Behind the lens with Nathan Roach
South Wales-based Nathan Roach has been a freelance photographer/videographer for the past three years and has photographed a number of musical acts including 30 Seconds To Mars, Nelly, Bring Me The Horizon and Blink 182.
Tell us about your gear – everything from your camera and lenses to editing software.
So this may be controversial to many in the live music scene today (due to the current popularity of Sony and Canon) but I’ve always been a part of the Nikon family. I use a Nikon D850 as my primary camera and a Nikon D800 as my backup. In terms of picture quality and camera build, these two are absolute workhorses and can take a beating (which is perfect for a job that requires you to be somewhere amongst energetic crowds).
Lens-wise, my kit includes a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art and Nikon AF-s Nikkor 70-200mm 2.8G ll lenses. Additional bits I also often use in the field for portraits/club work include Hahnel Modus 600RT flashguns, A Yashica 635 120 medium format camera and a nest of bought/self-made prisms/Gobe Star lens filters.
Specifically for video work, I own a DJI Ronin S gimbal which is very new and has yet to leave its case so hopefully it is money well invested.
My choice of editing software may also be surprising, what with the popularity of Adobe Lightroom, but I actually edit all of my photography on Adobe Photoshop. The editing options it offers are incredible and I’ve never been the type of person to quickly rush through an edit, so having so many different stems to explore keeps me sane. For video work I edit on Adobe Premiere Pro and am currently on the long and arduous road of learning Final Cut Pro.
In terms of storage and travel it took me a while to find something perfect, but eventually decided on a Lowepro Protactic 450 AW backpack from watching Peter Mckinnon videos on youtube. It’s a large bag but lighter than you would expect (considering it’s very tough) with storage compartments and a perfect storage slip for my Macbook Pro 15”.
How did you get into photography?
From a young age I was introduced to all forms of art and film, both my parents were art teachers at local comprehensive schools and my grandparents were huge amateur film connoisseurs. It wasn’t until I was 14 that I got my first compact camera and it initially started as a very light hobby as at the time, I had more interest in the Surrealist movement and very visceral paintings. It was only when I was shown images by early magnum photographers that I was introduced to this whole new form of expression.
“[…] no matter how impressive their equipment is, it takes enthusiasm and a great eye to come out on top.”
What’s the least amount of gear a new starter can manage with?
When I first started, I worked with a skeleton kit. A £200 camera, one lens and that was it. You can never test your limits unless you work with the bare bones and it’s always good to remember the magnitude of your kit can never reflect your ability to create. I also owned an early Lenovo laptop which would take nearly a full day to let me edit 100 photographs but a laptop is a laptop none the less. It’s very common to feel intimidated when someone turns up with enough gear to kit out a full team but no matter how impressive their equipment is, it takes enthusiasm and a great eye to come out on top.
Walk us through the process of taking live photos? From acquiring a photography pass to publishing.
Well applying for photography passes is by far the most stressful and uncertain part of the process. It relies very heavily on how efficient those controlling them are and how clear and concise you are in giving your details. It involves a lot of twiddling thumbs and patience when it comes to waiting for a green light after your editor makes the enquiry. In certain circumstances, the pass list can fill very quickly with highbrow names and so you’re added to a waiting list. You can find out on the day of the show that the pass has been confirmed (leaving you in a mad rush to possibly drive three hours to the venue) or it could be the opposite with managerial mistakes leaving you brushed off as you’re waiting at the doors.
This can rely greatly on not only the popularity/reach of your publication, but also on the working relationship with the PR company who are calling the shots. You’re very unlikely to receive opportunities if you’ve previously been rude/unprofessional in the past.
Once you’re given the all clear and you make it through the venue doors, every stress you have outside of the photography pit falls away. A Few rules I’ve always tried to live by while working include;
1. Know who you’re photographing. If you’re shooting an artist who likes to do backflips and jump into the crowd, that’s information you need to know.
2. Expect the unexpected. Sometimes that first rule can blow up in your face with how unpredictable some artists are.
3. Respect those you share the pit with. People talk and if you decide to barge a photographer out of the way to claim a shot, you’ll have no friends shoulder to shoulder with you and you’ll find it harder to find clients when they hear what you are really like in an already stressful workspace.
Usually after the assorted time slot is up, I’ll either leave straight away, take some larger crowd shots or (if there’s enough time between turn around and hand in) stay to watch the artist. The publication usually have a number requirement with images so it comes down to whittling out the best that capture different angles/members of the group before hand-in. Its best to try and get these over as soon as possible in case something needs to be re-edited or an image does not fit the required format. Scurrying around an hour before publishing, trying to find a better image option, is never a good situation and will reflect badly on you so try to keep everything running like a conveyer.
Can you share your favourite piece of work with us? Why do you love it so much?
One of my favourite images would have to be an image of Jason Aalon Butler I took when Fever 333 performed at the Electric Ballroom in London. This was the last photograph I took that night after a difficult first few songs of missing shot opportunities and being crammed in with seven odd other photographers. After exiting, the PR company graciously gave the photographers balcony access to enjoy the show and because of a looming concern, I sneakily took a few more images from the railings. Ironically I ran smack into the person running the PR for the show but she luckily let me off with a warning.
I love this particular photograph because anybody who has watched Jason perform, knows he doesn’t favour standing quietly in one spot. Capturing this unique moment of subtle exhaustion in amongst the chaos really spoke to me in comparison to if I had caught him mid-air. It also felt like the entire show of failings and missed opportunities had deliberately led to me catching this decisive moment.
If you could have dinner with five people who’s either inspired you or who you’d consider a muse, who would it be?
Alfred Hitchcock/Robert Burks have always held a special place in my love of cinema and photography. Although Robert Burks was officially the cinematographer for the majority of his films, Hitchcock storyboarded everything in great detail so they were both heavily involved with the visual aspect of his iconic films. His use of visual tension/experimentation became such an influential trademark that many attempted to mimic/redefine the style. From the famous ‘Psycho’ shower scene, to painted panes of glass over the camera shots in North by Northwest, his undeniable style left me craving to make my own mark and create something that was uniquely my own visual identity.
My second would be Surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Although I love all of the surrealist painters, Dali was one artist who influenced my use of colour to no end. His explicit avant garde paintings also taught me how to explore forms of my field that I considered alien or even unpopular. He questioned the concept of limited vision within his practice and was never content with mediocre or something that would not push his abilities to their peak, knowing full well however that what he considered perfection could never be achieved. A creative can be his own worst enemy but making peace with the unattainable will bring with it a world of relief and new found dedication.
The third chair would be taken by Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who is someone I have unknowingly loved for the longest time while only realising recently that he is responsible for many cinematic shots which I had previously deemed so successfully domineering (in comparison to the film as a whole). His concise cinematic eye has always reminded me of how a painter maps out every detail of what is visible and makes sure it’s exactly where it needs to be.
The fourth would have to be Photojournalist Don McCullin whose use of ‘the decisive moment’ during his time photographing various conflicts, has always illustrated battle with a balance of impeccable timing and refusal to veil what others deemed indecent. Possibly the most difficult subject to photograph that can face the largest backlash, McCullin’s images not only captured moments thought impossible and immeasurably dangerous at the time, but they discard any exploitative concerns and reveal the true face of war in all its painful truth. His work taught me that that one second can be the difference between a photograph that spoke to a few hundred or a few thousand.
Many of my muses have continued to be nothing more than fleeting love affairs through the years but (assuming I can choose deceased muses) I think I would have to let Laurel & Hardy fight over the last seat. Even as a kid, I found their sketches hilarious and I couldn’t hold back the tears when I recently watched Jon Baird’s biographical comedy ‘Stan & Ollie’, perfectly catching their loving friendship on and off the big screen.
Any other tips?
When it comes to touring, mental health wise, don’t feel you need to be Mr Sunshine positive twenty-four seven. Although it’s good to stay positive and not become a complication, touring still means you may be in new location with not the best sleeping arrangements. There may be little opportunity for sleep, eating properly and stress levels can get quite high so remember to be human and recognise your limitations. If you’re on tour with the right people, they won’t be expecting anything other than just being yourself. They chose you to be on this journey with them so don’t let the stress overbear you.
In terms of work ethic on tour, make sure you and the client see eye to eye on what they want you to create for them and then make a tick sheet which is easily accessible, listing everything you need to do in the night/morning (charging equipment, dumping footage etc). Guaranteed one of those days after too little sleep or a possible hangover, you’ll forget something so the sheet keeps you happy and in working order. Also extension cables/car sockets are your new best friend.
Share this via: