Rob Jones on how to build contacts, getting noticed, inspiration & more
Rob Jones is a British photographer living in London, UK. Co-founder of UK-based photography collective, Khroma Collective, he has specialised in the events and nightlife industries for the last five years, shooting at some of the most renowned venues, clubs and festivals in the UK and Europe. Rob was also nominated for the Championing Scenes award at our inaugural Music Photography Awards in 2022 for his photo from Homobloc.
What advice would you give to photographers starting out when they are taking images of artists?
Embrace your naivety. I remember when I started out shooting events and festivals and was unaware of many things in the industry, which you only really know about if you make the mistakes. Things such as the three-song rule, when to use or not use flash and specific camera settings. By just going out there and shooting as much as you can you’ll learn more by doing things wrong.
Find artists who are also at the beginning of their careers too, there’s a kind of naivety and freedom that established artists might not have and it allows you to be more creative and take risks too. Plus, if you’re lucky, the images could in years to come be iconic if the band or yourself for that matter go on to even bigger and better things.
How do you build contacts
Think about what kind of events you enjoy going to and then once you’ve found something which resonates with you, then you can start to connect with other people in this scene. I began shooting underground electronic music events in Manchester and over time I started seeing the same faces, who then began to recognise me as a photographer at these events. This leads to friendships and relationships being slowly built and in turn securing more opportunities for both your work life and social life.
Another effective way of building contacts is to look online for music journalists, picture editors, artist managers, designers and any other person who could benefit from your photography skills. I’ve made many friends through connecting with not just the artists themselves but their wider team, it also gives you many more opportunities for finding other work further down the line.
I always have the ‘notes’ app open at the end of the night or specific artists' set and either get their contact information directly from them so they have a chance to properly meet you and see your face, or their management. You can build your own personal database of lots of people which over the years has become invaluable to you and your career.
How do emerging photographers get noticed?
It sounds simple, but you’ve got to come across in a positive light, first impressions mean a lot so if you’re a friendly face and are easy to communicate and work with then people with notice and remember this. From here, you can build a reputation for being reliable and an easy person to work with. And hopefully work will then come your way more regularly.
Should you shoot on analog or digital?
I’ve been part of a generation that was brought up on digital cameras, so I’ve made sure to go back and appreciate how photographers worked before we had digital cameras.
They’re two very different experiences, but I think all photographers should have an understanding of film photography. It’s the foundation of modern-day photography and you can use the basic skills from shooting with film in your digital practice too.
Understanding film speeds and ISO, using a light meter and experimenting with development techniques. Trying different brands of film, changing the speed and other shooting techniques all offer you different visual results.
Shooting digital is obviously cost-effective in terms of having unlimited exposures as opposed to shooting a roll of film where you get either 36 or even less if it’s medium or large format film. But with this said, having fewer photographs with film allows you as a photographer to just slow down, take your time and be much more considerate in how you shoot. This can then lend itself to whatever you’re shooting, especially if it's portraiture. Shooting with film cameras, particularly medium and large formats is usually quite a new experience for the subject. A lot of time when I'm using my Hasselblad on a shoot people are really interested in how it works and I show them and this allows me to build a rapport and break the awkwardness you sometimes get at the start of a shoot. You can then usually manage to get much better pictures as they’re more relaxed and so are you!
What resources are available for further education and development as a music photographer?
I love books about music and club culture, both past and present. I’ve got books from photographers:
‘Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in the 1960s’ by Freddy Warren
Beautiful black and white images from one of the world's finest jazz clubs, from a time when music/event photography was pretty rare.
‘Temporary Pleasure’ by John Leo Gillen
A real in-depth look at club culture from decades past right through to the current day. Highlighting Nightclub Architecture, Design and Culture from the 1960s to today. I also have some images of my own featured in the section about the Warehouse Project, Manchester.
‘Lost Dreams’ by Simon Wheatley
East London’s Grime and street culture beautifully documented and captured from 2005-07.
‘Last Dance’ by Bill Bernstein
New York City’s club scene between 1977-81 all captured on 35mm tri-x black and white film.
This book and Bill’s work inspired me to shoot black and white 35mm film at Printworks London.
“I was interested in the palpable freedom of expression. The openness. The costume and style. The welcoming, intermingling and inclusion of different tribes and cultures. The hedonistic sensuality and open sexuality. And that amazingly diverse and visually compelling "club culture". That beautiful mix.” - Bill Bernstein
- ‘Ibiza 1989’ by Dave Swindells
The hedonistic club culture of Ibiza captured so wonderfully and respectfully.
“Dave Swindells has been living and breathing club culture for most of his adult life and via his passion for photography - and a keen eye for what's important now but also what may become iconic in years to come - he has been able to give generations of new clubbers and dance music fans a glimpse into its heritage and glorious history.”
‘While You Were Sleeping’ by Ewen Spencer
Photographs taken between 1998 - 2000, this was the last time when people could smoke in clubs, it showed us the spirit of freedom many had forgotten. A true representation of specific niches within our music culture.
‘Destination Dancefloor’ by Duncan Dick (Mixmag)
A worldwide perspective on nightclubs and clubs from around the world. Focusing on clubbing locations famous for their parties and club scenes. Featuring my images from Warehouse Project, Manchester.
All of these are great examples of incredible photographers and journalists documenting the music scenes. They present you with inspiration and confidence to go and shoot for yourself, study the images and composition and read about how these people understood and reacted to the world around them.
What are your top five tips you can give to any music photographer?
Don’t just focus on the DJs/artists, what makes club culture so special are the people in attendance on the dance floor, the everyday people. Focus on capturing these people as in years to come you’ll be able to stop and say look at the clothes they're wearing, the hairstyles, the accessories they wear. That for me is more interesting than someone standing behind a pair of decks…
Familiarise yourself with the venue before doors open. Not only does this give you time to know where to position yourself later on, but it also allows you to meet any staff such as lighting technicians and stage managers so you aren’t just a stranger. It also allows you to capture the club's interior, look around and notice the architecture. This helps build a bigger and better overall picture of the event.
Don’t be afraid of getting in the mix, position yourself so that you can shoot from different angles and are close enough to the subject. If you arrive at the venue in good time, you can usually secure a spot right in front of the stage without disrupting or annoying other attendees!
Be alert for those in-between moments, usually if shooting a band and they finish a song but are still on stage, the members usually use this time to communicate with each other or the audience and if you have your camera ready, you can capture some really interesting moments which usually don’t happen when the music is happening. Things like interacting with the audience, telling jokes, laughing and smiling etc.
Take photos after the music has stopped. I captured a man sweeping up all the cups that everyone had left on the dance floor at the end of the Warehouse Project, and it ended up being quite a powerful photo. In that, the viewer got to see something they don’t usually expect to see. It also tells a story of the event that had just happened and makes the viewer imagine what it must’ve been like.
How do you work with difficult lighting conditions, such as low light or changing stage lighting?
Most digital cameras nowadays are incredible in low-light conditions. You can crank up the ISO to 12800 in some cameras and still have a usable image.
Another is the lenses you use, prime lenses usually have apertures that can go to F1.4. This is amazing for difficult shooting conditions as they allow the most amount of light to enter into your camera's sensor, whilst maintaining high enough shutter speeds to give you a sharp enough image.
Monopods or tripods are also useful if you have the patience to carry them around the club! I’ve used some when shooting film to specifically shoot with slow shutter speeds.
What makes a great image?
One that stands the test of time. One that can put the viewer right back to that moment when you pressed the shutter button. I don't think there’s a right or wrong way to shoot an iconic image, you've just got to put yourself in the right place and at the right moment and hope that all those things align! I think as time passes certain images mature into iconic images, that might take 30 years, you just don't know. All you can do is keep shooting.
- Jimi Hendrix portrait by Gered Mankowitz , 1967
- Amy Winehouse | Jill Furmanovsky
- Bob Bernstein’s image of Larry levan playing at New York’s paradise garage 1979, with a poster of robin Williams in the background
- Peter Walsh photo of Bez from Happy Mondays shaking his maracas on stage in Manchester 1989.
- Dave Swindells photo of two ravers one with the word acid printed and stuck onto his shirt - Trip (acid house night) at The Astoria, July 1988
You’ve got to look for those moments and anticipate and be ready for something that's about to happen. You could take a burst of photos of a subject or scene and a split second before or a split second after could give you entirely different images. But when you get it at the exact right moment you know you’ve got something good.
What inspired you to become a photographer?
I loved going to clubs and spending time with friends in them. I realised that if I wanted to work in this world and I wasn’t going to be a DJ then how could I still have access to these places in a work capacity and then event photography allowed me to do this. It still doesn’t feel like a proper job, which is great.
Documenting club culture and seeing people have the time of their lives is the biggest attraction to what I do. You're working in such hedonistic conditions and you get to share these moments with everyone there.
Whose work has influenced you?
- Dave Swindells
- Bill Bernstein
- Ewen Spencer
- Simon Wheatley
- Jill Furmanovsky
- Vicky Grout
- Danny Kasirye
A lot of the photographers above have managed to shoot music-related work but also merge that and combine it with other types of photography such as portraiture and editorial work, which is something I’m hoping to do as well.
How do you handle competition in the photography industry?
I don’t really see it as competition anymore, I learn more from speaking to other photographers doing similar things to me. There’s usually enough work for everyone, plus sometimes it’s good to be able to pass on work to each other when you can’t make a shoot or vice versa.