In our second look behind the camera of the Getintothis photographers, Martin Waters speaks to Marty Saleh about his time in the pit and why he has a lens older than most of the bands he’s shooting.
One of the major things that comes across in Marty’s images is his obvious enjoyment of the music and bands he’s shooting and he’s just as happy to be shooting new up and coming bands as he is to be in the pit with some of the big names in music.
In our own totally unscientific ‘best camera for gigs’ survey, after two profiles we are Canon 1, Nikon 1.
Getintothis: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into photography.
Marty: I know everyone always says it, but I’ve always been interested in photography. Even as a kid I used to develop my own pictures in a homemade darkroom and while everyone else was out playing I’d lose days and days processing my own prints. A couple of years ago I decided to do something different and went to college to take a photography course. It really rekindled my passion and since then I’ve never really looked back
Getintothis: What was the first gig you shot?
Marty: My first few gigs were all at Studio Two in Parr Street which is a lovely little venue. From a photographer’s point of view you can’t get much closer to the performers! I started combining my two passions of photography and music, turning up on their jazz nights to grab a few shots. As always the music was great but the lighting appalling, the photographer’s curse of deep red spots. But that’s what helped me really learn about exposure and white balance and it’s because of starting in a small venue that I had the confidence and the skills to move on to bigger things.
Getintothis: So what’s in your camera bag when you’re shooting?
Marty: I’m not much of a camera geek so I don’t get bogged down in the Nikon versus Canon versus Fuji debate but as I’m obsessed with light, or rather the lack of it, my gear is tailored for low light shooting. I use a full frame camera and prime lenses with fairly low apertures so nothing slower than f2.8. My lenses pretty much cover the full range from 28mm to 300mm which means I can shoot from right at stage front or from a mixing desk, depending where a venue might put the photographers. In the bag there’s also a monopod, spare memory cards, batteries and cleaning cloths, as well as a flash which pretty much never gets used! Flash and concert photography, that’s a no.
Getintothis: Which is your favourite shot?
Marty: That’s a really difficult one to answer. Some of your favourite shots might not be the best technically but they remind you how absorbed you were in the moment – the music, the lighting, the venue and, of course, the crowd. It all adds up to make one shot stand out for you, but I’m one of those guys who think all of your shots are your babies and you should be proud of all of them. The best one or your favourite one is always the next one you take.
Getintothis: Any terrible or fun shoots you’d like to share?
Marty: Fun. That’s an easy one. Any of the special nights the Kazimier has hosted, they’re generally something else, there’s always something going on and the crowds are often as entertaining as the bands. As for terrible ones, well they generally involve hordes of hysterical teenage kids. Sometimes the earplugs aren’t to protect your ears from the bands, they’re to drown out that lot screaming behind you.
Getintothis: So what’s your favourite bit of kit?
Marty: My 85mm f1.4. To be honest, it’s older than most people attending the concerts I shoot. It’s nearly 30 years old and made of brass and Nikon’s finest glass and it’s never been bettered by any of the other lenses I own, it lets in so much light I swear it’s magic. Absolutely bomb proof and clearly built to last, it’s the perfect lens, especially for the knocks and jostles you get at some venues.
Getintothis: Any particularly difficult musicians?
Marty: Musicians are generally fine, it tends to be their management who try to make things as hard as possible. I was recently trying to photograph a singer at a record signing. He was happily letting fans take selfies with him and although I won’t name him, they were Adam Ant he was charming, but as soon as I took a photo his manager jumped in. He was actually really hostile towards me, stopped me taking any pictures and telling me I should have signed a contract preventing the pictures being used anywhere. I did manage to get a couple of sneaky pictures later on, but it’s getting harder and harder for photographers to shoot musicians, just look at the recent Taylor Swift and Foo Fighters stories about restrictive copyright contracts. How much the artist actually knows about it I don’t know but it’s making it fairly impossible to shoot some of the bigger acts.
Getintothis: Who are your favourite Liverpool bands to shoot?
Marty: There really are too many to choose from, the Liverpool scene is really exciting right now with a lot of bands about to make it really big. For sheer rock star stage presence, I’m going to go with Go Fiasco and then Broken Men a close second – but that’s just to see who Chris will hit with his bass next.
Getintothis: Where’s your favourite place to shoot?
Marty: It has to be the Kazimier. The lighting isn’t always great but there is always an electric atmosphere and the bands really do rise to the occasion when they play there. It’s almost like it is a mark of honour to say they’ve played at the Kaz and they really pull out all the stops. It’s a really special place and a brilliant place to shoot, it’s really going to be missed when it closes the doors at the end of the year. Some of the best times I’ve had shooting have been at the Kazimier and I bet most of the Getintothis photographers would say the same. There’s not really any other place like it in Liverpool.
Getintothis: What one tip would you give anyone starting out?
Marty: Just get the shot. Don’t worry about anything else, don’t worry about anyone else around you, don’t let anyone else intimidate you and don’t think they know better than you. Just get the shot and do your job. The other one would be don’t overuse Photoshop. Yes, your pictures may need a bit of sharpening here and a little bit of work to counter noise there, but what’s the point of making it look like it wasn’t even a live gig. Use it sparingly.
Getintothis: Best advice you’ve been given?
Marty: ‘You’re only the photographer’. No matter how good you or your shots are, if you get cocky or arrogant, too demanding of the artists or if you start to let people down, you can be replaced. There’s a whole queue of people in line behind you waiting for the opportunity to do what you do. I bet out of all of the enquiries Getintothis has about contributors, most will be from people wanting to shoot shows so it’s always good to remember you can be replaced very easily, you’re not the artist.
Getintothis: What’s the worst advice you’ve been given?
Marty: To be honest I’ve not really been given any bad advice. You tend to see the same photographers time and time again at venues and they’re all friendly people and if someone offers advice you always listen. You might not take that advice, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad advice, just not for you.
Getintothis: Any favourite photographers?
Marty: I really love the work of Linda McCartney. Most people just think of her as the wife of a Beatle but she was a really talented music photographer, in fact she was the first woman to shoot a cover for Rolling Stone Magazine. They don’t let you do that just because of who you’re married to. Another influence is Gered Mankowitz, his shots of the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix are some of the most iconic in rock and you never get tired of them.
Getintothis: What would be your ideal gig to shoot?
Marty: Your next gig is always the most exciting. I’ll shoot anyone, anywhere. If I had a choice I’d probably say I’d like to shoot Johnny Marr or Paul Weller somewhere fairly intimate like the Zanzibar when it is packed to the rafters.
You can see more of Marty’s work here: