In Focus: music photography with Say Goodnight Films


One great photo can tell an artist's life story, a raw visual accompaniment to the music complete with originality and authenticity.

In this series, we speak to Creative Commission member and photographer Paul Johnson of Say Goodnight Films who discusses his working life as a filmmaker turned music photographer and offers his top tips for capturing the better artist photos.

What are your 5 best tips when shooting artists or bands?

1. Get a feel for their music and style

It's important that you research the artists that you are going to be shooting for, get a feel for their music, check out their previous artwork and press shots, see what things they like and don't like.

2. Talk to them!

Sometimes artists/bands are going for a completely new aesthetic direction, so as much as research can be great, it's important to talk to the artists as they could be looking to make changes that you need to be aware of.

3. Make them comfortable

When it comes to shooting, one of the key things is making sure that they are comfortable and confident in what you are going to do. This can be important even before the actual shoot, if the artist doesn't trust you, the photos aren't going to come out how you want.

4. Prepare

Whether it's bringing along certain props you had in mind or sourcing a specialist roll of film that will fit the shoot perfectly, make sure to do it in time, nothing worse than stressing out the day before the shoot.

5. Stay true to yourself

The most important tip in my view. They are hiring you for a reason, and often it's because of your style and the way that you shoot. It's important to keep the client happy, listen to their opinions and take them on board. But also don't be afraid to shoot your way, and in your style too.

How did you get into photography, and did you always know that was what you wanted to do?

Primarily I am a filmmaker, that's how I started out. But over the years I began to take an interest in film photography.

I enjoyed the challenge of trying to create a story through one single image. And after a while I gained confidence to put myself out there and start doing commissioned work alongside the music videos I was shooting.

Which artist(s) would you most love to photograph, and why?

Interesting question. If I had to pick I would choose:

Slowthai as he is one of my favourite UK artists at the moment. I love his style and music videos, and I think it would be a pretty fun shoot.

Bad Bunny, one of the biggest Latin artists in the world right now.

And Ruth Radelet, as I have always been a huge fan of Chromatics, and the whole visual style of the Italians Do it Better record label is so cool!

What was your first photography job or commission in music?

Commissioned work for photography has actually been quite recent. I was taking photos whilst shooting music videos, and the artists liked my photos but it was something I was only really doing for fun.

Now I'm finding myself doing just photography shoots. Something I never expected I would be doing before.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given? 

To be honest there hasn't really been any. Everyone gets to where they are going to get their own way. One great piece of advice could be totally the wrong advice for someone else. It's been a struggle, and I think that's true for most people in this industry. But I think one thing that helped me, was to just constantly shoot, whether it's for fun with friends, or a commissioned job, or a low paid gig, just do it!

What advice would you give to budding photographers just starting out?

Meet people, gain experience, and keep experimenting! Be different to the rest, in an industry so overcrowded with creative and talented people, it's more important than ever to stand out!