Photographer Spotlight: Mary Caroline Russell

Photographer Spotlight: Mary Caroline Russell

Mary Caroline – take the stage! Next up in our #PhotographerSpotlight series, we welcome the 2023 Live Music nominee.

Photographer Spotlight: Mary Caroline Russell

Mary Caroline – take the stage! Next up in our #PhotographerSpotlight series, we welcome the 2023 Live Music nominee.


How did it feel to be nominated in the Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards 2023?

It was so exciting to be nominated for the Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards. Any creative pursuit comes with constant highs and lows so any kind of validation of your work feels great. Especially coming from an establishment as steeped in history like Abbey Road.

Why do you think it is important to create a platform like the MPAs to showcase music photography?

The platform is important because creating a space to celebrate music photography and music photographers only serves to connect, elevate, and strengthen the community.


Getting Started:

How did you fall into music photography specifically?

I started shooting local shows in my small hometown with a disposable camera. Myspace was big then and I would post them there, tagging the bands. I remember bands liking them and gaining access to other small shows. I loved it. I didn’t think it could be a real job, but the shows kept getting bigger, and at some point people thought I was a professional and I never corrected them. I was 18 when I was hired for my first “real” job and I’ve been holding on ever since.

Was there a particular image, body of work or photographer that was a major inspiration when starting out?

Danny Clinch’s work has forever been an inspiration. His work for sure, but also the way he is loved, respected, and trusted in the industry.

What makes a good subject in music photography and what makes a good music photographer?

Everything from the confetti on the floor to the artist on stage, I love all the details of what goes into a show, even a dirty club floor full of beer cans tells a good story. Ultimately I think gaining trust and rapport with the people around you allows for better photos. I think a good music photographer knows when to blend into an environment & when to step out and help direct a moment.

What advice would you give to someone getting started?

Shoot as much as you can! Connect with local musicians and publications for access. I had a friend once say a good photo transcends the subject and I think she is right. If the photo is good it doesn’t matter if it's the biggest act or your friend from down the street. The strength of the photo is in the unique perspective of the photographer. The more you shoot the more you open yourself up to connecting with other musicians and teams and typically the opportunities follow. And be nice! No one likes working with an asshole.

How did you go about building a portfolio?

I built my portfolio by shooting local shows and sharing the photos. I would use those photos to pitch to opening bands for a photo pass and I was quick. I would get the edits out sometimes before the band left the stage. That helped open the door for more work and I said yes to everything that came my way.


Top Tips:

What are your top tips you can give to any music photographer?

Share the work you want to get. Know your camera so by the time you get into the photo pit you aren’t having to focus on your settings and you can be present to capture what is in front of you. Trust your instincts, your unique perspective and take on things is one your greatest strengths as a photographer.

What are some post-processing techniques that can enhance your music photography?

Creating your own pre-sets for shows is super helpful, it gives you a jump start for different lighting scenarios instead of having to start from zero with each photo.

How do you create a distinctive style and visual identity in your music photography?

I think this comes down to knowing yourself, your preferences, searching out inspiration and getting in as many reps as you can shooting. The more you shoot the more you will hone in on your style.

Creativity / Inspiration:

Can you share some insights into your creative process? Are there any specific techniques or equipment you prefer to use?

I’ve always been inspired by photos from the 70s so I started shooting and developing film on tour. It always adds an element of surprise and a tactile quality to the photos especially when added in with the photos shot digitally.

Who is someone, alive or dead, you’d love to photograph?

Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift. Ok also Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, & Post Malone. I’ve got range.


Working with Artists:

How does your approach differ when working with upcoming talent versus established artists?

I try to treat everyone with the same respect. I find it helpful to do your research with larger acts in recognition of the careers they have built, but no matter the size act I like to come in prepared with ideas, ways to collaborate, and in general meet them with kindness & general interest in who they are and who they are as an artist.

** Can you share an interesting or memorable experience you've had while collaborating with an artist?**

Just last night , I was shooting a band that I met 10 years ago in a half empty theater sell out the Ryman in Nashville and I will never forget the moment they walked on stage to the crowd roaring... I was watching people living their dream right in front of my eyes & I will certainly never forget that.

How does the photographic process differ between working with introverts and extroverts?

I think with extroverts it’s a bit easier to be high energy, bounce ideas, and a lot of times they don’t need much direction. With introverts I find it helpful to make it more conversational, the more I ask them about themselves the less aware of the camera they generally are and you can capture authentic moments in between.


Business / Social Media:

How has social media shaped music photography, both as a craft more generally, as well as your personal work?

I think more than shaping my work it has given me more opportunities to work. When I first started out tour photographers were more of a luxury & now they are a major part of every tour.

In one word, how would you describe your photography?