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A Snap Chat with Live Music Photographer Nick Pickles

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Nick Pickles is the in house live music photographer for Wembley Arena and freelances at the biggest summer festivals on behalf of the BBC. Nick talks about his journey from working in Boots photo lab to becoming an award winning photographer whilst juggling a career in Westminster.

What was your first big break for live music photography and how did you attain it?

I guess it was having a small music magazine ask for one of my Yourcodenameis:Milo shots from Northumbria Uni. I didn’t really have a portfolio and if I had emailed them out of the blue they would have never taken a second look; but I bumped into a journalist from the gig, who said that they didn’t have a photographer there and asked if I would send some shots over. I did, and they responded asking if I could do more work for them. It was probably one of the first gigs I had ever shot, and only managed to get a photo pass because I was doing a review too. There’s nothing like the first time you see your work in print!

Your photography freelancing success is alongside an impressive career in politics, including standing as an MP (2010) and currently being involved in government relations. What came first and how do you balance both jobs?

I guess my interest in politics came about at school when I was doing my A-Levels, but I only really got interested in music photography quite late in the day when I was at university and met an incredibly talented photographer called Barney Britton. (We used to shoot gigs together and see which one of us the tour manager would think had used a fake name). Although I did work in the photo lab of Boots for a few years, which looking back definitely influenced me.

The hardest part was around 2007-9, when I was not quite starting out, but didn’t have much of a reputation for either one of my careers. I had to do lots more gigs then to build my portfolio and reputation, and then running for Parliament was a pretty mad workload. I’m not sure if Westminster and the music industry are supposed to work together well, but I seem to have found a way of balancing the two that I’m really happy with, and I get to work with some incredible people and do some amazing things on both sides, which might be hard work but there’s no way I can’t help but think I’m just massively lucky.

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What are the challenges of live music photography?

Trying to get a unique shot. Artists are managing access – whether the position you shoot from, how long you get in the pit or even just wearing the same outfit every night – which makes capturing something different much tougher. Other than that, the same challenges people have had for years, a combination of low light, over-enthusiastic smoke machine operators and trying to spot the pints flying towards you while pointing the other direction.

Who was your favourite artist/band to photograph and why?

Oasis, Coldplay and Radiohead all have a special place for me, both because I’m a huge fan and they have great frontmen to photograph, albeit for different reasons. I shot the last night of Coldplay’s 2012 UK tour for the band and that was a pretty monumental moment for me.

What are your favourite venues to work in?

Brixton Academy is one of a kind – incredible sound, a beautiful building that has a lot of heritage.

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What are the perks of being a live music photographer?

Other than the free gigs! I can come home with my own record of the emotion of the gig – which is also what I find truly exciting about live music photography. If you can feel how you felt on the front row when you look at a picture that’s a pretty immense privilege to be able to capture your experiences like that. Oh, and clean toilets at festivals.

What are the pros and cons of freelancing?

On the upside you are your own boss – you decide what jobs to do, who to work with and when you can have a break. Equally you’re never guaranteed a wage at the end of the month; you’re responsible for getting out there to find work and at a time when the industry is getting tougher.

How were you commissioned by the BBC for festival coverage?

Many years ago I was recommended to them by someone who was leaving traveling and from one job (T in the Park 2007 I think) it’s blossomed. They’re one of the best media outlets to work for, especially in an online world, they are so adept at getting the most out of content at the same time as allowing you to be as creative as you like.

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Which photo are you most proud of?

There’s one of Orlando from the Maccabees that I did on stage at Leeds Festival right at the end of their set, when he has his guitar over his head – I have that as a canvass at home, because it was a brilliant moment for the band to play to such a huge crowd, and also for me to be the one lucky enough to capture it. Coldplay at the Etihad is the other canvass I have. The idea that I’d be sat there taking that picture of one of the biggest bands in the world still seems pretty ridiculous now, especially when I consider I was one of the least artistic people in my school and have never done a photography course.

What advice would you give young people pursuing a career in photography?

Work very hard, then keep working. Don’t miss opportunities. Measure yourself against the photographers that inspire you and never stop thinking about what other angles there are. Oh, and someone once said to me “nail your tight and brights before the arty shite” and that still seems as good advice as ever!

What work have you currently got lined up?

This evening I’m shooting The Who at Wembley, on Friday I’m doing Charlie Wilson at Shepherds Bush Empire then it’s Ke$ha at Brixton, then off to Latitude, and after that I should probably try have a holiday. I’m going to Washington DC the day after Latitude with work, so maybe I’ll catch a gig when I’m out there and not in a suit. Never a dull moment, and I’d never want it another way.

To see Nick’s full collection of photos including the UK’s top festivals and acts from Slash to Bono check out his website.

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