Through the Lens: Jack Flynn
For this month’s spotlight on a Sheffield snapper, we spoke to local musician and regular gig photographer Jack Flynn.
First of all, could you introduce yourself to the Exposed readership?
I’m Jack Flynn, I was brought up in Brentford, moved to Sheffield about a decade ago and never looked back. I’m obsessed with music, and Sheffield’s small but lively independent scene. I play guitar and sing in indie rock trio FloodHounds and play guitar in alternative reggae band Rogue Siesta.
How did you first get into photography?
As a musician, I’ve worked with a lot of photographers and followed their work for a long time: people like Mal Whichelow, Lewis Evans, Gareth Burroughs and Alan Wells. Seeing pictures they’d taken of gigs I’d been at, and the way they captured the characters and the key moments, really interested me.
A few years ago, my mate Nav came to a FloodHounds gig and generously lent me an old, rather battered Nikon to have a go at shooting the other bands and from that moment on, the camera went everywhere with me. Of course, my first gig photos were terrible! I had no idea what settings you needed, or that the lens that came with this camera was definitely not suited to dark basement rock venues.
If anything, the photos were so bad that I felt compelled to figure out how to fix it. Taking the camera to gigs I was already playing at meant I didn’t need to ask for a photopass. Playing alongside bands like Strange Bones, whose live show is full of outrageous photo opportunities, was a great chance to get some really exciting pictures. I started reaching out to blogs and venues chances to review or photo all sorts of gigs.
What’s the secret to good live music photography?
I’m still figuring that out myself! The University of YouTube has all the technical details you could ask for, so assuming everyone’s got those covered, then for me it’s all about trying to portray the vibe of the band you’re watching from still photo. To give people an idea of what the energy of that gig must have been like. So, if it’s a wild punk band, I try to get a photo of them doing something wild. Keep an eye out for anything unusual and get ready to snap it. It’s hard when a band doesn’t tend to move much, and that’s why I like my rock n roll bands – the drama in the photos. But if a band are relatively static, just try and find the shot that shows the more introspective side of their performance, maybe by moving in closer and trying to catch the emotion in their face while singing, rather than zooming out hoping for a more dramatic pose that isn’t there.
Other than that, once you’ve got some good angles, so much of what makes a good photo is done in the editing process. I’ve seen amazing photos become terrible, thanks to a bad colour grade, and equally, I’ve seen pics that initially looked totally unusable turn out to be some of the best with a bit of a crop and rotation.
Who’s been the best act to shoot so far?
This year I’ve been taking lots of photos of Sheffield’s own gritty glam rockers SAINTES. Their clothes alone will fool you into thinking it’s 1973 and you’ve somehow blagged your way into watching a secret Rolling Stones gig. As performers they have buckets of swagger and are a constant stream of dynamic poses, making my job so easy, all while they’re belting out searing blues-soaked rock n roll.
However, one of my favourite gig memories was taking photos and reviewing Band Of Skulls at The Leadmill. Their riff-heavy, stomping groove-laden alternative rock was a massive influence on my own band so it was awesome to see their show up close, and steal a sneaky look at Russell Marsden’s pedalboard for fuzz tone inspiration. It was also my first time in the Leadmill main room’s photo pit; that was the moment where I suddenly felt like a real photographer and not just a guy in the crowd who’s stolen his mate’s camera.
What would be your dream gig to shoot?
I’ve almost lost count of the number of Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes gigs I’ve been to, and I even got a chance to review one of their shows in Paris, but I’ve yet to get in the pit for some photos. Their gigs have it all, from wild barrages of 90 miles an hour punk rock to epic, heart-wrenching anthemic ballads. Frank is an amazing performer, a furious ball of energy and frightening intensity. He’s also prone to a bit of standing crowd surfing, ceiling moonwalking and all kinds of exciting stage antics. I just know if I could be in the right place at the right time, I’d get some of the best gig shots possible at a Rattlesnakes gig.
What would be your tip for any aspiring gig photographers out there?
You don’t need expensive equipment to get started. You can still learn how to get decent photos on a cheap secondhand camera and a fifty quid F/1.8 lens. I spent years practicing with the most basic secondhand setup possible before I eventually upgraded. Just get hold of whatever you can and get started. Put the effort in to really learn how your camera works, in manual mode, and especially learn your software. Once you’ve started getting the hang of the camera and shooting in low light, head down to one of Sheffield’s many small but brilliant gig venues like The Washington or Sidney & Matilda and get started. You don’t usually need a photo pass for pub gigs; in fact, the bands and promoters will probably be really grateful you’re there to capture the moment for free. As you improve, they will start asking you back. Don’t stress too hard about it and remember to look up from the camera and enjoy the gig!