Marty Moffatt, is a semi professional photographer, specialising in music and wedding photography. His style lends itself to a wide variety of themes in social and event photography. He balances this with his busy day job as an IT Business Analyst, though his main passion still lies in photography.
He’s photographed concerts all over the UK, and abroad. Being based in the South West usually entails a lot of travel to most gigs. “But hey, that’s rock’n’roll, and the buzz I get at the end of the journey is worth it” he says.
Marty Has worked closely with artists like Journey, Thunder, The Union, Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Scott Soto, Tyketto, FM, The Ultimate Eagles, The Australian Pink Floyd and many others. As a result, his live performance images have been used in programmes, posters, album & DVD covers, online and magazine articles. Impressively, to date, Marty’s photos can be found on the covers of about 50 albums by various artists.
As a fan of Thunder, I first discovered Marty’s work after seeing his live and promotional images used in association with the band, As you can imagine I was pretty excited when he agreed to take time out to collaborate on this blog.
How did you get started in concert photography?
First and foremost I would say that I have always been a rock music fan, right back to the 1970s and have attended thousands of shows as a paying fan. it wasn’t until 2005 that I considered the possibility of photographing shows. It happened like this…
My wife Sue was involved in the Journey Fan Club in the UK, trying to get them to tour in the UK for the first time in many years (they finally succeeded in persuading Journey to come over in 2006). Anyway, in 2005 Journey guitarist Neal Schon did come to the UK with his side project Soul SirkUS. I used my contacts via the fan club to blag a photo pass for one of their shows, at the first Firefest in Bradford. I shot the show and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
In those days it was pre-Facebook and Instagram, however many bands had online forums that fans used to discuss the music etc. I posted a few of my pics from the show on the Journey forum. A few hours later I got an email from Jeff Scott Soto, who was the vocalist in Soul SirkUS, telling me how much he enjoyed seeing the pics and asking if I’d like to take some pics at his solo shows scheduled for later in the year. Of course, I said yes, and in fact, I’ve worked with Jeff many times since then and he’s become a good friend.
What’s been your favourite gig shoot so far?
That is an almost impossible question to answer! Different gigs offer different reasons to be a ‘favourite’.
I enjoy festivals, especially the smaller ones – the larger festivals can be a real pain to shoot, so I no longer bother applying for them. What I like about most festivals though is the fact they have a budget for decent lighting, and even bands lower down the bill can benefit from that. Also, it is great to catch up with fellow photographers over the course of a day or two of shooting, instead of five minutes before a one band gig shoot. My favourite festivals still operating are Steelhouse and Call Of The Wild but my best experience at festivals was being the house photographer for five consecutive years of Firefest. Sadly that one is no more.
In regards to individual gig shoots, several Thunder shows spring to mind (for example Hammersmith Apollo in 2009), some Journey shows were spectacular. For lighting, it has to be the Trans Siberian Orchestra, also at Hammersmith. That was a seated show, with no photo pit, but the promoter secured for me a seat, front row centre, from which I could shoot the whole show – spectacular lighting.
What do you look for when shooting live music?
As I mentioned earlier I am first and foremost a music fan, and being at a live show is a tremendous experience, both visually and audibly. My overriding desire when shooting a live show is to represent at least some of the visual aspects, from the viewpoint of the fans who may have been there and experienced it first hand. This means trying to show the artists from multiple angles; searching for intense, dramatic lighting; capturing the artist in the moment, or interacting with their bandmates on stage, even capturing the expressions and togetherness of the audience.
That is my starting premise. Whether I can achieve that depends on a number of things…
Great lighting is a huge help. With it, you can concentrate on capturing the excitement of the show. Without it, a lot of your time is diverted to pushing the camera’s limits just to capture something usable. You can still get decent shots but it is much harder and less enjoyable, and may not represent what you were trying to show.
Another thing that helps achieve great shots is genuine interaction, enjoyment and excitement from the artists on the stage. If they are having a good time, it translates into much more interesting pictures. Conversely, if they are treating the show like a chore, the resulting pics will be boring and lifeless.
Finally, I’m always looking for variety, in angles, lighting and composition. I’m usually trying to capture a series of images to represent a concert, rather than a single image. A series of images, taken from the same angle with the same lighting and composition, would bore the viewer senseless. Variety keeps the viewer interested, hopefully, long enough to look at the entire series, and to get a more rounded feeling of what the show was like.
What’s been your proudest moment in your photography career?
I hope it hasn’t happened yet. However, there have been many proud moments – the first time an image appeared in a magazine, the first time an image appeared on an album cover, the first time I was invited on a UK tour, the first time I was asked to shoot on foreign soil (once to Japan and once to Poland). However, what I’m most proud of so far is the fact that I’ve become a trusted photographer to so many of the artists I’ve photographed.
How would you describe your style?
I’m not sure I have a style. I’d like to think my style is to show an artist or band in context. What I mean is I rarely do closeups. I like to see something about the venue or the environment that the concert takes place in, whilst using the lighting and the composition to do this. Often you can recognise exactly where the image was taken, and it allows me to capture multiple artists engaging with each other. It’s not a hard and fast rule of course. In seeking a variety of images you sometimes have to get up close and personal with someone on stage.
I love your work with Thunder. How did that relationship begin?
Going back to my story about shooting Jeff Scott Soto for the first time, in 2006 he joined Journey as lead singer for a year, including a tour of the UK in early 2007. I was granted AAA passes for all those shows, and Jeff introduced me to his friend and support act for the shows, Danny Vaughn. I always try to shoot the support acts for any shows I cover, because you never know where those contacts will lead.
Anyway, Danny was sufficiently impressed with some of my images to contact me and ask if I’d shoot an Eagles tribute band he’d just joined. I came along to a few shows to shoot and met Chris Childs, who was bass player for the band, in between tours with his main band Thunder.
Both Danny and Chris have also become good friends over the years, and when Chris asked me to come along and shoot a Thunder show I jumped at the chance. This was 2008 and I shot a couple of Thunder shows and showed the band my images. Again they liked them very much.
In 2009 they were due to tour again, for what at the time they thought would be the final time – their 20 Years And Out finale tour. Danny Bowes, lead singer and manager, asked me to accompany them on that tour, on the tour bus, so that I had full unrestricted access for the entire tour. That was my first experience of a live tour and it was amazing.
After Thunder broke up, Luke Morley, guitarist and songwriter, contacted me to ask if I’d be the key photographer for his new project The Union, with Peter Shoulder. I spent three years, three albums and multiple tours, working directly with The Union, until out of the blue Thunder started up again and I’ve continued my relationship with Thunder ever since.
It shows that it is worth building relationships wherever possible because you never know what doors might open further down the line.
Who are your photography influences?
OK, this is a difficult one. I have to say that even before I had any ambitions to shoot concerts myself, I grew up reading music magazines like Sounds, in the late 1970s. One of the most impressive photographers for that mag was Ross Halfin. I loved some of the iconic black and white images he produced then. The reason it is a difficult question is that he is still a very active music photographer, but I’ve not been particularly influenced by anything he’s done in the last 30 years. I think the problem is that the quality of concert photography in this digital age is such that there are now hundreds of photographers I think are equally good or better.
There are many photographers who impress me nowadays. For example Mike Savoia and Igor Vidyashev, both based in the US, and in the UK the likes of Simon Dunkerley and many others.
How do you approach a shoot where there is no pit?
It depends on the venue and the audience. Many theatre shows (particularly seated shows) don’t have a photo pit and photographers are often not allowed at the front by the stage. However, with those venues, there are often other locations you can shoot from, as long as you have a long enough lens. It does limit potential angles but you have to work with what you are given.
For standing shows in small venues with no pit, which will be rammed with people right up to the stage, it is much more of a problem. In those cases, I try to get there early and get a spot at the front. I let people around me know I’ll only be in their way for three songs and will then move to the back.
If I can’t get to the front, because I can’t get to the venue in time, I will try to find another vantage point. I absolutely refuse to push through the crowd to the front, because I think it is disrespectful to the people who have paid, and often waited in a long queue, to find their own position at the front.
Sometimes, in some venues (especially in London, which is a nightmare for me to get to on a weeknight), I will turn down the shoot because I know I won’t be able to get to the front and there are no alternative vantage points, and so the chances of getting any usable images is negligible.
What would be your advice to anyone looking to start shooting live music?
Practice, practice, practice. Concert photography is not easy, even with modern do it all cameras. You have to know your camera inside out to be able to capture images in ever changing lighting and fast movement on stage. Learn to shoot in manual, so you can adjust things without thinking too hard about it. You will be much more satisfied with the results.
Don’t go approaching major artists or promoters or magazine editors until or unless you already have many many concerts under your belt, shot in all sorts of conditions, and you are confident you can get good results time after time. That means learning your craft in smaller shows with lesser known bands. Remember, a good performance shot is a good performance shot, regardless of who the artist is.
If you go down the route of approaching editorial outlets, be prepared for a lot of rejections. The world is awash with wannabe concert photographers, some great, some average and some not so good. Promoters, artists and particularly magazine editors etc won’t pick you out from the hundreds of other photographers who may have contacted them. Unless they already know you by reputation, or unless you have an outstanding online portfolio to show them, or unless you have somebody they know who can recommend you, the likelihood is they will dismiss your approach out of hand. They simply don’t have time to invest in finding out about you. If that happens don’t take it personally.
If you do make contact and start building a relationship with a band or artist, be good at what you do (of course) but also don’t take liberties. Once you make it into their ‘trusted circle’ trust is very very important. They need to know you won’t break confidences, won’t pester them for freebies, won’t act like you’re their best buddy etc. Your relationship is built on the fact you are a photographer, always be aware of that. Otherwise, you can quickly find yourself outside of that circle.
Over the years a lot of my photo opportunities with bands have resulted from good relationships built with other bands. Artists do talk to each other and if you’re good enough and they like you they’ll recommend you to their peers in the music business, resulting in more opportunities. Sometimes that opens doors directly.
And finally, If you could photograph any band, past or present, who would it be and why?
That is another difficult one. Many of the bands I grew up listening to are now in their 60’s and 70’s and are much less photogenic now than when they were in their prime. I’d love to have shot some of them back then – Black Sabbath (with Ozzy in the ’70s and Dio in the ’80s), Judas Priest, Rush, early era Whitesnake etc. I would also have loved to shoot AC/DC in the Bon Scott era.
Nowadays, with their stage show, I guess Rammstein are right up there on my wish list. One of my favourite bands is Halestorm. I’ve shot them a couple of times, but only the first three songs scenario. I’d love to shoot a whole show.
Marty’s Top Ten
One of the images from my very first concert shoot – Soul SirkUS, in Bradford in 2005. Here is Marco Mendoza and Neal Schon. It was taken with an EOS D60 (6 mpix) camera, which was close to the top of the range back then, but archaic by modern standards. Maximum usable ISO on that camera was about 800 (this was taken at ISO400 which meant a shutter speed of 1/30) so I was extremely lucky to get no motion blur.
Trans Siberian Orchestra
Taken in 2014 at Hammersmith Apollo. TSO is a show comprising many musicians (there are about 7-8 lead vocalists, a choir, an orchestra, multiple guitarists and many others, and it is a spectacularly lit concert.
This was an all seated gig, but I had a seat front row centre, so a perfect view when this group of violinists came down to the front and knelt right in front of me. The lighting and the lightning are all part of the show – no photoshopping.
Thunder are a rock band, and as such, they each do their own thing on stage, but two or three times during the show there is a choreographed movement. Once you have seen one or two shows you learn to anticipate it. Here, during ‘Back Street Symphony’ there is a moment when the backlighting flashes like a strobe, just for a few seconds, and the four out front band members pose in silhouette. Being so close to the stage, I had to use a wide angled lens (in this case a fisheye) to get all four in the shot.
Current lead vocalist for Journey, Arnel Pineda, has a reputation for performing several leaps in the air during the show – in fact, fans often call him Airnel. I’ve got many shots of him in the air, but I particularly like this one because it coincides with the band logo displayed on huge screens in the background. Again taken with a fisheye lens, hence the curve of the stage.
I like this shot simply because of the logo behind David Coverdale.
Taken in 2015 at Hammersmith Apollo. This is a slightly distorted wide angle shot but I think it perfectly encapsulates what Thunder are all about. Danny Bowes orchestrates the audience as much as the band orchestrate their music.
This is undoubtedly my most used shot online. Taken in 2015, I’ve seen it displayed on literally hundreds of different media outlets all around the world, in reviews, adverts, leaflets, including Joe’s own website.
This was taken at Firefest in 2014. Ted Poley kneels at the front of the stage to pose for photographers. The pit is absolutely crowded (the reason I am side of the stage for the first three songs rather than out front), but what I like is the way every single camera (I count at least 10 of them) is trained on him in that moment. Nobody chimping or looking in a different direction.
I was asked if I wanted to shoot Foreigner at the Royal Albert Hall in 2018, and of course, I jumped at the chance, as it is such a prestigious venue. The reason I like this shot of vocalist Kelly Hansen it that there are lots of elements here that put the image in context. The artist, the lighting, the band name in the background, a glimpse of the surrounding venue and the proximity of the audience. There is never a photo pit at the RAH, so I was sat on the floor in an aisle for this shot.
Thunder Christmas show
Most years Thunder do a couple of Christmas shows, where they play a mix of their own songs and covers of songs they like, and enhance their band with backing singers and an extra keyboardist. Often they also have guest artists join them on stage. This was taken a couple of years ago at The Roundhouse in London. Joining the band on stage for their final bow were Scott Gorham (Black Star Riders/Thin Lizzy) and Andy Taylor (Duran Duran – a very rare recent stage appearance for him).
All images copyright Marty Moffatt Photography
See more of Marty’s work here