Photographing the Stars - An Interview with Photographer Martin Philbey

Photographing the Stars – An Interview with Photographer Martin Philbey

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Robbiewilliams8527Today I have a real treat for you in the form of some pictures and an interview with Award winning Pro Photographer Martin Philbey.

Martin is a fellow Australian who has photographed some of the biggest names in the Music Industry around the world. His work regularly appears in music media publications such as Rolling Stone and on the covers of CDs and DVDs of artists.

Martin has been kind enough to take some time out of his day today to answer a few of my questions on his photography and business and has been generous in allowing us to publish four images from his folio of work. The images feature Robbie Williams, Destinys Child, Wolfmother and Silverchair (in order of appearance).

You can see more of Martin’s work at his website – www.philbey.com.au which showcases more of his music photography but also his portrait and sports work.

A big thank you to Martin for agreeing spend some time with us today.

1. Martin could you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into photography?

I’m now in my early 40’s and started as most people do – when I got my first SLR camera as a 20 year old and started to shoot pictures of my friends and family. I started to contribute stock to a picture agency specializing in Sport and got a full time job as a crime scene photographer.

Part of that job was learning so I completed a 2 year part time course in advanced photography. I quit the Crime Scene Job in 1996 and became a full time freelance photographer.

I started to shoot Music and artist related pictures in the early 90’s and became a regular contributor to Rolling Stone Magazine in 1998. I continue to cover Sporting events for Australian Associated Press, and the West Australian Newspaper, and I shoot music related pictures for a variety of clients (including Magazines, Record Companies, Artist Management, Manufacturers etc) in Australia and overseas.

2. What photographic gear do you mainly use?

Nikon D2X and fast lenses from 10mm to 400 mm. Bowens lighting gear for inside and Norman lights for location work.

Destinys Child0777

3. Your work spans a range of types of work from sports to music and live events to portrait work – which do you enjoy the most?

Whichever one gives me a good picture! They all have their pros and cons and can be really tough or really easy. Depends on so many things (ie The weather, the sport, where you’re allowed to shoot from, the light, the subject being easy going or difficult and so on). I generally only shoot things that I do enjoy – I occasionally do commercial jobs that aren’t that interesting but pay well.

4. Many DPS readers dream of ‘going Pro’ with their photography – how would you advise they start out and get a foot in the door in the industry?

Shoot lots! Edit tight. Only show people what you want them to see – a famous Sports Illustrated photographer I once assisted told me not to worry about the hundreds of bad pictures you can take during event coverage – just the few really good ones.

Unfortunately your talent as a photographer is only going to get you so far and taking good pictures is only a small part of being a successful photographer. There are many other aspects of working for yourself that are just as important:

Dealing well with (unreasonable) clients, planning and logistics, technical know how, marketing and selling your work, financial, negotiation, ownership of rights and the list goes on.

It’s an extremely tough and competitive industry in a country with a small population so you must be driven and highly motivated to get a foot in the door anywhere. As photography covers such a huge scope (ie Editorial, Commercial, Fashion, Art, Architecture, Scientific, PR etc etc) you need to identify the direction you want to head in and start down that path.

It is increasingly tough in this corporate/global environment where a few Corporations control most of the companies.

The two best pieces of advise I can give are: Don’t work for free or for cheap. It devalues what we all do and won’t get you more work. You’ll just become known as “that guy/girl who works for free or cheap”.

Don’t take rejection personally – be professional and push on.

Wolfmother4137

5. What do you wish you knew when you first started out that you know now about your work?

Everything! You never stop learning about photography/business/life.

6. Can you share a technical tip with our readers to help them get better results with their digital cameras?

If your camera allows it – shoot manual exposure. Don’t let the camera do all the work for you. You will learn a lot more.

Look closely at the work of established photographers whose work you like and see how they do things.

Watch your backgrounds.

Silverchair11891

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Stacey Malleck January 24, 2010 01:32 am

    Good interview. Thanks!

  • Neilwood August 3, 2007 07:46 pm

    Some very sound advice from a very experienced pro.

    My take on the "shoot lots" is that by doing so you may just get that perfect shot where the light, background and the person are all at their best - sometimes it might only last for a split second so unless you shoot lots you might miss it.

    Also by shooting lots (with exif data) you can review the settings that worked as well - giving you a better understanding of them.

    As for working cheap or free - i think it depends on experience. He has a track record of good work so will be able to set his rates higher than someone who doesnt have the same portfolio.

    Now i think its time for me to get shooting - who knows, by the time im 50 (im 34 now) i might be able to sell something!!

  • sagar July 25, 2007 04:43 pm

    don't you think his images are looking flat enough.......although i liked his suggestions especially about that we should use manual settings so that we can learn more about exposures - what aperture & shutter to use at what light and conditions..thanx for that...nxt time I'll remember this thing to do my work on manual settings

    and the best thing i like about his interview is his advice
    "Don't work for free or for cheap." because we should know our value and respect it.

  • DB June 6, 2007 01:21 pm

    "Don’t work for free or for cheap."

    I second that! I've been doing music photography for a couple of years as well, and this is the one thing I hate coming across. There are still record labels and reps out there that will definitely try to take advantage when it comes to pricing. Just because basic equipment pricing is dropping does not mean experience pricing should as well... Some good advice from Martin!

  • Rob May 18, 2007 04:43 pm

    When you are under the clock and you only have 15 minutes with the executive or musician or whomever you need to shoot as much as you can while interacting with your subject. What you do and say sets the tone of the shoot often. Digital makes it easier to shoot a lot of shots. Before Digital it was like 3-4 rolls of 120 in fifteen minutes. The human face can change very quickly and often in that time.

    Watch your background. The Background often comes first since that sets the contrast of subject and makes or breaks your main subject.

    Last do not work for free or cheap. Excellent advice. If you are not sure what your photography is worth, join a group of professionals like ASMP or APA or similiar and learn about the business.

  • Scott Hampton May 12, 2007 01:44 am

    Hey all.
    I like the article, and yes, it was short.

    As far as "shoot lots" I wasn't thinking burst. i ws thinking "shoot as much as you can". In other words, variety and experience. Shoot soda cans, dish rags, cucumbers, boots, soap, people, and as often as possible.

    I started shooting a lot more, then scaled back. I sed to shoot hundreds of exposures, but now I'm choosing shots and shooting enough to nail it. I may do a seated with legs crossed pose. I'll tripod it or handhold the camera, and fire off about 20 or so. Sure, I'll only use one, but I'm getting suble nuances to choose from!

    And yeah, the gear. Shoots with Bowens?! I thought all of the pros used Profoto and Speedotron. I was looking at a Calumet kit (Bowens makes it) and thought "naah, pros don't use these". Guess I was wrong!

    Scott

  • eydryan May 11, 2007 03:42 pm

    the point is to really try to use any subject to the maximum. photograph it once to get the feel then again to squeeze creativity out of you.

  • Kalani Aylett May 11, 2007 05:34 am

    Good interview. I total agree with taking gazillions of shots and throwing away gazillions minus a few. Keep only the best.

  • Chris Osborne May 10, 2007 10:41 pm

    I do both. Actually, both at the same time because I hardly take my Point & Shoot off of burst.

  • macdane May 10, 2007 01:00 am

    Chris: I know what you're saying, but I think there's a good reason everyone gives this answer. Also, I don't necessarily think burst mode is the only answer. It's definitely a factor in getting the right shot, but I think the key lies in what's meant by "Shoot lots."

    That is, do you read it as, "Shoot lots of the same thing" (which with burst mode would help) or "Shoot lots of different things."

    See what I mean?

  • eydryan May 10, 2007 12:34 am

    guys, relax… i think that you both understood wrong, like i did with the last interview with the guy from decoys. he’s saying take many photos but worry only about the good ones. or something like that. with the risk of repeating myself, point is if you learn your timing i say there’s no need to shoot that much. you shoot 1 more than you need in case the first has a problem but otherwise i see no reason. it’s better to take your time, look at what you’re photographing, look at the surroundings, take a second to really discover your ideas and define them and then try transforming them into a photo.

    nice interview but a bit short. also i think i’m a bit well not against but well i don’t really agree with the shoot in manual thing. sure, it’s a really good tip for beginners but it’s not really necessary once you know what exposure is. if you know how to meter, where, how to compensate in EVs and where to spot meter i say manual isn’t that necessary. why? because many people shoot manual by adjusting the settings until they reach what the camera meters. so what’s the point… it’s a matter of style i guess. i shoot P most of the time but that doesn’t mean i can’t judge a scene. ask me anytime and anywhere what the exposure should be and i’ll tell you pretty spot on. so basically my opinion is, learn how exposure works, learn your camera and if you really want to shoot M to learn how to expose. but i prefer to let the camera do some work in the cases where exposure is simple and couldn’t cause it problems. better to take an underexposed shot than one that’s completely dark. or who knows maybe for some it;s better this way so they understand how to shoot. anyway, here’s an image i totally underexposed (it was 90% black) but i shot RAW and edited afterwards. you can see how many details there are from an image that seemed pitch black. so i say try to give meaning to your photos and forget about the settings all the time (but do pass through a stage so that exposure becomes second nature). i know this example sucks, it was taken in previous times, but it’s here just to show recovery potential (http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/37362487/?qo=28&q=by%3Aeydryan&qh=sort%3Atime+-in%3Ascraps)

    ok, that;s my opinion.

  • eydryan May 10, 2007 12:33 am

    guys, relax... i think that you both understood wrong, like i did with the last interview with the guy from decoys. he's saying take many photos but worry only about the good ones. or something like that. with the risk of repeating myself, point is if you learn your timing i say there's no need to shoot that much. you shoot 1 more than you need in case the first has a problem but otherwise i see no reason. it's better to take your time, look at what you're photographing, look at the surroundings, take a second to really discover your ideas and define them and then try transforming them into a photo.

    nice interview but a bit short. also i think i'm a bit well not against but well i don't really agree with the shoot in manual thing. sure, it's a really good tip for beginners but it's not really necessary once you know what exposure is. if you know how to meter, where, how to compensate in EVs and where to spot meter i say manual isn't that necessary. why? because many people shoot manual by adjusting the settings until they reach what the camera meters. so what's the point... it's a matter of style i guess. i shoot P most of the time but that doesn't mean i can't judge a scene. ask me anytime and anywhere what the exposure should be and i'll tell you pretty spot on. so basically my opinion is, learn how exposure works, learn your camera and if you really want to shoot M to learn how to expose. but i prefer to let the camera do some work in the cases where exposure is simple and couldn't cause it problems. better to take an underexposed shot than one that's completely dark. or who knows maybe for some it;s better this way so they understand how to shoot. anyway, here's an image i totally underexposed (it was 90% black) but i shot RAW and edited afterwards. you can see how many details there are from an image that seemed pitch black. so i say try to give meaning to your photos and forget about the settings all the time (but do pass through a stage so that exposure becomes second nature). i know this example sucks, it was taken in previous times, but it's here just to show recovery potential (http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/37362487/?qo=28&q=by%3Aeydryan&qh=sort%3Atime+-in%3Ascraps)

    ok, that;s my opinion.

  • Cat May 10, 2007 12:00 am

    I would have loved to see the EXIF data associated with his shots.

  • Chris Osborne May 9, 2007 11:57 am

    Don't worry about that. I didn't get enough sleep last night and it's showing.

  • Grant May 9, 2007 09:05 am

    Chris, I wasn't having a go at you - I know what you're saying. Just having a gentle dig at ya :-)

  • Don May 9, 2007 09:03 am

    Thanks for this, it was very inspiring for me who has been working on my photography with the hope of one day making a living (or part of a living) from it. I have been pondering giving up of late but this has given me some hope as well as a few ideas. Thank you Martin and Darren.

  • Chris Osborne May 9, 2007 08:42 am

    I wasn't saying that it's bad advice. It's just that when I see that question asked in an interview I always see the same answer.

  • Belle May 9, 2007 08:25 am

    wow - what amazing images with such clarity. I love this guy's style. I can only imaging what having access to that caliber of artist is like.

    Martin - if you are reading this, how do you get into these shows? I find it hard enough being allowed to photograph bands in pubs let alone on this level. Any advice?

  • Grant May 9, 2007 08:23 am

    Chris, maybe the things that separate pros from the rest of us is that.... they take a lot of pictures - I think it's good advice and something that people do need to hear time and time again.

    This is the best interview you've ever posted here on this blog and I love the images. I would love the opportunity to spend a few minutes with a photographer like this and this interview does just that. Lets hope some of his skill rubs off!

  • Hlecuanda May 9, 2007 03:33 am

    I've found that when photographing dance performances (famous subjects or otherwise), the only way to get a decent shot is to do bursts. Dancers tend to gesticulate a lot, and if you don't do burst shots, you'll end up with a bunch of unflattering -thus unusable- photos. So yes, shoot a lot!

  • joanium May 9, 2007 02:54 am

    Great interview. Especially like the reality check that being a pro photographer isn't just about your photography skills.

  • Chris Osborne May 9, 2007 02:02 am

    This has got to be at least the 100th interview I've seen where a piece of advice is to take a lot of pictures.

    Not that I'm saying that's a bad idea (because it's not, and I do it myself with the burst mode on my camera), but I'd like to see something else. There's no way that all these people don't know what each other are saying.

    Other than that though, this was really informative. I always like seeing what people use, and realizing that the type and amount of equipment they're using isn't much different from my own.