In the first of a series of profiles of photographers, Getintothis’ Martin Waters speaks to Tomas Adam about his kit, his pit experiences and the bands he most likes to shoot.
You can’t have missed them. They’re the ones you see running round photo pits or trying to (we’re hoping) politely squeeze in front of you in that prime spot you’ve waited in for the last two hours so they can get ‘just one or two shots’.
They’re the Getintothis photographers who provide the colour to our many reviews and we thought we’d take the opportunity to get to know a bit more about them and to find out whether the job of a gig photographer is as glamorous as people think.
First up in our series, and running the risk of starting a city wide Nikon vs Canon, Prime vs Zoom, RAW vs JPEG debate is Tomas Adam.
Getintothis: Hi Tomas, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into photography.
Tomas: Well I’m a freelance photographer based in Liverpool specialising in architecture and portrait work and, of course, music photography. Like most photographers I’ve taken pictures for as long as I can remember and I always seemed to have a camera in my hand whether a compact camera, a phone or DSLR. As a real music fan I think it was a natural step for me to someday move into shooting concerts, even then it was more by accident than design, but once the opportunity had come along I never looked back.
Getintothis: What was the first gig you shot?
Tomas: Frank Turner at Liverpool Sound City in 2011 but that only happened because I was in the right place at the right time. I recognised Frank on the street a few hours before the gig and decided to take a chance by asking about a photo pass. I thought it was a bit cheeky really and I was surprised when he said yes and I was able to go and shoot the show from the photo pit. That’s basically how it all began.
Getintothis: So what’s in your camera bag when you’re shooting?
Tomas: I’m a Canon man, so alongside either a Canon 5DMk3 or the Canon 40D there’s a 50mm 1.8, a 85mm 1.8 and a 24-70mm 2.8, all fairly fast lenses that cover most of the situations I’ll encounter in the venues I shoot in. There’ll also be a medium sized flash, although I rarely get to use it, a couple of memory cards, spare battery, lens cleaning cloth and a torch. Oh and of course, a snack bar, basically because you can be hanging around for a long time.
Getintothis: Which is your favourite shot?
Tomas: I really like one of my early shots from a Willy Mason gig at the Kazimier in 2013. He had an amazing connection with the audience that night and I just think this picture of him toasting the crowd and thanking them for their support really captures the atmosphere at the time. It’s also probably the only way Getintothis will let me flout their ‘no black and white’ rule!
Getintothis: Any terrible or fun shoots you’d like to share?
Tomas: The Enemy and Twang at the O2 Academy spring to mind. It was probably a great gig to be in the crowd for but when you’re in the photo pit most of the time you’re oblivious to what’s going on behind you, or in this case what’s getting launched over your head. Let’s just say the lense cloth in my bag came in useful to wipe the beer bombs off my kit. It could have been worse considering what sometimes gets hurled to the front at gigs!
Getintothis: So what’s your favourite bit of kit?
Tomas: I really like my 85mm prime lense, it’s easily the sharpest lense I have in my bag, but unfortunately I don’t get to use it enough because I don’t find it very practical for concert photography. I’m sure the right opportunity will come along but I’ve not yet had the chance to really show what it can do.
Getintothis: Any particularly difficult musicians?
Tomas: I actually think I’ve been lucky so far. Probably the only problems I’ve had are when bands decide it’s a good idea to play with pretty much no stage lighting. It’s something that annoys most photographers I guess, we’re actually there to promote their gig but when they play on a near enough blacked out stage how can they expect to get any decent PR shots out of it. It can’t be great for the fans watching either.
Getintothis: Who are your favourite Liverpool bands to shoot?
Tomas: Oh there are just so many. The Strange Collective, Broken Men, Sankofa and the Vryll Society all spring to mind. I’ve also enjoyed shooting Hooton Tennis Club, who really are going to be making waves this year and I really used to enjoy shooting Bird before they came to an end. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.
Getintothis: Where’s your favourite place to shoot?
Tomas: I’m going to go for Stanley Theatre and Mountford Hall purely for selfish reasons, they’ve got really good lighting up there! If there’s one thing that makes my job easier then it’s always going to be the lighting. Some places just don’t take lighting seriously enough and your heart sinks when you’re assigned a great band to shoot but at a venue where the lighting just isn’t up to scratch, mentioning no names.
Getintothis: What one tip would you give anyone starting out?
Tomas: It’s a simple one, but the best advice I could give is shoot anything you can, anywhere you can and shoot often. It’s all about getting experience and there’s a queue of people waiting for an opportunity to do this job so you have to show you’re not only keen but also capable. You may only get one chance so you need to be able to step up and produce, you’re not going to last very long if you go back without at least a handful of decent shots. It’s great to go to all these gigs but you’ve got to remember you’re there to do a job and if you don’t come back with anything then that could be a whole review out of the window.
Getintothis: Best advice you’ve been given?
Tomas: Pretty much the same advice I’d give to people starting out. Shoot as much as you can and never turn down an opportunity. You may not like the band you’re asked to shoot or you may not want to be going out to shoot an unknown band at a really small venue when there’s a different gig you’d rather be at but it all counts. You’ll learn more at the smaller venues than you would shooting at the Echo Arena because you’ll learn how to cope with difficult lighting, having to jostle with the crowd to get your shots and you’ll probably be able to shoot the whole gig.
Getintothis: What’s the worst advice you’ve been given?
Tomas: ‘Just shoot on auto mode’ Seriously, if you’re going to invest in a decent camera then learn how to use it. If you’re never going to take it off full auto then you may as well just shoot with your phone. I learnt that the hard way. Want to know how difficult it can be to shoot a concert, shoot full auto and see how many usable shots you’ve got, it isn’t going to be many.
Getintothis: Any favourite photographers?
Tomas: I admire all the usual suspects in terms of the history of photography, the likes of Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier and Irving Penn, but for pure music photography I’ll go for Charles Peterson. He’s best known for his work depicting the rise of grunge in the Pacific Northwest in the 80s and 90s, so he did a lot of work with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. His pictures really give a sense of something special starting to happen.
Getintothis: What would be your ideal gig to shoot?
Tomas: You’re probably expecting me to name one of the big stadium bands with lots of pyro, huge crowds and spectacular lighting and while I wouldn’t say no, I think I’ll go the other way and say I’d choose to shoot someone like Benjamin Booker or Daughter. They’re both top of my current wishlist and I’ll hopefully get the chance to shoot them at some point.
Find out more about Tomas’ work.
Gallery of Tomas’s best shots