Welcome to this exclusive interview with Lauren Robey from LJR Photography, an exceptional UK-based photographer whose work you've definitely seen if you're involved in the music scene. In this conversation, we'll explore her journey into photography, her approach to handling challenging shooting conditions, favourite venues, elements of the perfect shot, her forays into different photography genres, and her thoughts on gear. Join us as we dive into the world of capturing the magic of live music through Lauren's lens.
You are a very versatile photographer and seems like you touch a lot of different genres of the medium – what specifically drew you into concert photography, and what inspired you to focus on capturing live music moments?
Thank you, I have been taking pictures since I was around 3/4 years old when I got my first kids' camera and from then photography has always fascinated me because it’s like you can pause time and as a child that was magic. As I got older the fascination never really went away and I would capture whatever I was interested in at that time. When I got to college and found fellow arty weirdos like myself, I got more into artistic meaningful photography, creating images that told a story.
We had a brief for one A-level project that I was really struggling with, at 16 years old I didn’t really know what I “had to say” so I spent a few days with my camera on me at all times just in case I got inspired and on the last day of my little experiment I went to a gig, my friend's band were playing at The Joiners (Southampton), I asked the man on the door if I could bring my camera in and he let me, Thanks Pat!
I remember spending the whole gig working out my settings and trying to get a good shot, I found it so challenging, but it reminded me of that feeling when I was little and the magic of stopping time. I personally find live music photography so rewarding as no two gigs are the same, even when touring and the set is the same every night, the venue, the lights and the crowd always vary! I love that it keeps me on my toes.
Concert photography is known for dynamic and tricky lighting with a lot of movement happening on stage. How do you adapt to changing lighting conditions and create striking images in challenging situations?
It's certainly a challenge at times! I usually spend the first half of the opening song working out my settings for the specific conditions, sometimes I can guess before the show if it’s a venue I am familiar with or by looking at the lighting rig in smaller venues and sometimes it takes a little more fiddling, but I have often found the harder it is the more I experiment and that’s often when you get the coolest shots.
As for challenging situations, I'm fairly short at 5”2, making sold-out shows with no barriers particularly testing and I usually end up shooting through people’s heads. That being said, some of my all-time favourite shots have been these as it really captures the energy of the room from the perspective of the fans.
Do you have any favourite venues, festivals or locations where you've enjoyed working? What makes them special to you?
Oh absolutely! There was a venue in Southampton called “The Talking Heads”, I used to work bar there when I was 18 and would keep my camera behind the bar so I could run down the front and shoot a couple of songs during my “Break”. I got to shoot and connect with bands that really helped me build confidence and move forward in the industry.
There are a few that stand out in my memory, Silent Screams are one that really encouraged me and still does to this day. That venue, although gone now, will always hold a special place in my heart as I made so many friends and industry contacts working there. These days I get excited when I look at the tour schedule and see either places I haven't been to before or the venue “BACKSTAGE” in Munich, Germany as that place is incredible. Outside the venue is like a little jungle and all the plants make my heart happy, it also has an old school photobooth and I'm a sucker for making memories like that, I have a little wall full of photobooth pics from different tours.
Festival wise I love them all! My top festivals I have worked at are SlamDunk, 2000Trees, RockForPeople (CZ) and Download. However, getting to shoot Download on the mainstage this year (HUGE thanks to Fever333) was certainly my favourite festival experience! As someone who has always struggled with social anxiety, this was something my younger self would have never thought possible. Nothing can explain the feeling of standing on that enormous stage in front of tens of thousands of people, trying to pay attention to the Tour Manager giving a safety and pyro briefing, while simultaneously thinking how tiny all those people look AND telling my internal monologue that I'm not going to trip and fall on my face. It felt like the fastest set of my life, I was flying around the stage after Jason Aalon Butler, the frontman of the band, and sprinting from the giant stage, around to the photo pit to capture moments from all angles. It felt like it was over in a matter of seconds, but that one set was the moment where I realised “Oh wow, I'm actually doing it!”.
I’m into photography myself and used to do loads of work for bands, I’m interested to know when you look back on a photograph after a session, what does a photo need for you to go “that’s the one”. We all have that one special shot from a shoot if everything lines up on the day and would be cool to hear your take on this.
This is such a great question and I wish I knew the answer but honestly, it's more of a feeling. Sometimes I get it while I'm shooting, like I'll hear the shutter click and just know, but equally there are times when the imposter syndrome kicks in and I can do a whole shoot thinking I've got nothing overly great, then I'll play with edits and change the colour of the lighting or remove a distraction, like a rouge mic stand or someone's phone in the air, and then get that excited feeling deep down of “oh that’s cool!”. My favourite shots have to be those unexpected moments, when you catch a really great candid shot, you find the angle where the light hits just right and there's strong emotion in the subject, laughter is my favourite. It's those shots that give me that feeling I had as a kid, like I've frozen a moment's time.
Besides live music photography, what other genres of photography do you find inspiring, most enjoyable and rewarding?
I love doing editorial work, I don’t get the chance to do it often enough, but I love getting creative and a bit weird with it when I get the chance. I do, however, get to use this creativity with band promos. Some of my favourite promo shots are ones I have done super last minute, while on a tour or at a festival, when we stumble upon something that inspires me; or when there's a spare 20 minutes and the band asks for some portraits, running round trying to find an area I think will work. When I find the spot it's like I can see the final image in my head, the composition and how I would edit it. Then I must make it a reality to get that satisfaction. I shoot weddings too, the last few I've done have been alternative couples and that’s been so fun! Getting to help people create these amazing memories and immortalise them in an image, you get to share these precious moments with people and that’s beautiful.
Gear is a topic that often divides photographers. Do you believe that having better equipment makes the person behind the lens more capable?
Not at all! Obviously, there are some situations where not having a certain lens or light will make things harder but that just makes you think more outside the box. Some of my favourite images by other photographers are on simple film cameras with no editing, Ashlea Bea is a great example of this! Some of her film photography is absolutely stunning. I think being a good photographer is like any art, everyone has their own way, their own methods, their own style and a point of view.
With the evolution of camera technology, there's been a shift in what's considered essential. Can you share your thoughts on this and how it relates to your craft?
That’s so true, similar to what I said in the last question I think gear is only a set percentage of what it is to be a photographer and I personally used to get so discouraged when I would go into pits with one camera body and a lens or two and be stood next to these old dudes with huge telephoto lenses and two camera bodies, but then the bands would use my photos and really like them. I also think gear is personal, what works for some photographers wouldn’t work for me and vice versa for a plethora of reasons. On the other side of that, so many people take photos on their phones or buy their own digital cameras and think that hiring a professional is obsolete. This is something you see in every side of photography from weddings to music and sadly I think because it’s an artistic career sometimes people forget that it is just that, a career.
What would your words of wisdom be for someone looking to enter the world of photography, more specifically, concert photography?
Oh goodness! Well first off, if you have your pass don’t let anyone make you feel like you shouldn’t be there! I had this a lot starting out as the industry was very male-dominated and the higher profile shows I would do, the more I would be made to feel like I wasn’t welcome by security or others in the pit, thankfully this has gotten better in recent years but it's still there in places. Another incredible photographer I know, Bethan Miller, has been doing an opportunity for female and non-binary photographers to go and shoot alongside her on the current tour she's on and I would love to do something similar at some point! The second piece of advice would be to just shoot everything you can, take your camera everywhere and practice every chance you get. I'm always happy to offer advice where I can, my IG DMs are always open!