Lights, camera, action. This fortnight’s Job Envyist gives us an insight into the life of a professional music photographer.
Richard Ecclestone (aka Eckie)
Place of work
Anywhere I’m paid to be sent!
Professional photographer of musicians and musical stuff.
How long have you done the job for?
Professionally for 18 years. Blimey!
Describe a typical day
A good day: Good weather, a good location and a subject that is receptive to ideas and suggestions. This is normally book-ended by three hours’ driving. Then it’s a case of sorting pictures I’m happy with and that are fun to work on at the end of the day.
A bad day: A dull shoot involving a shed load of dull shots, then hours on end going through them on the Mac. Bring back lightboxes and scissors!
In a good week shoots can be daily (sometimes more than one a day if I’m lucky) but more often I’ll have three or four shoots a week, leaving the rest of my time to work on editing pictures, invoicing and accounting.
Picture editors and art editors usually get in touch to commission shoots. Sometimes freelance journalists get in touch directly if they’ve been commissioned for a feature and given a budget for pictures.
I mostly have to work with the location I’m given unless I’m doing my own thing for my portfolio or working on something like an album cover where there’s more planning involved. Most of the shoots happen at recording studios, live venues or hotels. If there’s enough time I can try to get the subject outside but the slots are mostly around 10-20 minutes so it’s usually a case of doing the best I can with the location I’m given.
I ‘check in’ with magazines quite a lot but I’m rubbish at self-promotion so I’m not one to cold call, which probably goes against me. A lot of the more successful photographers are much better at the art of self-promotion and have a bit of the used car salesman about them. I often think I could do with a bit of that.
Highs of the job
Meeting new people. Being creative in pressured situations. Hearing lots of new music. Oh and occasionally travelling. That’s always fun, apart from the weight limits at airports. I’ve been lucky this past year or so; I’ve had shoots in Memphis, Kansas, Slovenia, Sweden and Holland, which was fun. Travelling with as much gear as I carry can be a pain, though.
Lows of the job
Moody guitarists demanding Big Macs before allowing me to shoot to them, then endless hours sorting pictures on the computer.
Who are the people who’ve had the biggest influence on your career?
Two people who I met in 1994. One was a journalist, Alex Fox, who I met at a pub where I was working. She told me there might be a job going at Guitarist Magazine. The other was her friend James Cumpsty, who was the main photographer there and gave me my first job. That break has led to everything that has happened in my career since.
How did you get the job?
I did a City & Guilds course (do they still exist?) in Professional Photography for a couple of years. I’m not sure how much difference qualifications make; when you’re freelancing no one ever asks about them. When I started hardly anybody did photography courses and from what I remember only a few English universities did degree courses.
These days, like a lot of jobs in the media, courses are more readily available. I’m sure you can make it by being self-taught, too. I’ve got a few friends who are doing well at photography without any formal training.
How can I become a music photographer?
The first thing is to learn the skills so that you’re prepared for any breaks you get. Next, get out there, meet people, offer to shoot local bands you like for free to build your portfolio, meet even more people and create a network.
The main thing I suggest, though, is to find your own style. The world is full of snappers these days. Try to find your own corner creatively.
Check out Richard Ecclestone’s website.