This is the first article in a new series called Spotlight – a feature which aims to give exposure to the unsung heroes of the music industry. This article focuses on one of the most important groups of people that perhaps go largely unnoticed during most gigs: photographers. Keep an eye out for further articles on photographers and other groups of unsung heroes (independent venues and record stores) in the very near future.
Jonathan Peterson is a 28 year old photographer based in Portsmouth. He first become a photography enthusiast in 2013 and has been shooting gigs ever since. Originally from Chesapeake, VA in the United States, Jonathan is also very keen on rugby and enjoys gaming, hiking, singing in the shower and finding great pubs when his thirst needs quenching! He is often told that he looks like Will Smith, so maybe we can assume that he breaks out into the occasional Fresh Prince rap whilst in the shower…
What does photography mean to you?
Photography is both a creative challenge and a cathartic exercise. The process of making a photograph is so much more than just framing a shot and releasing the shutter, it’s all about figuring out which story to tell. It’s an appreciation of light or its absence. It’s a celebration of shapes and symmetry and colours and smiles. Photography is the way I connect with the world around me.
Whose work has influenced you the most?
Growing up, I was mesmerized by the National Geographic covers. Every image was (and still is) transportive and taken with so much care, be it the Afghan girl with haunting eyes or the inquisitive gorilla with a knack for selfies. Nowadays, there are so many talented photographers who influence the way I go about the entire process.
From your perspective, what makes a great picture?
A great photograph not only stops you in your tracks but also leaves an emotional footprint well after the initial viewing.
How do you educate yourself to take better pictures?
I examine the work of other photographers quite often.
What goes through your mind just before you press the shutter button?
I tend to question how I can make an image better. What does this image tell me? What do I want this image to say? Who is the subject? Is the subject in focus? Are there any distractions?
What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos in a live environment?
It’s okay to get into it. When I first started shooting live music, I thought of myself as a fly on the wall. I thought it necessary to remain removed from the excitement in order to get the best images. I was wrong! Dead wrong! The artist’s energy feeds the audience, which feeds back to the artist, which feeds me.
What settings do you use in a live setting?
I always shoot in manual mode so the settings change constantly. I operate under the following guidelines:
- Use the lowest ISO value possible (I try to stay at base ISO for as long as I can)
- Don’t sacrifice sharpness of the subject for more light (aperture control)
- It’s best to remove the lens cap before shooting (many a great photographer have advised me on this)
What is the most valuable piece of advice you could give to anyone wanting to get into live music photography?
Get as close as you can to your subject, be that the twirling artist or the hysterical fan. Just try not to get in the way.
In your spare time, what other kinds of pictures do you enjoy taking?
I love street photography. It’s so rewarding when done right.
What motivates you to keep taking photographs?
The act of searching for beauty is immensely satisfying. It leads me down paths I may not have taken otherwise and introduces me to some truly inspiring people.
Who has been your favourite artist to photograph so far?
Yeehaa Granma. It’s easy to capture great moments during a live show when your subjects are genuinely thrilled to share the gift of music.
Who are your favourite artists to listen to when you’re at home?
Oh boy! I’m the biggest fan of Explosions in the Sky, a Texas-based post-rock quartet. I listen to their music on a daily basis. They communicate more as an instrumental rock band than most lyricists.
What was the first gig you ever went to as a fan and what was the first gig you did as a photographer?
First gig as a fan: Explosions in the Sky at Rams Head Live!, Baltimore, MD in 2011. Electrifying is the only word I can ascribe to that experience.
First gig as a photographer: Ill Doots in downtown Richmond, VA in 2014. A buddy of mine invited me to attend and I volunteered to serve as a photographer for the event. It turned out to be a wonderful learning experience. They’re worth a listen, for sure!
What was the first record you ever bought?
I can’t remember the first record I ever bought. The first vinyl I ever purchased was The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place by Explosions in the Sky. It’s one of their best. I listen to ‘First Breath After Coma’ at least once a day.
What is the best experience you’ve ever had at a live show?
Every live show is different. I don’t think I can narrow down the thrills to just one that I enjoyed most. I will say that my most recent gig at the Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea left me pleasantly surprised. Jerry Williams was scheduled to perform and I had only listened to a few of her songs before the show. Her energy and pizazz really left a great impression. It was just so much fun!
Finally, for those that aren’t already familiar with your work, how would you describe it?
I gravitate to street photography and portraiture, but I try my hand at all genres of this artistic medium. The aim is to capture moments that resonate with people.
In order to view Jonathan’s work, please follow the following links to his website and social media. Supporting photographers like Jonathan ensures that they keep on providing us with the shots that enable us to continue to remember the gigs and moments that mean the most to us.