Finding your voice

October 22, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

(First published in 2014)

I have had some great questions on my Facebook page over the years, but this remains one of my favourites.

'All your photos are recognisably yours - even if they had no watermark. Is this intentional?'

My burning-the-midnight-oil answer was: ‘My editing process is almost identical whatever the circumstances, so it's part that I know what I want, and part gut feel - I wouldn't know where to start on making them not look like mine! I'm not using state of the art gear, not overly fussed with the technical side, and probably a hell of a lot sloppier in that respect than a lot of people. If it feels right then it stays.’

Apparently I wasn’t entirely happy with this answer and my brain was mulling it over more in my sleep, because the next day I woke up with more to say.

I don’t have, and never have had, a favourite music photographer or a specific influence. I honestly don’t pay that much attention - I can’t, it would drive me absolutely nuts. I have seen many, many great concert photos (which I’m sure my brain has taken note of and filed away to an extent), but an early self-preservation technique was to try to avoid getting too drawn in to what other people are doing/have done. Why? Because I know myself well enough to know how easily I hit self-destruct. ‘Not good enough’ are words that rattle around my head constantly if I let them.

I became a lot more content with what I was doing once I forced myself to confront my hangups about how things ‘should’ be, stopped looking for ‘good examples’, stopped caring about whether my stuff was 'better' or 'worse' (again, so subjective!) than the next guy's, and just started to feed my desire to do something I loved in a way that felt right to me.

I stopped being afraid of not being perfect, and decided to trust that I am technically competent enough to not screw up too horribly on a regular basis. After all, it's supposed to be fun, not a form of torture! I still want to bin everything on at least an annual basis, but something has always happened to drag me back in before I've reached a tipping point.

Essentially I want my photos to look like my memories (which are warm, rich, colourful and occasionally fuzzy). I love to see exchanges of emotion. I like silly stuff, moments of joy, messy truth. I want to demonstrate as much of the emotion of a gig as possible. I want to be able to point to a picture and say ‘that’s what it felt like’. That's what I want the people IN the photos to come away with too. Sometimes, I get it right, and that's probably the main reason I haven't packed it all in - I know that the next significant moment could be just around the corner.

I usually favour colour over black and white. I also don't 'clean' pictures - stage furniture is messy. Microphones and leads get in the way. If there's none of that in a gallery it's not going to be a true impression of how things were. Also I overshare. Common advice (and common sense) is to limit the number of photos you publish, but that's never been how I roll.

Final words: unless you're shooting to spec for a client (which is an entirely different kettle of fish!) shoot what you care about. Be present. Immerse yourself. Make something that’s yours, that feels right to you. If you believe in it, chances are that feeling will be communicated to others. Nothing is ever as satisfying or as motivating or as authentic as doing your own thing. I think that’s the key to your work becoming recognisably yours.