Jenn Five: Breaking Into Music Photography

15 Jan 2014

The world of photography and music go hand-in-hand, with the presence of a performer and buzz of the crowd providing the perfect subject piece.  What would the music magazines be without the glossy spreads and fold out posters of the crammed basement gigs, Glastonbury headline acts, or a view backstage of the lead guitarist slumped over a sofa?  The photographs can provide a glimpse into a world which many aspire to, whether that is to be in the band, or the photographer who is capturing their every move.  However, to most, working as a music photographer might seem like an unattainable dream…though someone’s got to be the one behind the lens, right?

NME photographer Jenn Five has worked at festivals such as Glastonbury, Reading, and SXSW; as well as photographing a countless roster of bands and artist. She talks about her experiences of getting into the business, as well as offer some tips to how a budding music photographer should go about getting their foot in the door.

Tell us a little about how you started out in music photography?
I started photographing live shows early on in my concert-going days.  I’d bring in a film camera at the time, get to a venue super early, and take shots of my favourite bands when I was super young.  Did it as a hobby for years, until I started meeting my favourite musicians and interacting with them personally.  I never actually started getting into music photography as a career (i.e., making money) until I graduated from college.  But my interactions in previous years with my favourite musicians, certainly helped pave the way into getting access into the bigger and better shows.

What has been your favourite band/person/event to work at?
One of my biggest highlights this year had to be Glastonbury.  I never imagined I’d get to go this year as part of the NME crew, but it was one of the best experiences.  It’s hard work, but certainly a huge payoff once you’re done.  That as a whole event was rewarding and amazing.

Do you have any formal qualifications?
Yes, I have two college associate’s degrees, including one in photojournalism.

In such a competitive business, how is it that you set yourself apart?
I think for me, it’s not only style of photography, but my personality.  I think there’s a huge difference between a photo of someone that is just being taken, and one that has the subject completely at ease.  I take pride in being able to just “chill out” or laugh with whoever I’m working with and that really makes a difference to the connections in the photos.  Nothing is ever forced, and when you make someone feel comfortable or can make them laugh, they’ll pass that word on, and will want to work with you again.

What’s your top advice for those looking to get into music and events photography?
Talk to people! Practice, and don’t be afraid to just get out there and do it.  Master your equipment. Before I moved to London, I shot virtually every cool show in my hometown and became a familiar face at venues.  Start shooting at small venues, talk to other photographers in the industry, try assisting other photographers, and post links to everything you do. And if you’re a student – take advantage of it!  You can get away with anything if you mention you’re a student – don’t lie of course if you’re not!

What are the key pieces of equipment that a budding music photographer needs?
The big one is a reliable camera (if you can shell for a nice fast one, do it!).  Your equipment is your investment.  If you truly want to be a photographer, and pursue it as a full-time career, you need to have reliable equipment.  You don’t need to have the top brand, or this and that, but one that you feel comfortable on, and one that you can master. You’ll be doing just fine if you have a camera, reliable flash, and Lightroom/Photoshop. Jan 2014

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