Behind the lens with Sabrina Ramdoyal
Sabrina Ramdoyal is a Manchester-based photographer who’s been capturing bands in their natural habitat for over 11 years. Besides covering shows, festivals, photoshoots and working behind the scenes across the United Kingdom for various online, print and brand outlets, she’s also Head of Photography for Distorted Sound Magazine and a Heavy Music Awards Best Photographer nominee. She’s photographed Wacken Open Air’s 30th Anniversary in 2019, as well as major league bands such as Slipknot, Anthrax, Parkway Drive, Gojira, Behemoth and Slayer to name a few.
Tell us about your gear – everything from your camera and lenses to editing software.
I was a Canon user when I started in the field, I’m now a Nikon user since 2011. So I have two Nikon D750 bodies and they’re a dream to shoot with. The quality of noise reduction and clarity makes my photography stand out. Having two camera bodies is for one to be the main machine and then the second as a backup if you need different angles or when accidents happen! I have my go-to lens which is the Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens – once you use it, you will never go back! I also have the Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 lens, which is a splendid piece of glass when shooting in mid-range venues and arenas. I rent the Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 lens for festivals, which is a clean lens to have. In terms of editing software, I primarily use Lightroom to get the main basis of the photo corrected and for adding their metadata. After that, I put the finishing touches with Photoshop.
How did you get into photography?
Well, I can go on all for a long while so I will try and keep it short as I can. I completed a Psychology & Counselling degree in 2007 and found it was not the direction I wanted to go. I took a retail job after graduation and put my name forward for an Art Foundation Studies course. After completing the subject, I found out that I was runner-up for having my final piece being displayed in the Manchester Art Gallery! This gave me the fire to pursue art further. Then, on 9th December 2008, it took a small moment in one of the best concerts I’ve witnessed to make me pick up a camera – Slipknot at Manchester Arena. It was when Corey Taylor’s [lead singer] screams and stance was drenched in light during ‘Prosthetics’ – it left me mesmerised. It’s the little things that can make a difference!
“Stand out, be mindful and keep shooting. Love the moment and have a great time!”
What’s the least amount of gear a new starter can manage with?
When I first started in photography, I researched which lenses would be suitable for music photography after I bought the Canon 450D. I got the Canon 17-55mm f2.8 as it covered the whole spectrum of wide and mid-range shots. When I upgraded to the Nikon system, I went in the same direction, but with the Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 Nikon fit lens before going full-frame in 2016. Again, this needed to cover a range of photos to get the results you need. I’d definitely recommend a lens that covers wide and mid-range images. On a budget, I would get a prime lens. For instance, the 50mm or the 35mm because it gives the photographer a chance to navigate in their surroundings, brings in more light below f2.8 while shooting and practice with their vision.
Walk us through the process of taking live photos? From acquiring a photography pass to publishing (if you can).
Everyone’s experiences will differ, but it does follow the same premise. I started out by going to my local metal scene and photographing shows – this builds up your skills with the camera and your awareness of a show. There are no barriers at pub/local shows, so it gives you the space to practice. This will also increase your exposure to the scene and getting recognised in the early stages. Once you’re comfortable with that, you can start applying to online publications for accreditation. Without approval from a publication, you won’t get the credentials to photograph shows. This is usually unpaid so be prepared to be told that! This will start the process of portfolio building and ask for constructive criticism from your media pals. They’re the best people to give you pointers on how to make your work stand out from the rest. Then, you can send your portfolio to major publications, bands, brands and other mediums within the music industry to obtain more work and build your rapport. Expect to get great shots and then not so great ones. Shooting a live show can be unpredictable so be prepared!
Can you share your favourite piece of work with us? Why do you love it so much?
Are you serious?! There’s too many to name! But this one is an obvious choice because of the moment as artists. It’s my photo of Parkway Drive headlining Wacken Open Air 2019. It was the last day of the festival and the Aussies were the headliners. I’ve seen Parkway Drive at festivals, and it was only their recent shows that have heads turning. I knew I wanted to capture the second that signified Parkway Drive earning their place in the metal world. It was taken during the song ‘Prey’ and I remember there was a gap in the photopit that was perfect to take position. When their metal band logo and Winston McCall [lead singer] was illuminated, I clicked the shutter button a couple of times until the focus was correct and caught it before the stage went dark. I edited the photo the next day and the grin didn’t leave my face for the majority of the day while waiting for my plane back to Manchester. The photo was clean, sharp and shows how much the night meant for the band and for me to capture one of the best moments of one’s career.
If you could have dinner with five people who’s either inspired you or who you’d consider a muse, who would it be?
Oh wow! Now, this is difficult. There are many people who have pushed me in my craft. Also, it’s their mindset on how to produce their desired results that I consider as influences. This is in no particular order, but these are my top five:
Todd Owyoung – he’s one of the first photographers I’ve studied when I first picked up the camera. He’s also one of the reasons why I picked up a Nikon once I got into a camera’s mechanisms. He gives back to the photography community as Nikon Ambassador and offers great advice on how to become the better artist at any level. Check out his website ishootshows.com for great material from the perspective of a music/tour/portrait photographer. You’ll love him!
Shawn Crahan – I met the Slipknot percussionist ten years ago when he played a show with Dirty Little Rabbits. We must have talked about art for a good fifteen minutes and that was enough for me to be comfortable in pursuing my goal. He was a gentleman that night and if I ever met him again, I want to thank him for being a constant inspiration.
Winston McCall – He’s the kind of person you want to have a coffee with and talk loads to! Plus, he’s a pretty smart cookie in testing the waters of our current metal music climate as Parkway Drive’s frontman. I would love to talk about many matters as artists – how to keep pushing to succeed and how taking risks can lead to great things at a cost along the way.
Joe Duplantier – he’s one half of the Duplantier brothers from the mighty Gojira. He’s probably the unsung hero of the band. Usually, metal songs are quite grisly with audial imagery when speaking about current matters. However, his insight of protecting nature and spirituality adds a whole new realm in Gojira’s vision. This makes you stop and think much more outside of the violent lyrics.
Javier Bragado – I would call him The Wide Angle Don! It’s the sharp colours and the use of the wide angle lens that expanded music story-telling. He’s the reason why I picked up the Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens. It’s a dream to shoot with. I’ve met him once or twice and was proper sound. Plus, he’s got a new photo book coming out soon.
Any other tips?
As a pixel collector, there’s a lot to learn while you work in photopit and photoshoot settings. Be respectful of the people who are involved within the live music industry. The first impressions can make or break you. Photographers are here to capture the best images of your favourite artists. The purpose is the same and it is important to support each other to become better gig shooters. Study the bands from their previous settings [Youtube videos, music, previous photos, etc]. Make sure you give enough time when obtaining your credentials. There’s a chance that your name may not appear on the guestlist so have the correspondence ready to avoid disappointment. It’s vital to back up your work. Wear earplugs to shows, that’s also very important. And lastly, this is a journey to your creativity. Stand out, be mindful and keep shooting. Love the moment and have a great time!
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