Image Is Everything
It is no coincidence that one of the most glamorous types of photography, music photography, is also one of the toughest to get in to. With hard work and determination, Peter Neill has become one of the most sought-after live music photographers in the industry.
His way of capturing artists performing has led him to work with some of music’s biggest names, including The Script, Rick Astley, Will.I.am and Justin Timberlake.
© Peter Neill | Sony α7R III + 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/320s @ f/2.8 ISO 1600
But despite the spontaneity of some of these incredible live performance images there can be a lot of re-search and planning that goes in to the images we eventually see.
“When I work with an artist for the first time, I will research to find out things that they are known for. For example, Nicky Wire (Bass Player for Manic Street Preachers) will always do some kind of crazy scissor kick, or Danny from The Script often jumps off of the drum kit at the end of the gig. You need to be ready to capture those moments.”
© Peter Neill | Sony α7S II + 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/320s @ f/2.8 ISO 5000
“One of the things that I love to do for an artist I have never worked with is to scout YouTube for fan videos of their gigs. It can be a fantastic way to find out what is going to happen. For example, say you only have a three song press pass, and during the second song all the photographers in the press pit move to the right as the bass player has come to the edge of the stage. However, I know that what happens next in song three is even better, as the lead singer is going to go and do something to the left. I can be that person who is there ready to get the picture that no one else does.”
© Peter Neill | Sony α7R III + 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/800s @ f/2.8 ISO 1250
Like most other things in life, Peter tries to cultivate relationships with the people he works with, and it isn’t always about snapping away at every available opportunity.
“Sometimes the best pictures come from trust and knowing when to put the lens cap back on the camera. I was backstage at a Gary Barlow gig a few years ago, chatting away to his manager, when Gary’s family suddenly appeared backstage and were running towards his dressing room. I instinctively put the lens cap on the camera.”
“Gary said to me a couple of hours later - 'I saw what you did with the lens cap. I really appreciate that.’ Those small moments can have a big impact and whenever I have seen Gary since he has been accommodating as I established that trust with him early on.”
© Peter Neill | Sony α7S II + 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/500s @ f/2.8 ISO 640
In the last couple of years Peter has found himself in studio as well as at the side of the stage, but it is the same relationship with the artists that helps him get the images he wants.
“So far, all the people I have done studio work with are people that I have known for a while first, which gives you an insight in to their personality. Rick Astley, for example, has a very fun-loving quirky personality so there are some things in the studio which I asked him to do to bring out that side of his character. I simply wouldn’t have been able to ask him if I hadn’t known him.”
© Peter Neill | Sony α7S II + 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/250s @ f/3.2 ISO 400
When in the studio the images are always a collaboration process for Peter, but he also believes that his role as a photographer is as a creative and not just one that involves operating the camera.
“I always tend to ask an artist to give me some images of the things that they like. At the same time when they hire someone creative they are hiring you to be just that - creative. It is really a balance of trying to accommodate their needs, but also anticipating and thinking about what would be even better and how to really elevate the shoot. It’s about having faith in yourself as the photography expert.”
© Peter Neill | Sony α7S II + 24-70mm f/2.8 GM | 1/250s @ f/8.0 ISO 50
To take all of his images Peter relies on two cameras, the Sony α7R III and the Sony α7S II - each camera providing him with slightly different features to meet the demands of whatever he is shooting.
‘The flexibility between the two cameras is just fantastic. They are both very capable for both stills and video. For example; if I want incredible stills, or video, in low light, the α7S II is absolutely phenomenal in its performance. And if I want the best resolution I jump to the α7R III. My two main lenses are the 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master lens and the 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master. I have also hired the 85mm f/1.4 G Master several times - I love the manual aperture on that lens. It’s the next lens I’m going to buy!’
For those who want to follow in Peter’s footsteps his advice is to be determined and not give up.