constantly image search every single photograph on my website looking for copyright infringement and alert me every few days of sightings.  Once alerted I can either dismiss a sighting or activate proceedings against them with a simple click.  The majority of illegal sightings are just fans of music or photography and they do not concern me.  But a commercial website that has pay per click advertising will be pursued for payment.

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How has it come to this?  Why is the internet not protecting photographers image rights?  The social networks have played a big part in undermining photographers by stripping away the encoded Metadata that identifies the owner of an image.  Facebook completely remove all data within the image.  Why?  Because it ensures that there is no come back of ownership rights when an image is used on their platform.  It protects them from any legal blame as the authors identity is removed as soon as it is uploaded.  Facebook have also made it as difficult as possible to report copyright infringement.  That said I enjoy using social media for networking and displaying my work despite of its shortcomings.

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Social media isn’t the problem though.  It is the lack of value and the irrelevance of the owner of an image that is the issue.  Those seeds were sown by the picture agencies when the internet was just starting to blossom.

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We used to make a secondary income from syndication, where a reputable photo agency would shotgun physical copies of images to publications throughout the world.  The agency would take a cut of 40% of any sales but it was usually profitable because they would sell the images for magazine front covers/features in territories that we had little contacts.  On a monthly basis earnings were as much as £1000 or as little as £100 from selling on the images from previous magazine commissions.  Not bad when you have already been paid once for doing the work 3 months earlier. As the internet began to develop more and more sales were to websites instead of the lucrative physical publications.  The earnings from syndication rapidly decreased because the internet wasn’t given any value by the publishers or by the picture agencies.  All of a sudden the photo agency had most of their work done for them which probably helped as their revenue had declined drastically.  No longer did they have to make physical copies of images and courier them all over the world – I knew several photo agencies that employed their own motorbike couriers.  The images were put online and clients could download at their leisure.  Because this whole process was simplified the photo agency saved a massive amount of expense.  People were let go.  You no longer needed to run and maintain an E6 transparency process, you didn’t need couriers and you didn’t need the huge amount of staff that were required to organise the distribution and selling of images.  The news photographers no longer had to process in the middle of the night and deliver as soon as humanly possible.

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The photographers were given secure log-in information and could upload seconds after an event had finished.  The entire operation was simplified and made faster, easier and cleaner.  In theory the photo agency was given a golden ticket to control the market place.  They had the contacts, the technology, the infrastructure and most importantly the images. But instead, the revenue being made by the agencies crashed like a bad day in the stock exchange.  Why?  Because the agencies didn’t know how to deal with the internet.  Pricing was always negotiated on how and where an image was to be used.  What was the territory, readership, was it a full page, half page, a small insert etc?  A front cover of a book was priced more than a single small image being used for a review on page 20 of a newspaper.  Each image sale was priced accordingly.  The internet was the unknown entity.  The photo agencies at first saw the internet as a new secondary market which was an opportunity to get extra revenue.  If an image was sold to a magazine for £80 for a live review, then an extra £14 was made for publishing it on the magazines website.  £14 isn’t a lot of money but it was on top of earnings they were getting anyway so it was seen as a bonus.  But it didn’t take long for the magazine to realise if they only published the review online they could save £80 and only pay the £14 for usage online.  The magazine or newspaper would generate huge amounts of internet traffic to their site and promote the physical copy and only have to pay a minimal fee for a good picture. This should have been the moment when the photo agencies said STOP!

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Some of the agencies tried to negotiate but the majority decided that quantity sales would make up for the loss of revenue and left the pricing for web use unchanged.  It didn’t help that one famous photo agency began to buy up all the smaller agencies and monopolised the market.  For as little as £6, a publication could now get access to an image from an event that had just taken place.  This meant the photographer who took the pictures would be earning less than £3 for shooting that event.  Did I forget to mention that the 60/40% split of earnings had tipped the other way to 60% to the agency and only 40% for the photographer.  The internet had gone from being just an extra bit of earnings to the main operator.  It was no longer just a weird portal with a bit of content, it was now the main event with millions visiting individual sites on a daily basis.  That photograph that you earn’t £3 for was now also being shared by millions of users on social networks.  Once an image ‘goes viral’ there is no turning back.  You can’t whine at the operator of a social platform.  They can’t control what their users do and the photographer gets nothing in compensation.  If the agencies had put more value and control over the distribution of images then they would have kept some value to the images.  Instead the biggest agency put their entire network available for free for non-commercial use.  Thus undermining any commercial sites willingness to pay.  Why would they pay if everyone else can use for free!?

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I got out of the syndication market around 2006.  I could see what was happening and I gambled that it would be safer to hold on to my images as a valued commodity .  It is much easier and more profitable to deal with a publisher or company direct than go through an agency. I keep control on where my images are used and avoid embarrassing my clients by images turning up on tea towels and illegal merchandise.  I also produce occasional Limited Edition prints of stand out images.

HIM PRINTS

I recently was asked to supply an image for a well known Guitar manufacturer.  I spent several hours picture editing and re-touching a suitable image and was told it was for a global marketing campaign.  I quoted a reasonable amount for the company to use the image and that is when the fun started!  Their marketing director pointed out that they were using the image for an online campaign first and the printed advertisement  would be in guitar magazines ‘at some point’ later that year.  Because they would only be publishing online first, they hoped a credit would suffice instead of payment for now.   A credit? I won’t do the usual rant about a credit won’t pay for cameras, mortgages etc, but it is safe to say a credit isn’t compensation for putting a valuable image out on the internet on the promise of payment at a later stage.  I politely declined the offer of a credit and stuck to my guns on the initial quote stating my reasons why.  An advert in a UK guitar mag will be seen by approximately 10,000 people, an advert published online will be seen worldwide by their 5 million Facebook followers and one million followers on Twitter!  Not to mention the viral aspect to the advert being shared and retweeted online.  So what is the thought process to an image having more value in print than online?  The value of anything is only what someone is prepared to pay for it?  A poor quality photograph has less value than a good one.  There is a reason us Professionals are still in work.  If you see an image and say ‘WOW!’ then the photographer has done his job.  Equally if an image makes you cry, laugh, get mad or moves you in some way then that image has value.  To put little or no value on an image just because it is ‘only’ on the internet is nonsense!

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Thankfully the print editions of our newspapers and magazines are still surviving and some are even thriving.  The New York Post recently concluded that exclusive content is key to success in the physical paper and the online editions.  Good photography and great writing is what keeps readers and generates more traffic. That content will not exist unless us photographers protect the images we take and protect our employees faith in commissioning this new content.

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Above L-R: John McMurtrie, M.Shadows & Ozzy. Photo by Charlie Beezer – used with permission.

So I hate to be a dick, but if you are a commercial website and are using one of my images without permission, I will be in touch very soon!

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