Music Photographer Andy Ford is tasked with one main challenge when he creates work – to find a visual representation for an audio medium. Whether he is documenting a band playing live or producing a studio portrait for a press release, his combination of technical ability with a personal passion for his subject matter has resulted in some phenomenal imagery. Andy’s photography has been published in the NME, Kerrang and Rock Sound. He has shot with recording artists that include Mark Ronson, Biffy Clyro and Bring Me The Horizon.
Luke Das from Team Calumet had a quick chat with Andy back in February. Find out what Andy shared about the music industry and photography.
When did you discover photography?
I first picked up a camera ten years ago. It was about then that I took photography more seriously. There was no master plan to become a music photographer. I am from the South West, so I am massively into surfing. It is a really visual culture. Cornwall also has a vibrant punk and hardcore scene and I just started to shoot with the artists that I met from going to gigs.
I was working as a chef back home and I had some money saved to go travelling. But I decided to go all out and concentrate on my photography. So, I went to the art college in Plymouth to study for a degree.
What are the technical challenges of photographing bands playing live?
At a standard show you are given the first three songs to shoot. The lighting can be anything from a single light to a strobe going wild. You need to anticipate and wait for that one defining moment. I use a high-end body, whether that is Nikon or Canon. The improvement in ISO performance over the years has massively influenced my live shots. Back in the day, I would be limited to around 1000 ISO. These days, I have magazine spreads shot at 4000 or above. My workhorse lens is a 24-70mm and I use primes when I can. I shoot a lot for the NME and Kerrang. They can generally get you extra access and I sometimes stay for the whole set.
Do you ever wear earplugs?
I always wear earplugs. If there are occasions where I have forgotten them I will go out and buy some or just find anything in my bag that I can stick in my ears!
Do you plan your portraits or are they spontaneous?
It can be a mixture. Sometimes you are given a specific brief or you just have to see what happens. I will always try and have some ideas. Whoever the artist might be, I will listen to their music and look at their previous photo shoots. It is good to leave an element of it open to what they are like on the day and respond to the challenges of the location.
Portrait photography involves technical lighting skills but it is also about communication and bringing your own energy to a shoot. If you tell someone to do something that they would not normally do, it will show in the photos. It is all about getting the best out of someone and letting them be themselves.
You have a band portrait where you are throwing paint into the frame. What is going on in that photograph?
It was for a group called Rat Attack. They were a local band, which I shot while I was still at art college. I sold the idea to them and they were up for it. I ended up chucking paint at them for about half an hour to get that photo!
Have you ever got to meet a sitter that you really admire as an artist and did their personality surprise you?
I did a really cool project for Converse called ‘Rubber Tracks’ where they hire out a studio for a couple weeks and make the time available for up and coming bands. We had a residency at Abbey Road, which was amazing. I was star struck to be in the same studio that the Beatles, Pink Floyd and loads of incredible artists had recorded in. Marky Ramone came by one day, who is one of the last surviving Ramones. I was like, ‘No way!’
Frank Carter from a band called The Gallows used to terrify me when I shot with him live. I was always expecting him to jump the barrier and break my camera. But I worked with him a couple months ago and he was a really mellow guy. That is often the case – people that are wild on stage are calmer in person.
What are the advantages of renting from Calumet?
The process is really straight forward and renting allows me to get what I need when I need it. It is great to be able to change up my kit too. I noticed that you have the Sigma Art Lens series in. I already own the 35mm but I saw that you have the 50mm and gave it a go. If I am doing a press shoot for a band and there is that bit more budget available then I will shoot with your medium format Pentax range. It is cool to have that level of image in my portfolio without buying the equipment.
Lighting wise I’m a big fan of the Profoto B1’s, on editorial jobs I often have to shoot in all kinds of location where power isn’t necessarily readily available so to be independent of plugs is important. Time can be very limited too, so the fact that B1’s have a streamlined design that can be out of the box and ready to shoot in 30 seconds is a big bonus. They pack a decent amount of power, have a great recycle rate and the high speed sync is very welcome when you’re dealing with strong daylight! In terms of modifiers Profoto’s Octa’s are great for lighting the multiple people I often work with shooting bands, I also love collapsible beauty dish, it’s light and packs down well and produces a great, strong light that suits a lot of the musicians I work with.