Interview with Nick Pickles, Music Photographer

Thanks to Wakey photographer Mick Walker I have been in communication with Nick Pickles a London-based freelance photographer travelling across the country to cover gigs, festivals and events for a wide range of clients. Nick certainly knows how to be efficient and effective he’s like the ultimate multi tasker?!!

This inspiring young man is also Director of civil liberties and privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, he was a candidate in the 2010 General Election standing against Yvette Cooper, achieving a 12.5% swing to the Conservatives. He has remained a commentator on a wide variety of issues including digital privacy and web-blocking, CCTV, civil liberties and digital government. (I feel privileged!)


Mr Pickles has also recently won the prestigious Rock Archive Glastonbury 2011 photography competition for his shot of the Kaiser Chiefs. His work has appeared in publications across the world and finally prswooz!! The image featured at the top is the winning image and you can see why it won, amazing moment captured the lighting, the shadows, the smoke complimented by rays of sunshine and a member of the Kaiser Chiefs caught in absolute action! I loveall the colours.


Since Nick was 21 he has been successfully blossoming into a well respected and in demand music photographer. His career was kick started whilst he was studying Law at Durham University where he joined  a small student website team to write reviews which led to him taking photos and providing images for them. Having googled Nick Pickles and Durham University it seems he had quite a role there, go on have a peek!!

Nick Pickles enjoys photography  and music  so getting into gigs for free and being able to combine the two was a great prospect. He said ‘ Well, that and I loved how certain photographers were able to capture the emotion of a gig – how I felt as a fan in the crowd’.

So Nick Pickles shared some of his time with me and I got to find out a bit more so…

Age:   27 Favourite food: Thai       Favourite Bar: Gordon’s                   Favourite Restaurant: Sasso’s, Harrogate

Recommended read: Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy        Best travel destination:  Iceland   

Favourite instrument: guitar                     Recommended music: Battles, The National, Neu, The Twilight Sad, The Maccabees, Four Tet, Radiohead, Sigur Ros.

Quote of the moment:  ‘see you on the way down’

What do you think is the biggest preconception that people have about the music industry?

It’s well paid and doesn’t involve working very,very hard!

 Describe what you do and who and what has influenced you to make you who you are right now?

Right now I some how manage to combine running a campaign group in Westminster with being a music photographer. I file mainly to WireImage, but have clients including the BBC, Red Bull, EMI and recently won the Rock Archive Glastonbury 2011 photography competition.

I guess other photographers have been the biggest influence – Antoin Corbjin, Roger Sargent, Barney Britton and Leon Neal in particular – they give me the inspiration to try make my next shoot better than the last one and never settle for average work. Those guys and the musicians I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside whose passion and energy will always be a source of my own energy.

What were your first job experiences?

Mainly small gigs, working unpaid for a range of small publications. I had a big break when in 2007 the BBC commissioned me to cover T in the Park, which was the start of my ascent into covering most of the major festivals in the UK.

You’ve snapped away at lots of festivals what has been your favourite and why?

I think the most enjoyable festivals to work are the ones where I’m under less pressure to cover the popular tabloid artists and file shots as soon as possible, and I can do my own thing. Latitude 2010 was pretty special, The National and the Maccabees put in amazing sets and I was fortunate enough to shoot the later from the stage in glorious sunshine.

Leeds Festival will always have a special feeling as my ‘home’ festival, especially now I live in London and it’s the one time of the year I know I’ll see friends I used to shoot gigs with.

Glastonbury is still the most amazing place in the world – I just wish the stages weren’t so far apart!

How does having your own business differ from working for a large corporation?

I’m now in a position where I can consider which jobs I take and which ones I pass on – often in a company it’s not your call, which is very liberating. It also means if I’m starting to feel tired, or think my photography is lacking something, I can take some time out or do something different.

Can you describe the transition from working for the O2 and the BBC to where you are now? What has the process been like? Where have you worked and who have you worked with?

I spent two years as house photographer at the O2 Academy Leeds, working with a really great team and I enjoyed every minute.  Wheras with the BBC I might do 3 or 4 intense days, at the Academy it was sometimes very spread out – one or two shows in a week.

When I was at the academy, I was part of a small photographer team, and we didn’t really work with the other staff regularly. At the bbc you’re alongside all sorts of creative people, be them editors, cameramen or website folk. It’s a great culture but you have to adjust how you work to consider other people’s priorities and pressures.

What has helped you the most?

A good pair of earplugs, and always carry gaffer tape!

What has been most challenging? And are there any do’s and don’ts we should know about?!!

Protect your hearing and value your work. Now more than ever the market is geared towards people feeling they need to start out offering to do things for free and then work up. The problem is they pitch for free to people who do have money – and then will never see the point of paying. Good photography isn’t free, so don’t see your competition as the people who are working for nothing – it’s the people getting paid.

And a few more tips raken from NickPickles blog …

  1. The darker the lighting is for the first three, the brighter it will be for the fourth song (Unless it’s Echo and the Bunneymen in which case just don’t bother)
  2. Shooting on burst and taking 400 frames per song doesnt mean when you get one good frame you’re a genius
  3. You can watch the crowd as long as you like – the pint that hits you on the head won’t be thrown until you turn around
  4. The gig you forget your earplugs – and security run out – will not be an acoustic folk singer
  5. However ‘crazy’ the fourteen year old girls on the barrier look, it is *not* OK to take photos of them for ‘atmosphere’ when you’re over 19
  6. If you insist on standing in the same spot infront of the singer for two and a half songs, don’t expect everyone else to move for you instantly
  7. Be nice to security guards – you’ll never know how close crowdsurfers are to your head until you offend the guy who is catching them
  8. Always carry a flashgun – the gig you don’t, the singer will go into the crowd
  9. Don’t wear your rucksack / shoulder bag in the pit. Its 2 feet wide for fecks sake
  10. If you start with a 70-200 on, the singer will sing ontop of you
  11. If you start with a 17-55, the singer will sit at the back of the stage on the drum riser
  12. Trying to get a shot of the singer spraying beer onto the crowd from directly infront of them will not result in better photos and will result in getting you and your kit covered in beer
  13. If you’re using a compact, don’t stand with it at arms length over the monitors, you ruin great photos. (see here)
  14. If you’ve agreed to cover the gig for 20p and a credit, don’t expect any sympathy when you complain you can’t afford a 2.8 lens

What are your favourite styles and looks? Should I say angles and lighting?!!!

With music photography you have to work with what you’re given, but I’ve come to love shots with lots of empty space in them – the way you can use a subject to break up a block of colour or draw the eye away from what would normally be the focus of the shot. I prefer shooting with a bit of space around the subject, but if I can get really tight in on the eyes of the performer it’s a great way of capturing the emotion of the moment.

Do You Have A Favourite Walk Around Lens…If So What Is It?

50mm f.14 – every photographer should have a 50mm! Although recently I’ve been using an 85mm f1.8 too.

Which one item of equipment would you say is the most important to you?

My D3 – it’s the closest I have to a child! Closely followed by my Macbook and my blackberry!

In general, during a session, how many pictures would you say you take to find “the right one”?

I try to keep my shoots fairly tight – the more you take, the longer it takes to find the right frames (a big problem if you’re filing to an agency where speed is crucial)

In a typical gig, over 3 songs I’ll take around 90/110 frames.

Are there any up and coming photographers that have caught your eye recently?

Jordan Green from Wakefield is doing some great work – plus he’s a fellow wakey boy. Other than that, I’m pretty bad at scouring flickr like I used to, something else that falls by the wayside as I get busy!

Have you got any advice can you offer to anyone interested in the music industry and photography?

Be prepared to work your socks off and make sure you have lots of variety in your work. I’m amazed how many times I see people with porfolios made up of just one or two performers, or with several similarly composed shots next to each other. And make sure they’re technically good – nearly in focus is not in focus!

And remember – the bigger the band, the less access you usually have and the more likely it is other photographers have shots identical to yours. I’d rather shoot a band in a pub where I can get into the performance and engage than shoot a bland arena show of whoever wins the X Factor or some American stadium band.

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