Where it all began

Hello! A friend suggested I should start a blog, so here we are. I mean, I guess it's a good idea...I do have lots of experience, advice and tips to share, and stories to tell, with new ones being written every time I switch my camera on and point it at something or someone, and perhaps people are interested...?

I get regular emails asking for advice, but one of the questions I've been asked the most is 'how did you get started? so it seems fitting that the first blog to appear on my website should tell the story that answers that.  

It started in 2004. Aside from taking my family to Reading Festival a few times, I'd been to very few live shows in venues. Through being in a couple fan clubs and street teaming for labels I started to get offers of free tickets to see their artists. A couple of Linkin Park, Bullet for my Valentine and INme shows later, none of which were local to me at all, I finally found myself in a 250 cap local venue, in early 2005 to see a band called Days in December. And from there a beautiful relationship with live music began.

Flicks in Yeovil. How dingy you were, and how much I bloody loved you! Imagine if you will a long room, with a bar down one side and a stage at one end. And by 'stage' I mean a slightly raised platform with padded seating running all around it, no decent lighting and a barrier stuck in front of it. Ah, and the DOOR - at the back of the stage, that every so often someone would come through whilst a band was playing. It was hilarious, mind. Well this was my home for several nights a week for like 2 years. 

I loved the energy and atmosphere at those shows and utterly fell under the spell of it all. It was wonderful escapism from normal life as a mother. It became apparent very quickly that I wasn't content to just stand and watch bands. It was exciting as hell don't get me wrong, but I wanted to get involved, so I began taking a pocket digital camera along to take photos. I soon realised with dismay though that it just wasn't cutting it for me. `The photos were harshly lit, often flooded with wayyy too much flash, and the delay on the shutter button was so bad that by the time the camera had taken the photo the 'moment' I was trying to capture was long gone. So in July 2005 I went shopping for my first DSLR. A Nikon D50.

I should clarify at this point that at the time I knew next to nothing about cameras, settings or how to even take a decent photo. I had no particular ambitions either at the time to be a photographer, I just wanted to be able to take a photo that wasn't shit. That was my motivation. So the day I returned home triumphant with a shiny new toy I decided to teach myself.

A couple of months after buying said camera I was asked by a band who were supporting The Rasmus at the hallowed Astoria if I'd like to go with them. Weirdly, for someone whose memory is pretty terrible most of the time, I remember it well, and I was both dead excited and shit scared. Up til that point I'd only shot in a few small venues that didn't have photography rules. Perhaps the reason I remember that Rasmus show so well is because it was not only the first time I was ever given a proper photo pass, but also the first time I'd ever been told '3 songs, no flash'. It came as a bit of a shock, and I'm not gonna lie, the whole thing was fairly disastrous. The lighting was poor (lots of green if I recall correctly) but I panicked anyway because I didn't really know what to do with settings to compensate for the lack of flash. As a huge The Rasmus fan at the time I was thoroughly gutted, but that experience alone taught me a lot of things very early on. 

A year later I'd sold the Nikon, that I didn't particularly like, to a friend and had bought myself a Canon 30D. I've had a few different cameras since then but my 30D was my first true camera love, and I still have it, and perhaps will always keep it. By this time I was visiting Yeovil to go to shows 3 or 4 times a week, snapping away and giving the photos to the promoter in return for free entry into his shows, some of which had now moved into a different venue called The Ski Lodge. And yep, it was an actual ski lodge. Which was great when all dayers happened because the ringos came out and all the bands spent hours whizzing down the slope. As a venue it was unforgettable: boiling hot, no air con, condensation running in rivers down the walls, guitarists climbing up the balconies to leap back off. You get the score. We all often whinged about how awful it was at the time, but by god some of the shows were amazing, and I miss it so much!  

I wasn't the best at taking photos, but those first few years of shooting so often in the same, small venues with very few restrictions taught me everything I needed to know about how to improve and take the kind of photos I wanted to be taking. Over time as I learned more and my experience grew, my photos got better, more bands were sharing them online and asking me to take photos for them, I began travelling more around the UK to shows, had my first visit to a festival as a photographer, got my first magazine commissions, my first trip to Europe, and so on.

And more importantly...I met a lot of people during those first 2 and a half years I spent shooting locally, some of who went on to help me out a lot and give me opportunities I otherwise wouldn't have had, and if it wasn't for these people helping me out very early on in my career I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be a music photographer now at all. 

My personal experiences are why whenever I'm asked for advice from budding photographers on how to become a music photographer I usually advise to go shoot unsigned bands at smaller local venues for a period of time, and use that time to hone your skills, build a portfolio and talk to everyone. I know that it's not really what most people want to hear, because it's far more exciting to get advice on how to access the big shows and the big stars, (right...?) but ground level is a good place to start.

When I started going to shows I was often the only person in my local venue with a camera. For years I was the only person in most venues with a camera. Not so anymore, as it's become a popular career path for many passionate music lovers and creatives.  This makes it a highly competitive market and really quite difficult to get a foot in the door. But it is possible.

There are no magic answers here I'm afraid, no secrets to divulge, no surefire way of making it 100% happen for you. Every successful photographer I know will have a different story about how they got where they are. It could be as much down to being in the right place at the right time as it is about skill, motivation, determination, self promotion and networking. If this is something you feel really passionately about though don't give up or think it's a pipe dream. If I can turn a hobby and a passion for live music into a job, then I'm darn sure anyone can.

To end, sadly Flicks/Orange Box and The Ski Lodge...the venues in Yeovil that I have so much to thank for, are no longer open. I will always have mad fond memories and be eternally grateful for them all, and amongst the friends I made in those venues they are spoken of incredibly highly to this day.

Until the next time x
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