A few months back we stumbled upon a spectacular music photo portfolio of one of London’s best music photographers Drew Stewart. When we shared our admiration with Drew, he was kind enough to respond to our fanmail and strike up a bit of a penpalship with us.
Today, we are proud to present an interview with Drew on shooting gigs, advice to bands and artists on preparing for their shows to be shot, on building photo portfolio, and more.
Having started his concert photography career just in 2013, Drew’s stunning shots were already featured in The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, and The Guardian. A few photos won Drew NME Photography Award.
Bring Me The Horizon
Drew's portfolio includes shots of 5 Seconds of Summer, All Saints, Arctic Monkeys, Backstreet Boys, Bring Me The Horizon, Bryan Adams, Charlie XCX, Ellie Goulding, Enrique Iglesias, Fall Out Boy, Imagine Dragons, James Blunt, John Mayer, Katy Perry, Korn, Kylie Minogue, Lenny Kravitz, Linkin Park, Macklemore, Maroon 5, Olly Murs, Paramore, Paul McCartney, Queen and Adam Lambert, System of a Down, Taylor Swift, The Cure, The Libertines, The Saturdays, Tom Odell, Usher, Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Hi, Drew, thanks for taking the time for the interview. Let’s start with probably the first question a band or a musician faces when they start to play more and more gigs – when to hire a photographer to shoot a gig and when leave it to the venue or not document at all?
A lot of bands will hire friends for little to no cost. This is nice and it’s always good to help people out but hiring an external photographer can sometimes be expensive.
Often the venue won’t have a photographer, or their the photographer will only be shooting for the venue to use the images (meaning you’ll have to beg and plead if you want to be able to use any) so I’d recommend either hiring somebody you know if you want to document everything, a tour, say. Or leave hiring a photographer until you’re playing a key venue or date where your budget might be slightly higher.
Is there a type of music you find easy to photograph?
Any artist standing on stage without moving and having a giant spotlight pointed at them is pretty easy to shoot. What’s hard is making those sorts of images exciting. I’d much prefer shooting an energetic band who are all over the stage.
Are there genres you struggle with when it comes to taking quality shots?
Again, I wouldn’t really say it’s anything to do with the genre. More the lighting set up and the stage presence of the artist. Anything with red light is notoriously hard to photograph (photographers will understand!). It washed out any depth in someone’s face and usually can only be saved by turning the image black and white.
What are you looking for when taking a photo during a concert?
For me, it’s all about capturing the moment. You’ll notice I like to capture the crowd in a lot of my shots and there’s nothing like seeing an energetic fan up against the barrier singing their heart out to their favorite band. I usually find that a lot of photographers who are in the pit with me just focus on the artists. I like to capture a bit more of a feel for the night.
Do you find it important to photograph fans when you are shooting an event?
Definitely. I think a lot of photographers miss this out. For me, it’s all about the energy of a night, and capturing the fans really helps to show that. But also, now that a lot of artists are relying more and more on social media, I think this is really important. For an artist, posting pictures on your social media of the fans right after a gig is great for engagement and to show that you really care about them. It’s a nice touch.
Is it easier to take pictures of the crowd when it’s a more intimate concert or something large and crowded?
Both have their challenges. I’ve been known to jump on to the pit barrier to get up above the crowd when I’m at larger venues, otherwise, you don’t get the perspective of just how many people are there.
At smaller gigs, it can be a little harder to capture the crowd because you’re so close to them. You’ll need a really wide lens of ideally to be up on stage. Some photographers like to stick their camera up in the air to get crowd shots from above. Personally, I think that’s a bit ‘spray and pray’, but sometimes it pays off.
Can it get awkward to shoot at a small event? Or is it easier to capture the atmosphere?
For me, yes, it can. I’m quite tall, 6’3” to be exact. I always find myself feeling like I’m in the way when I’m at smaller gigs. The stage is usually only a foot or so off the ground so instead of spending time up near the front of the stage, I like to get intimate with the crowd and take shots from all perspectives over the course of the night. The atmosphere is much more intimate, and I like that.
What makes a good backstage photo?
For me, a backstage photo is all about capturing the excitement and the buzz before or after a gig. It’s nice to get shots of the band huddled together before a show, I think that really adds to the story.
How would you advise musicians and bands to dress for their shows when they know pictures will be taken?
You definitely don’t have to worry about what you’re wearing if you’re being photographed but anything that isn’t reflective or something that is either too dark or too bright would be appreciated. It throws off our cameras thinking that there’s a tonne of light or there’s none at all. But honestly, just wear what you want!
You have a lot of your works published in The Telegraph, Gigwise, CUB Magazine, The 405, The Drum, etc. What are the media looking for in a photo?
It really depends on who you’re shooting for. Larger publications often just want a shot of the lead singer, just so that readers can put a face to an article. Publications like Gigwise or The 405 are looking for more of a story. They want to be able to show their readers the whole night as a journey through the images.
At the Chic concert
What photos would you advise to include in a musician’s or band’s portfolio?
A real variety is nice to see. The close-up, portrait shots are nice but for me, I think the concert shots really stand out, especially if there’s audience interaction.
Feel inspired to hold a live show? Check out our list of top 10 situations when a smaller concert is better than a large show!