I talk to specialist snapper Kieran Frost about the niche world of music photography
At almost every sizeable gig you’re ever likely to attend, they’ll be a small exodus of camera-clutchers from the very front just three songs after things get going. Popular musicians, you see, typically believe they look their best at the start of a show, and they want to show their good side. Photographers are there, by design, for the sweat free, visually perfect early moments.
Some artists are so tight on their imagery, in fact, they specify the side of the stage photos are to be taken from, or manipulate the lighting early in a show to ensure photographers get a specific type of image.
And then, usually three songs in, photographers are often escorted from the front barrier and out of the premises. They hold a camera full of photos, but are forbidden from watching the remains of the show to prevent sneaky [less perfect] shots from being grabbed by the professional from the back. Quite the irony, in today’s camera-phone heavy concerts.
Kieran Frost, a freelance music photographer who works with photo agencies like Getty, and features regularly in the likes of the Irish Times, Q Magazine and on musicians billboards, gave us an insight into the world he occupies night after night.
“Normally there would be e-mails between me, my editor and the publicist a few days before a show to arrange access,” he begins, explaining the set up. “The day of the show, I’d listen to some of the act’s music, and possibly research what other photographers have gotten from previous dates on the tour, to give some idea of what lighting profile the band are using, and what kind of restrictions photographers may face.”
“In the evening, I turn up, get my access pass, and head into the venue. If it’s a larger venue, I say hello to security and I sort out my gear. If it’s a smaller venue, I have to hope the front row are going to let me squeeze past them for a song.”
“The usual rule is we get the first three songs, then we have to pack our gear, and get out of the way. I’d usually stick around for a bit of the gig, if I’m allowed, then head home, edit 20 to 30 images, and caption and file them that night.”
Frost got into photography after he started taking photos at small shows as a student, as well as through a passion for the imagery found in magazines like NME and Hot Press when he was growing up. By taking photos in exchange for access at shows in Cork, he eventually worked his way up through a number of volunteer websites, before finding professional work with Getty, Q Magazine and many of local publications as his talent and reputation view over more than a decade.
“Just getting a foot in the door is the trickiest part,” he recalls. “It’s catch 22, you won’t get access to gigs without a portfolio, and you won’t get a portfolio without access to gigs. You just have to start out in small venues, and doing photos for your friends bands.”
“After a while, and with a bit of luck, I started to work with a bunch of clients that give me regular assignments. The agency work [with Getty] would be a decent chunk of what I make, then I’d work with some music festivals, promoters and PR as the work arises.”
“It’s very difficult to get into publications, especially paid ones,” he continues. “Irish newspapers have a minimal interest in live music, and the web outlets here don’t pay. I’ve found the best way to actually make any money is to look to the UK and US.”
Of course, making that money depends on getting that perfect shot, something that takes substantial honing. Frost’s tips are simple, in a sense, but getting the simple things right really is the essence of doing a good job in photography, and takes incredible persistence.
“Framing is incredibly important,” he explains. “You need to have your composition right. After that everything else will fall into place. Composition is not just stuff like the rule of thirds, but also how you position yourself, for example if a guitarist is right handed, you’re going to get a cleaner image of them if you stay to the left of house, typically. If you stop for a second and take in what’s happening it helps, too. You need to try and anticipate what’s happening, where people will move, and the lights, that sort of stuff.”
Through it all, Frost has one main gripe with the modern music industry: “The thing that annoys photographers most is being side stepped with a photo release contract on the door when we collect our pass. We are, legally, only allowed use our images for editorial and portfolio use. However, some acts will place all sorts of awful demands on photographers, seizing copyright and gagging usage. It’s kind of awful to get great photos of a show, but be unable to use them anywhere because of the acts management’s restrictions.”
So with the late nights come champagne, parties and just the odd bit of camera work, yes? “Ha, no. It’s not glamorous,” Frost admits. “Occasionally you might get invited to a party after a show, or have a beer with a band, but ultimately you’re there to work.”
View more of Kieran’s photos at www.frost.ie.
This article is one of my weekly music columns for the Dublin Gazette, reproduced here with permission. Note: this column is published in the Dublin Gazette several days ahead of on this website, so at times, some columns may be slightly out of date. The Gazette is a freesheet paper available across Dublin, published on a Thursday. Pick up copies at these locations.
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