Interview with Music Photographer Barrie Thompson

Interview with Music Photographer Barrie Thompson

KT Tunstall.jpgMusic Photography is something that many of us dream of doing. Today Sime presents an interview that he recently did with professional Music Photographer Barrie Thompson. Barrie has also been generous enough to share some of his work with us – enjoy.

1. When did you start taking photos and at what point did you know that you wanted to make a career of it?

Quite late compared to some. I was about 21 I think and thats when I got my first camera. Had no master plan at that time, just took pictures of anything and everything but it wasn’t long before I took photography seriously and looked into how I could make a career out of it.

Basically since leaving school I was hopping from job to job, having fun at the weekends but not really going anywhere in life so when I knew I wanted to get into photography I gave up a decent job with decent pay (covered the bills anyway) for a lower paying job assisting at a company that shot stuff for catalogues. Did that for a few years, then did a few years as a family portrait photographer.

Whilst making families look perfect, I’d been blagging photo passes and going to the odd gig. I loved music and it just made sense to mix it with my photography. The more gigs I went to the more I knew this is what I wanted to do and when I licensed out a few photos, and had been commissioned a few times, I scarily quit my job went for it!


2. You’re a music photographer, what sent you in this direction and what is your favorite type of shoot in this area (Live / Portrait etc)

Hmmm, I’ve already gone into this a little in the last question, sorry. Well, like I said, I love music and photography. Makes sense to mix it. The more I got involved in music photography the more I branched out into portrait and reportage. Eventually most of my work became portrait and reportage – and I was totally happy about that.

Live photography comes with a lot of crap. Not much money in it (if you’re lucky), getting to the gig and not being allowed in because some one somewhere was slacking when it came to sorting out the passes and occasionally you’d be asked to sign all copyright away to the artist!!

Anyways, I was finding myself documenting a band called The Hours more and more. Working with them opened a few doors and alongside shooting them I had been out there shooting local bands for their promo. If I really had to choose my favourite now it would have to be portrait, followed closely with reportage.

3. Have there been times when you were ready to “chuck it all in” and become an accountant… (Not that there’s anything wrong with being an accountant!..ha)

Yes, to chucking it in! No to being an accountant (sorry accountants)!

Starting out is hard! Very hard! Still is as I feel I’m still at the beginning of my career. There is so much competition out there and record companies are changing models left right and centre to deal with this digital and download revolution, which in turn means smaller budgets from them, smaller fees for photographers….you see where I’m going with this.

Those feelings of chucking it all in will always come and go, although now, this very moment, all’s good.


4. What gear do you use when you’re working? Is it different than what you would take if you just went out to take a few photos for yourself?

I’ve been using a Canon 5D. It’s a great camera and yes I take it out when I’m not ‘working’. The only problem with the 5D is that it’s ISO rating isn’t high enough. Due to the nature of my work, I’ll find myself at a badly lit gig or a dark and dingy dressing room and sometimes I could have done with something like the Canon 5D MarkII (yes its on my shoppping list!!!!!). Oh and before anyone mentions flash, yes I use it only when absolutely necessary, I’m more a natural shoot-it-as-it-is guy. I’ll also hire for some shoots.


5. Do you have any pointers for people that are looking to become photographers, or more specifically, music photographers?

Yeah I guess you need to be very hard working, ambitious, lucky, charming, consistent, and good at what you do. I got lots of advice in the beginning but deep down I had to figure it out as I went along.

Experience is the best way to learn. Talk to other photographers though, shoot tons of stuff and build up your contacts. I started by blagging passes and licensing out a few photos. From doing that I had made a few contacts, and so on….I pushed myself into portraits (promos) and eventually someone gave me a break.

I also don’t feel qualified to offer advice, as I said before, I feel I’m still at the beginning of my career, but anyone else wanting to get into music photography – good luck, have fun!!!

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Sime (aka #gtvone) is the customer support manager for dPS, and lead blogger in our Cameras and Gear Blog. He's a Melbourne based photographer, and please feel free to follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Some Older Comments

  • Avangelist January 19, 2009 08:53 am

    A really nice interview which was clearly done by emailing a questionaire and it getting filled out.

    Regardless, it is really nice to see someone being interviewed in this field.

    I have spent the last year trying to get into it myself, have shot 2-5 gigs a night for an entire 12 months, burnt myself out, got paid 3 times and had a few things on webzines but no print.

    Now I am trying to push into promo work in the hope that it will give me more contact with bands, and that they will use them for press.

    The problem with live work is it expires after 24hrs. Although it looks awsome on your cv and you can build a huge stock, it is completely useless unless somebody asks for it.

  • Alex Ramon December 30, 2008 12:53 pm

    Thank you sharing this interview, it is both educational and inspiring. I've just started getting into music photography and loving every minute (see my site). I can already see how this isn't going to pay well (it's actually starting to cost me a fair bit) but it is just so fun and challenging trying to capture musicians in low light. Festivals are my favorite, there are so many great people to meet... I can't wait until the next gig!

  • Tim November 14, 2008 07:12 pm

    I'm also a concert photographer
    luckily my music style is not mainstream, making it easier to get passes
    all pics I take are still for free - but when you can see some awesome bands for free in return, who am I to complain :)

    just launched my new site by the way - have a look ..

  • Ollie Millington November 14, 2008 12:12 pm

    Barrie has hit the nail on the head here. One thing he doesn’t mention that is a real problem at the moment in live music ( not at the higher levels but more at the daily bread-and-butter un-signed band level) is the rise of the amateurs who will happily allow bands to use photographs free of charge. Not so much the ones that give a shot or two with watermarks so they get some advertising and build a relationship with the bands, I’m referring to the ones that give away their entire set free of charge. I don’t think they realise how much damage this does to the industry. Like I said this isn’t a problem when you deal with more experienced bands who know the benefits of good photography but it can be annoying when you get a band saying " We Love your photographs from X Festival but we have had some free ones from another photographer there that day, why do you charge when there's are free?"... Its rarely malicious, but definitely annoying !

    I photograph at least 1/2 gigs a week with a Fairley equal mix of Unsigned and famous bands. You can view my work at

    Ollie Millington :)

  • Network23 Photography November 13, 2008 07:27 pm

    A few things I can ad to anyone who plans to do it... no flash, or very little, I will bounce it off the ceiling if it isn't too high, too many flash pics will piss off the band that is the last thing you want to ever do.
    Remember the band isn't there for your shots, don't piss off the crowed be aware of standing infront of people, also if you check your display after a shot, keep it low, even camera phones have gotten to annoy me at shows.
    I try to think of myself as a ninja, move around, stay out of the way of the band and the crowed.
    What I need to do more of is shoot the opening bands, those are ones that may become popular even if your not a fan of their music.
    I always give the bands the photos and just ask for a link. Patience and persistence will pay off.

  • Mandy November 12, 2008 07:29 am

    Thanks for this interview it's good to hear from someone who is making a living with photography and shares both sides of the story... I want ot hear more!

  • Coco Martin November 11, 2008 10:51 am

    Very artistic, wish to see more work though! Wonder how long is that takes to get to such a professional successful stage. I am new in Photography world, but extremely passion and hard working. Last Saturday we had a chance to work with Underage Records at they concert in San Francisco. You can see the results at:


  • Ray From Texas November 11, 2008 08:27 am

    This was very cool. I am an amateur working with several local bands and having fun doing it. I have also gotten lucky to get in to major events to document them and add them to my portfolio. I am still trying to learn all I can since inside a dark hall with not-so-great lighting is hard to work with. I have not had too many problems with venues or security since I try and make sure I have all the appropriate contacts and badges/passes before hand. But being in a live venue with a huge crowd and the lights and music and the vibe is worth every minute of it!

  • Thomas November 11, 2008 07:43 am

    Wow. Those are great photographs. Not only is he talented, but he's really lucky to have had the opportunity to photograph such well known musicians!

    (Okay, I'm a little jealous, too.)

  • Alan Nielsen November 11, 2008 04:25 am

    I do some concert photography. Very hard market to get into. You can't just walk into an arena show and shoot. You really have to start at the bottom and work your way up. Make lots of friends and do lots of pro bono work at the beginning. It's all about networking in this business.

    Alan Nielsen

  • Chris November 11, 2008 01:49 am

    Yeah, concert photography is very hard -- and often requires building upon earlier photography and other jobs to safely break your way into it.

    Check out and - how 2 brothers accomplish it very well.

  • Rosh November 11, 2008 01:07 am

    I enjoyed the interview.

    I'm reminded of my days following Detroit bands in the nineties. One thing about being a band photographer is the joy and excitement of watching musicians rise through the ranks. You can say you knew them when.

    But, as mentioned in the interview, it's not an easy way to break in to photography. But, one thing is for fore sure ... Young photographers don't have money and young bands don't have money. But, the experience and memories are priceless.