Insightful interview with Mark Earley top Irish live music Canon 7D photographer and iphone6 user about the pros and cons of both. He was previously photography editor with Ragged Words a Web Awards winning music site.
Photo of Mark, taken by Kyle Petrie
How long have you been an active photographer?
I picked up the basics from my dad and grandparents as a child but I suppose I started to take it a bit more seriously about a decade ago when, after having used point and clicks during college, I bought my first digital SLR; a practically indestructible Canon 350D. With it came a kit lens and I bought a Sigma 70-200mm lens and started to shoot Ultimate, practice a bit of macro and worked out how to use the camera as much as I could without ever getting taught by anyone. A few years later I picked up a 50mm and then got involved in music photography, which is now my main focus as a photographer.
Why do you enjoy being a photographer?
I like being a photographer for many reasons. I suppose creating something artistic that appeals to me personally and that I can share with others is the main one. I was raised in a very artistic household – two of my grandparents were full-time painters/sculptors/stained-glass makers and my folks always encouraged myself and my twin brother to draw and write. I also love being able to produce an image that captures a moment’s energy beauty and emotion.
As well as that, I like the historical/documentary aspect of photography – recording our society in our times and the life that we currently live in. Things change so quickly and seeing old pictures of Dublin and the streets we move in from decades ago always makes me wish I shot more of just the way things are now.
Quick intro for those that don’t know your work, what type of events do you cover, and where has your work been seen?
My main focus is live music photography. Back in late 2008 I got involved as a photographer with a music site called Ragged Words, later becoming the Photography Editor. For a few years three of us ran the site as a hobby and it was a blast but took up an insane amount of time and energy. We won an Irish Web Award (for Best Music website) for our troubles which was huge for us but in the end life took charge of all three of us and the site folded. A real pity but it was special when it lasted.
I was hooked at that stage and after Ragged Words ended I started working with GoldenPlec and then later with The Thin Air, who are my main focus nowadays. Recently, I shoot more and more for State as well… It’s funny, the Irish gig photography scene sees a lot of crossover between publications, something I found odd at first but have grown to like. In the end, it allows the photographers more access to more acts and the publications more access to more photos so I think everyone’s a winner.
The majority of my work is published online on the three websites I work for but some of it has crept into print too. The Thin Air produce a free magazine and a lot of my stuff graces the pages. All photographers get a kick out of printed photos and I’m no different. Every time the mag comes out it makes me smile.
I’m a full-time secondary school teacher and the school photographer too so that’s very different to music photography but fun in it’s own way. Running a school photography club over the past 15 months has given me a great boost – the creativity of kids never ceases to amaze. I’ve worked with a few charities doing event photography – Operation Smile and Front Line Defenders, have shot some rugby matches (including Leinster vs. Clermont in Lansdowne which is a very fond memory) and a couple of weddings too but I think the live music is my preferred genre. It is also where I am most comfortable and do my best work, at least for the moment anyway.
Tools of the trade, iphone and Canon 7D? Which do you use for which occasions?
Actually, I use the iPhone very rarely. It’s just handier when I’m out and about. I’ve recently got an iPhone 6 and the camera quality is much better than previous phones I’ve had but for me there’s no comparison whatsoever to the Canon. I wouldn’t use the phone for anything other than the odd random photo where my camera is at home or I’m somewhere I wouldn’t be bringing the camera. I use the Canon in work a few times a week and then for gigs and special events as I mentioned earlier – friends’ weddings, some charity work and some sports stuff if and when the chance arises.
What made you chose the Canon7D?
Originally I wanted something that could film as well as take stills and the 7D was the only choice. It stands up very well as film-making camera and the idea of being able to dabble in film appealed to me a lot. That said, I’ve shot no video on it at all and in perfect 20/20 hindsight should’ve bought a full frame body when I had the money! The amount of editing, the extra equipment needed, the post-processing and the skill set I’d need to learn pushed me away from film. Maybe something I’ll look at in the future…
What are your favourite shots on both?
I brought the 7D on honeymoon to Sri Lanka in July and got some lovely shots out there. I love going to places I’ve never been to before and exploring them with the camera. Doing that in a place as interesting and as different as Sri Lanka was a dream come true. The only problem is striking the balance between being in an experience versus trying to get the perfect photo of the experience… I don’t think my wife thinks I’ve got it right yet but I’m working on it!
Some of the live sport shots and the music photos will always creep into my top photos – the energy in them is hard to beat.
As for the iPhone – I was in Roundstone reading a book on a pier with a fresh pint of Guinness and got a photo that I really like. It’s those casual, spur of the moment pictures that the iPhone can capture that appeals to me but I’m rarely going to print one.
— Mark Earley (@earleymark) April 6, 2015
Pro’s and cons of using both iphone and the Canon?
The quality of photo and range of lenses are the obvious pros for the Canon but the cost and size could be potential drawbacks. I guess the more you get into photography the more you want from your photos so the re-taking of pictures to get the ‘perfect shot’ is probably a drawback too, but the results make up for that.
Phone cameras are getting better and better but for me, like I said earlier, the comparison is next to pointless. I think the iPhone is handy and easy for photos that I’m very unlikely to print but the Canon is my go-to for anything and everything important.
Do you think iphones / smart phones will reach the point where they can do everything that a top DSLR can do?
No I doubt it but to be 100% honest with you I just don’t know enough about the current smart phone market. I presume they’ll keep improving and that the lenses to attach to phones will become more affordable but being able to do everything a top DSLR can do? I doubt it. (Cue someone correcting me!).
Do you use any apps with your iphone shots? If so, which, and why?
Just Instagram and I tend not add anything to the image. Sometimes I’d sharpen it a little but the photos I upload to Instagram are usually processed through Lightroom already so there’s rarely a need. When I started out I was very anti-editing; I saw it as people not being able to get the most out of their camera but recently I’ve softened what was maybe a naïve approach. The power of Lightroom and Photoshop is incredible and I’d use it to process my images after nearly every shoot now.
You do a lot of gigs, what do you look for when you are at a gig?
I took a bit of a break from the gigs over the summer and am delighted be back in the thick of it again now. There’s an excitement and urgency to shooting a gig that I find hard to get anywhere else. When I’m shooting a band I’m looking for a combination of factors to work for me before I even think about the band/performer.
Firstly, and probably most importantly, are the lights. A decent rig/set up of lights makes or breaks a gig for a photographer. Places like the Olympia, Vicar Street and the Tripod (bring it back someone!) have great lights that make for better photos. Obviously each act can say what they want, and their set up and budget will dictate but those venues usually impress me as do the big festivals. Next, we need some room! Most venues operate with a ‘pit’ allowing photographers to be between the crowd and the band which means more room to manoeuvre and get the shots we need. In other venues it’s a free for all which makes for more work, but sometimes more interesting shots too and you often feel more part of the event.
In terms of what I’m looking for from the subject – emotion, energy and some sort of interesting poses. Most times I shoot a band the rule is “3 Songs, No Flash” so after the first three songs the cameras go in the bag and that’s it – some venues even escort you out of the gig once the third song ends. Point being, bands are often still warming to the crowd, the venue and the night in particular when we are told to wrap up so that makes it tricky. Some musicians are born to be in the spotlight and others like to hide from it – it really depends on who you’re shooting on the night.
Can you tell instantly when you have taken a picture if it will be a great one, or does that come later?
I tend to keep an eye on my monitor to see what’s coming through and make sure I’m getting what I want. Being self-trained and operating in manual all the time, I’m constantly changing my settings throughout every gig so there’s always a few photos I know I won’t use.
I’m shooting for long enough now to be able to line up shots, to frame what I want and to know what I’m looking for, it’s just a case of being in the right place at the right time. I’ve been at many gigs where another photographer has got the money shot from four feet to my right and that’s just the luck of the draw sometimes. Some of the photographers I see at gigs have been shooting them for years so the talent end of things doesn’t come into it as much as getting to the right place and being ready for the action on the stage.
You’ve worked with a number of websites, do you find that they tend to rise and fall, or do you hope to ultimately have one that remains as the go to place for your images – or is instagram now that place?
I’ve always worked for primarily volunteer-run websites. (I’ve been paid very rarely for music photography – its all just the entry ticket and the odd +1). They depend on the people editing and managing them and at the moment the three I work for are run really well. They’re stable and each has their own traffic coming through – I’m glad I don’t have to worry about that end of things any more. I’m happy to be affiliated with each of them otherwise I probably wouldn’t be shooting for them!
In terms of my images – it’s up to me to showcase those. In the words that nearly every photographer I’ve ever spoken to has muttered – my website is on the way soon!
Do you sometimes find yourself wanting to photograph too often – ie that challenge to sometimes just be in the moment, rather than wanting to always document it. This may not be something that applies to you in particular, but culturally in general we seem to be wanting to document (and share with others) a lot more of our daily life. Your thoughts on this?
I sort of touched on this earlier in terms of getting the right balance between living in a moment and recording said moment. I find that photography can be very addictive and the kick I get out of sharing the photos I’ve taken and getting feedback on them means a lot to me. There’s also the private photos of experiences with small groups or much fewer people/one person, where you want to try and hold an important moment for longer than when it just happened. I’ve always had a really bad memory and I’d say that plays on my mind too. There’s many a time when I’m experiencing something and wish I had my camera with me and visa versa – I think I’m getting better at not needing the Canon in hand as much as I used to!
— Mark Earley (@earleymark) March 27, 2015
What future technology developments do you feel could continue to aid the development of your photography and photography in general?
Hmmm – I’m not sure. I wouldn’t be the most au fait of photographers when it comes to the latest technology – change scares me! Seriously though, I think there are so many advancements it is hard to keep on top of them. I’ve teenage kids coming in to the photography club now asking about stuff I’ve never heard of – that’s just the way of it. I’m not working at photography as a full-time job, it doesn’t make me money so it is effectively a hobby and for me, I don’t want to study and read about my hobby, I want to practice it.
I think for me as a photographer, my development needs are all catered for already; I need to expand my portrait game – portable lighting, studio work and all that that entails. It’s not something I’ve ever worked at so that end of photography will be my next focus. The idea of capturing someone’s personality, experience and mood in one photo fascinates me. Whether or not I’m able to do it is another thing altogether!
Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked you?
I think you’ve covered everything! Just a quick couple of thank yous to Kieran Frost, Simon Roche, Loreana Rushe and Padraic Halpin who all gave me the chance to get this far in my music photography and a nod to my brother James who’s been inspiring me for years and whose work never ceases to impress. I enjoyed that, thanks for taking the time to talk.
See more of Mark’s images here