In the Pit #9: Getintothis meets music and gig photographer Martin Waters

Cream with the Liverpool Phil

Cream with the Liverpool Phil

Catching up with photographer Martin Waters, Getintothis finds out he has more than enough tips for the first time gig shooter.

Photographers are a funny breed, they spend most of their time moaning about the lighting, the deadlines and the no black and white rule for images, but when you sit down to talk to them they’re always open to giving tips to those new to the business. Getintothis’ photographer Martin Waters is no exception and, as one of the GIT regulars, he’s happy to talk about what makes a good photographer. He’s shot numerous bands and this year alone has seen him hiking around Sound City, LIMF, FestEvol and hanging out in more Liverpool music venues than he’d care to mention shooting the likes of ABC, Cream, Paul Heaton, Cancer Bats, Eliza and the Bear and Battles, to name a few.  Getintothis sat down with him to ask how it all began.

Getintothis:  Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into photography.

MW:  I’ve always been interested in photography and growing up I’d spend an absolute age photographing planes at airshows and standing at the end of runways – so yeah bit of a plane spotter geek in the past there – in fact, there’s a whole mass of photos in boxes in my parent’s house full of awful pictures of planes.   Things just grew from there really, I got the opportunity to shoot various events and press launches before moving into music photography as the next obvious step.  I enjoy other types of photography and shoot a lot, but I keep coming back to music photography as the thing that tends to excite me.  I’ve done a fair few Sound City’s and every year I say it’s the last one as it’s a killer of a weekend, but I’ll still be back next year swearing it’s my last one.  I had an enforced break recently as I damaged my hand so wasn’t accepting gigs, but now I’m fighting fit and ready to get back in the pit.  

Getintothis: What was the first gig you shot?

MW:  I’ve put some real thought into this and I genuinely couldn’t tell you.  What that probably means is it wasn’t anything glamorous, so it was a no name band somewhere with shocking lighting, wasn’t done with a photo pass or with anything approaching official access and probably wasn’t even planned.  I’m bound to still have the shots on one of my many hard drives stashed away somewhere but as for actually being able to say ‘this is where it all started’ I’m at a loss to say, to be honest.  Maybe I’ll pinpoint exactly who it was for my memoirs, to be serialised by Getintothis obviously!

Getintothis: So what’s in your camera bag when you’re shooting?

MW: Far, far too much.  That thing starts to weigh a ton and when you consider I clocked 9 miles shooting just one day of LIMF you can see why I always look shattered.  I’m currently dragging around a Canon 6D (with a 7D as a backup body on festivals and the like) and any number of lenses – including a 200mm, 50mm, 24-70mm, 85mm, 17-40mm and a 15mm wide angle.  There’s also a flash, mini tripod, notebook, torch, loads of batteries, various cloths and a mobile phone charger.  It all actually depends on where I’m shooting.  If it’s at the Phil then I know you can only shoot from the sound desk at the back so I’ll only really need the 200mm and a teleconverter otherwise I’m just carrying dead weight.  

Getintothis: Which is your favourite shot?

MW: I’m going to go for one taken from the very back of the Kazimier during The Sundowner’s first album launch.  For some reason, Getintothis had scheduled me to shoot both the Kaz and the Shipping Forecast at the same time, so I was essentially grabbing a few shots of a band then running to the second venue and doing the same before heading back again.  The doormen had a bet on me having a heart attack.  By the time the Sundowners came on I was shattered, I got a few shots up front then, rather than heading off, I went to to the back to find a wall to lean against just to enjoy the show.  That’s when I took out the wide angle and grabbed the shot which I think sums them up as well as just what the Kaz was about.  The Sundowners liked it enough to get a copy which is always nice.

The Sundowners

That trademark wide shot of The Sundowners

Getintothis: Any terrible or fun shoots you’d like to share?

MW: There’s been a fair few gigs when I’ve been covered in things I wouldn’t like to think about.  I’ll never understand the urge of some fans to hurl things at the stage, or for some frontmen to either throw stuff back or worse still, spit.  Aside from that, I’ve shot a couple of gigs that were shockers in terms of the acts and I’ve shot gigs where there were more people onstage than in the audience.  I’ve had people grab my camera, try to get stuff out of my camera bag and basically been jostled more than I’d like to remember.  One guy, clearly after a shandy too many, tried to push me down the steps at the back of the Arts Club when I was taking a shot – luckily for me, I just fell into the crowd in front, unlucky for the person who got a camera to the back of the head, though!

It’s also not great when you get pulled after the standard three songs.  Some places let you stay around to watch the show but others show you the door just when you hear the place exploding behind you, that’s never fun as you know you’ve missed what would probably be the best stuff.

Getintothis: So what’s your favourite bit of kit?

MW: I’ve got to say I love the wide angle.  It’s become a bit of a trademark shot, which probably makes the Getintothis editors roll their eyes every time it comes in, but I like to either get right up under the stage or at the very back of venues like the Liverpool Phil to get a dramatic wide open shot. A lot of the stuff we do is close in so I like to get as wide as possible just to get a sense of the crowd or the venue.  I’ve been angling with some of the sound guys to let me get a camera right up into the rafters at a big gig to do a wide shot straight down onto the crowd but they’re not having it.

Cream at the Anglican Cathedral

Cream at the Anglican Cathedral

Getintothis: Any particularly difficult musicians?

MW: A recent one that springs to mind was a gig at Leaf.  There is a review of it on this site somewhere and from that alone you can get a sense of just how not up for it the artist was.  She kept deliberately blocking shots by moving behind other band members and just making it really difficult for me to get anything decent. After the first song or so she stopped and asked me if I was done yet and could I leave, which was a first.  I always make sure I never distract the artist, never annoy the audience and basically get in and out quickly, so I assume it was a desire not to be photographed rather than anything to do with me.  At least I hope it was. Unfortunately for her, the reviewer didn’t show that night so I had to submit a review along with the photos.  Probably not a good idea to annoy the photographer and the reviewer both!  But generally, artists know you’re there to do a job and you’re promoting them.  We’re lucky in that Getintothis has always championed new, local artists so they’re more than happy to know we’re there shooting and reviewing them.

Getintothis: Who are your favourite Liverpool bands to shoot?

MW: There’s just so many with new ones coming through all the time.  The Sundowners are always a winner as you get a genuine sense that they’re enjoying themselves, I’ve got a lot of time for my comrades from my side of the water.  On top of that, there’s Hooton Tennis Club, the Vryll Society, RongoRongo, the list could go on and on.

Getintothis: Where’s your favourite place to shoot?

MW: Same as with pretty much every photographer it used to be the Kazimier, that was just something else in terms of atmosphere.  I’ve not had a chance to shoot at the Invisible Wind Factory yet but from what I’ve heard it’s a worthy successor and I’m looking forward to finally getting there – it’s probably crying out for those super wide shots!   Not a normal venue but to shoot, but you can’t beat the Anglican Cathedral.  They don’t do things by half so when there is something on there you know it is going to be stunning – just look at the Cream event earlier this year.  The same goes for St George’s Hall when you have surroundings like that then it is impossible not to be impressed.  There are probably more places I’d list as venues I don’t like to shoot and that’s mainly down to their lighting rather than the venue itself.  You know you’ll be lucky if you’ll come away with any half decent shots but I guess that’s part of the challenge that still makes it interesting, especially when you’re shooting a support band you’ve already seen 10 times.

Justice for Liverpool

Justice for Liverpool

Getintothis: What one tip would you give anyone starting out?

MW:  Well I’ve got more than one so maybe I should just write a beginner’s guide, but just shoot. Shoot anything and shoot often.  You’ll find all of the Getintothis photographers shoot something other than gigs. Don’t be picky, don’t wait till you’ve got a photo pass and don’t think you’re going to be shooting the Foo Fighters your first day out.  Get to know your camera, get to know the venues and get to know your style.  Have a look at the pictures on Getintothis and after a while, you’ll be able to tell who has taken which shot, you’ll notice everyone has a little signature or a little style that makes them a little bit different, even if it isn’t deliberate.  Even if it’s just lashing on a wide angle and going to the back!

Don’t delete pictures in camera.  Sometimes things look great in camera but when you see them on screen they just don’t cut it.  The same applies to things you may not like in camera but are salvageable when you finally download them.  Give yourself a bit of time as you may find a hidden gem in there.

Always shoot the support (a Getintothis golden rule), not only does it allow you to ‘get your eye in’ you never know, one of these bands may be the next big thing so get them in your portfolio early.  And if you’re shooting a band always get at least one shot of the full band and not just individual shots.

And finally,  look for videos of any band you’re shooting on Youtube, especially if it is a tour date.  It’ll give you an idea of set up and possibly the first three songs you’ll get to shoot.  If it is a fair size band on tour you can always find their set list online somewhere, check it out, find out what their first three songs generally are and then go to Youtube, that way you’ll know if the lead singer is likely to jump at a certain point in a song of if the guitarist is going to make a twat of himself leaning over the amp in song two. A good example of how this pays off was the Flaming Lips at Sound City in 2015. Because I’d seen videos I knew they’d throw the pyro on early so was able to get ready for it when normally, it’s always saved till after the photographers have moved out. It paid off.

Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott

Shooting Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott from the back of the Phil

Getintothis: Best advice you’ve been given?

MW:  ‘You may want to put your hoodie up’ just as a stream of pints, spit and God knows what else come over the barrier into the photo pit at one particular concert.  There’s a trade secret for you – now you know why so many photographers wear hoodies.

Getintothis: What’s the worst advice you’ve been given?

MW: I don’t think I’ve actually been given any bad advice, you’ll generally find most photographers are a friendly bunch and pretty helpful.

Getintothis: Any favourite photographers?

MW: Oh there are loads – Chalkie Davies, Tom Wood, Adam Elmakias, Todd Owyoung, the list is pretty endless and covers a whole range of styles, not just music photography.  Locally I’d recommend that people take a look at Mark McNulty’s work, he’s a really nice guy and an absolutely brilliant photographer.   For local boy (and Getintothis alumni made good) check out Conor McDonnell as an example of the new breed.  For anyone starting out I’d recommend you like at Chalkie and Conor and look at the differences in how things have changed and moved on.   Class dismissed.

Getintothis: What would be your ideal gig to shoot?

MW: Well I’m a huge Fleetwood Mac fan, yeah I know not the coolest band in the world but I don’t care, and I was actually set for their concert in Manchester in June last year but they cancelled it to prepare for the Isle of Wight Festival.  I couldn’t arrange anything for their other dates so the opportunity was gone, but it is still on the wishlist.  If you were to ask me what one band in history I’d have like to have shot then the simple answer is Queen when Freddie Mercury was at the top of his game.  Watch their Live Aid performance on Youtube and the small makeshift scaffolding photo pit at the front of the stage and tell me it wouldn’t have been incredible to have been there shooting that.

Liverpool Poppies

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