Behind the lens with Sarah Louise Bennett
Sarah Louise Bennett is a music and portrait photographer from Reading, UK, most notable for her work with BBC Radio, Academy Music Group (O2 Academy Brixton), Dork Magazine, Upset Magazine and Festival Republic.
Tell us about your gear – everything from your camera and lenses to editing software.
I use Nikon cameras, any of the major camera brands are great but when I was starting out I picked theirs up and they just felt right in my hands and made the most sense to me. I have a D850 as my main camera and a D750 as my second body, though for live music I tend to wear them both on a Black Rapid harness so I don’t miss the action changing lenses. I use a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4, Sigma Art 20mm f/1.4 and Nikon 80mm f/1.8.
In terms of software I use Photo Mechanic to organise and cull my images, Lightroom for colour correction and basic edits, Photoshop for more in depth editing like skin retouching, and Jpeg Mini to reduce my file sizes without compressing the images before uploading them for clients.
I also use a Loupedeck editing console for big edits and festivals which helps to speed up the process, and a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet for retouching.
How did you get into photography?
I was given a point and shoot camera for my 15th birthday and I took it absolutely everywhere with me, mostly just taking silly pictures of my friends and our adventures, so it obviously came with me to my first gig when I went to see Funeral For A Friend play in Reading. I saw all the photographers working at the show, and that was when I clocked that that was actually someone’s job and they got to marry together two of the things I enjoyed the most. I took some pretty awful pictures from the crowd that night, but I put them online after the show and one of the supporting bands was really very kind and encouraging and from that point onwards I thought maybe this is a thing that I can try and do and it just stuck!
“I live by ‘Work hard, be kind and amazing things will happen.’ and it’s done me pretty well over the years.”
What’s the least amount of gear a new starter can manage with?
I’d recommend any D-SLR that you can get your hands on, it definitely doesn’t have to be the newest or the most expensive, and a 50mm f1/.8 lens which you can pick up for £50-£100 depending on the brand, or even cheaper if it’s second hand. The kit lens that might come with the camera is workable too, but since it’s not designed for shooting in low light, you’re going to find that quite limiting and outgrow that really quickly.
Walk us through the process of taking live photos? From acquiring a photography pass to publishing.
I mostly shoot for publications so they’ll be the ones to liaise with the artist’s publicist and arrange a photo pass and the access for me, but I used to reach out to them when I ran my own website. If it’s a big arena show, I’ll try and watch youtube videos from the previous nights on the tour and see if there’s anything extra in terms of production happening like choreography, or confetti and pyro that could make a special shot but otherwise I just like to be in the moment and capture whatever grabs me. There’s no point in planning too much, part of the beauty of photographing live music is that everything is out of your control.
Can you share your favourite piece of work with us? Why do you love it so much?
Probably the one of Ellie from Wolf Alice with the confetti, because I think it sums up that night so well. One of my favourite things about photographing live music is that I get to photograph people’s dreams coming true and that show was a real moment for the band. It was one of their first really big sold out home town shows, they looked like they all couldn’t believe their luck that this was happening, and the atmosphere was just electric all night.
If you could have dinner with five people who’s either inspired you or who you’d consider a muse, who would it be?
Just five?! Joel Meyeorwitz, he’s an incredible photographer who primarily shoots street photography and always comes across as so warm and generous with his knowledge.
Annie Leibovitz, who needs no introduction, she’s been there and done it all but I find it so fascinating to see how she moved out of shooting music stuff off the cuff to doing these huge productions with people most of us would never have access to.
I’m currently obsessed with Nadav Kander’s work too, so he’d have to have an invite.
Taylor Swift, so I could befriend her and convince her to take me out on her next tour, and Dave Grohl, for the same reason, and just because everyone says he’s the nicest man in rock.
Any other tips?
I live by ‘Work hard, be kind and amazing things will happen.’ and it’s done me pretty well over the years. You could be the best photographer in the world, but if you’re an asshole, or only prepared to do the minimum then people aren’t going to want to work with you in the long run, especially if you’re working in busy backstage areas or with a small team, that only amplifies negative feelings. If people can see your passion and dedication to the work and you’re a nice person to be around, then they’ll keep having you back.
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