Photographer Spotlight: Kat McBride
Kat McBride – take the stage! Next up in our #PhotographerSpotlight series, we welcome the New Jersey-based photographer. Kat was nominated in our Hip Hop 50 category for her image of Rasheed Chappell and Buckwild shot in 2020.
We sat down with Kat to discuss her key advice for anyone starting out, shooting live shows and her unconventional photography methods.
How did it feel to be nominated in the Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards 2023?
I was honoured to be nominated. I’m proud that my work was considered among all of these talented photographers.
Why do you think it is important to create a platform like the MPAs to showcase music photography?
Music photographers have been documenting iconic moments forever. They’re present when a classic song is made or when our favorite performers take the stage for the last time. We play an important role in documenting music history and it is wonderful to see the contribution is recognised.
Have you seen any benefits to you since being nominated?
Since being nominated, I’ve had more of an opportunity to collaborate with other photographers. I am learning a lot and am becoming a better photographer because of it.
How did you fall into music photography specifically?
I was designing album covers and some of the underground artists needed better photography. I wanted to work at taking better photos so I shadowed a few of them at events and in the studio. Eventually artists liked my work and my energy and started inviting me to more and more events. It was very organic.
Was there a particular image, body of work or photographer that was a major inspiration when starting out?
The first hip-hop photography book I ever saw was Ernie Paniccioli’s 'Who Shot Ya?' I was so excited that the focus of the book was hip-hop. I had thumbed through several music photography books but most were of rock and roll or other genres. I am such a fan of hip-hop that it struck me. Joe Conzo is another legend. Photo Rob is amazing, his work and he’s so cool in person. There are so many hop-hop photographers and they are all influential in their own way.
What makes a good subject in music photography and what makes a good music photographer?
Everyone is a good subject if they’re making music, and they are passionate about it. If you get it right you can almost feel the energy or mood in a photo. Good music photography is more than a paparazzi photographing a celebrity musician. It is about capturing the moment, even if the photo isn’t the best quality. For instance, there is a photo I love of Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson. Marvin is talking with his hands and Michael is soaking it all in. Pixel for pixel is it an amazing photo? No, but it’s about the moment.
What advice would you give to someone getting started?
I’ll give you the advice that photographers are giving me now; “Keep showing up and keep shooting”. Other photographers are not your competition, your last good photo is. If you compare yourself to someone who has been in the field for a decade it is easy to get discouraged. Instead learn a little more each time you go out and eventually it all adds up.
How did you go about building a portfolio?
Painfully. Making selects is very tedious. You have to like what you are putting out and try not to think about the opinions of others. Do you like this photo? Are you proud of it? If yes, add it. Add them all, then edit out the ones that are too similar. Show a range of different experiences.
What are your top tips you can give to any music photographer?
Move around. Don’t get stuck in one spot for too long unless it is an amazing spot to shoot from. Even if you are unsure if you will get a good shot from that angle, take it anyway. You might be pleasantly surprised.
What are some post-processing techniques that can enhance your music photography?
I am probably not the best person to ask this question to. I do like rich blacks though. I make sure the black and shadows in my images are very dramatic.
How do you create a distinctive style and visual identity in your music photography?
Try different things and see what come up with. You will begin to become more comfortable in one particular style and then gravitate towards that. A photographer once told me “You don’t find your style, it finds you.”
When shooting a live show, how do you prepare? What challenges do you typically face?
I try to arrive early to check out all of the vantage points. Challenges? Well, I am pretty short. I often have to climb on things. Other light sources can be a problem too such as other photographers’ flashes or coloured stage lighting. You just have to improvise.
Do you have a preference for working on location/on tour vs in a studio?
I mostly work on location. I would love to work more in a studio. It would be interesting to see how I do in a more controlled setting
Creativity / Inspiration:
Can you share some insights into your creative process? Are there any specific techniques or equipment you prefer to use?
I go into every event with the desire to do something different. Different than what other photographers are doing and different from what I have already done. I am self-taught so whatever technique I learn is the next technique I am using. I try to remain teachable at all times.
In your opinion, what distinguishes a remarkable photograph from an ordinary one? What elements do you prioritise when framing your shots?
A remarkable photo gives you a feeling. I’m dramatic so I’m talking about photos like Johnny Cash giving the finger by Jim Marshall. It’s music. If there is no feeling in a song, it shows. The same goes for music photography. In my photography, I like to use the architecture and available lines in the environment. You can come up with some very interesting photos using those lines in addition to the body movement of the subjects.
Do you think there’s a genre of music that naturally lends itself to photography?
No. I think all genres are worthy. I do however think that if you love a particular genre and listen to that genre you are probably more connected to it. That connection creates a genuine feeling that shines through your photographs.
Who is someone, alive or dead, you’d love to photograph?
If we are talking about hip hop, I would have to say Jay Z. He’s been a favourite of mine for a very long time. I was happy the photo of him won in my category. If we are talking about other genres, I would have to say Adele. I love her down-to-earth energy and would love to see if I could capture it.
Working with Artists:
How does your approach differ when working with upcoming talent versus established artists?
It doesn’t. I have the same approach. I make sure that I am familiar with their body of work and that I show them respect as a person. Some people are nervous, or they are having a bad day or their schedule is overwhelming…you just show them grace and make them as comfortable as possible and you will get the best out of them.
Can you share an interesting or memorable experience you've had while collaborating with an artist?
I was taking some photos for J Scienide on the roof of a building in Brooklyn. I’m not great with heights but we made the best of it and I got some great shots.
How does the photographic process differ between working with introverts and extroverts?
Extroverts are ready for action. They want to talk, they are excited, they want to jump on things, it’s very organic. Introverts take a little longer to get comfortable with you. I’m a people person so I just talk to them and ask them their thoughts and ideas. With both, you have to go at their pace, and when people get overwhelmed or frustrated you just have to give them a little space to breathe. Cracking jokes helps alleviate tension.
Have you ever been starstruck when photographing someone? How do you overcome that?
Every single time. But just for the first minute. I love music and I love taking photos so for that first minute I always think to myself ‘How lucky I am to be here?’ Then I get it together and get to work.
Business / Social Media
How has social media shaped music photography, both as a craft more generally, as well as your personal work?
Generally, I think the photographers are becoming a more familiar face to their audience. I know now more than ever who is behind the great photos. I used to tape music photos in my dorm room and loved them so much and had no idea who took them. They deserve the credit for their work. Personally, it was an easy way to show my work and to reach the people I wanted to work with.
What are some common mistakes new photographers make when starting out on the business side of things, and how can they be avoided?
My only advice is to research. Learn as much as you can about standard practices. I am currently making the common mistakes so any advice from MPA and other photographers would be great.
In one word, how would you describe your photography?