Image credit: Nici Eberl
In this edition of ‘Photographer Highlight’ we caught up with Nici Eberl, the official house photographer o2 Academy Brixton as well as an established freelancer.
I first met Nici when I was fortunate enough to photography my all time favorite artist, Ty Segall at the o2 Forum Kentish Town, London. After browsing through her work on the train ride home it was abundantly clear how talented a photographer she was. I was particularly drawn to her portrait and music photography, both of which were very striking. Since that day Nici has grown consistently as a photographer and she has photographed some of the worlds largest artist, including King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.
During the pandemic lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures made work for Nici difficult but she adapted her shoots via Zoom. An experience, that like a lot of photographers, thought they’d be apart of. However, the shoots bared the fruits of her labour and one of her shots was included in fashion photographer Rankin’s project ‘Rankin’s 2020’, it was also featured on Sky Arts.
With all this in mind we wanted to chat to Nici about her photography, her experiences working within the music industry and much more!
Thank you for taking the time to chat to us, how have you been?
Nici: Thank you for chatting to me, that’s such a great feature you are working on and I love being part of it! I have been alright thank you. It’s just been a strange year but I did try to make the best out of it.
How has lockdown affected your creativity? I saw on your socials that you have been doing zoom photoshoots.. how have they been going?
Nici: I am not going to lie, the lockdown at first had immensely affected my creativity and productivity. I literally went from being extremely busy and branching out into new fields to nothing within days. All my bookings got cancelled and I even left the country to be with my family in Austria. It felt all pretty surreal and I remained in a state of shock for a few weeks. Only when I returned to some kind of normality, I knew I needed to do something to stay creative and that’s when I came across photographers doing remote photoshoots. Something I wanted to try so I reached out to some models and arranged a couple of cross country shoots via FaceTime. I was really sceptical at first but they actually turned out to be such a great experience and funnily enough, they felt like real photoshoots and I am still super happy with the outcome. And actually something I’d never dared dreaming off happened – one of my FaceTime portraits of model Rebecca Graham got select by fashion photographer Rankin to be featured in his lockdown project ‘Rankin’s 2020’ and appeared on Sky Arts as well as in the book.
How was it you got into photography and when did you start?
Nici: To be honest, I have been into photography since I can think. I got my first own camera when I was still a toddler and I have always been the one taking all the pictures of my family and friends. However, I always saw it as a hobby rather than a profession even thought I started getting my first event and music photography jobs when I was still at school. It just felt wrong that something I enjoyed so much, could be my job. Only when I moved to London in 2012, I slowly started to realise that being a photographer can be an actual career and that’s when I started to really invest all my energy into mastering my it and slowly building my career. I started by shooting club nights and then I believe in 2015 I got into working with venues and doing the house photography for the Mama Group which then led me onto working for the O2 Forum, O2 Brixton, Live Nation and so on. And in order to learn more about it, I have also gone back to University studying photography.
What drew you to music photography specifically?
Nici: My two biggest passions have always been photography and music and at some point I just figured I’d like to combine them an shoot gigs and I was lucky enough to get a chance to do so. I always wanted others to be able to experience what I experience at gigs or festivals and show them how magical a live show can be and freeze the memories for eternity. Like the images we look at from the 60s/70s, I wanted to portray contemporary times. All the colours, the emotions, the energy,… for me it’s just the most challenging yet also most rewarding field of photography. The feeling when you leave a live show with THE picture of the night is just the best. But music photography is not just about live music, I also love working with artist directly shooting their portraits or BTS features. When creatives come together you are always guaranteed a great outcome and it’s a lot of fun!
Was there a particular photographer’s work or artist that inspired your work and drove you towards music photography?
Nici: There are many photographers I really like and am inspired by but there was not a particular one that drove me towards music photography. I was just always interested in photography in general and I always loved looking at pictures from the 60s and 70s: Woodstock, The Rolling Stones, Beatles, The Doors and so on and I just wanted to be able to take images like the photographers back then and be able to archive my own experience for the future. One photographer I find particularly inspiring is David Bailey as he did what I aspire to do – he worked likewise in music and fashion and took some amazing photographs. There is another photographer I want to mention: Matthias Hombauer, he was my mentor when I just started out and taught me all the photography basics and helped me believe in myself. Without him, I would not be where I am now. But as I said there are so many other photographers I take inspiration from and whose work I adore.
Does your work in portrait, fashion influence your music photography or do you see them as separate?
Nici: I do see my photography as a whole and I don’t really separate it into portrait, fashion or music photography. I mean I do label my work but all in all no matter what I shoot, I always take a similar approach. Like fashion is always influenced by music, all my work is influencing by each other. When you look at my photography, you’ll see there are always recurring traits no matter what or who I got in front of my lens. Especially when working at fashion shows, I am always drawn to the designers or models who could be confused with musicians or who’s work is evidently influenced by alternative subcultures.
You have had the pleasure of photographing some of rock’s biggest names, such as King Gizzard and SLAVES (among many others) how was it these opportunities came to be and did you ever expect to photograph such high profile names?
Nici: To be honest, it sometimes still feels surreal, that photographing all these artists is my job. I constantly remind myself, that the 14 year old me would have never ever imagined my life to look like this when I am older. However, as simple things sound, I have been working really hard to get to this point and there is still a lot more I want to achieve. I have started by photographing bands in small venues and then just gradually stepped up to bigger venues and bigger bands. It all sounds pretty simple but it involved me shooting hundreds of gigs, spending numerous sleepless nights editing images all whilst I was still working in a full time job.
How does it feel when your work is used by a venue or band?
Nici: No matter how often my works been shared by a venue or band, it is always a great feeling! It’s always exciting seeing your work attached to their name and watching people react to it. I still get really excited when I see my own images pop up on social media and not to mention when I see my work in print or on posters! I think it’s something I will never get bored of.
Do you have a particular show you’ve photographed that stands out for you?
Nici: I have one particular show I’ve shot and I’ll never forget again: Korn at O2 Brixton Academy. Shooting this show was a dream come true! Not only was I a big Korn fan when I was younger and shooting them was really high up on my bucket list but it was also the first show I ever shot at O2 Brixton Academy. Another dream that became reality at that night! And to top it all off, it was the show that got me into becoming one of the house photographers of O2 Academy Brixton.
How do you prepare for a shoot?
Nici: It really depends on the shoot I am doing. When I shoot a gig, I usually listen to the band ahead of the show and watch some videos of their live shows or look at some previous photographs taken on the tour OR sometimes I don’t prepare at all and let me creativity do its job during the gig. However when I do a portrait shoot preparation is key! Mood boards are always a great idea to translate your vision to your client and ensure you are on the same page.
Why do you feel photographers are important to the music industry and do you feel they are underappreciated?
Nici: I believe photographers are as crucial in the music industries as every other staff. In fact photographers create the visual appearance of an artist and help produce all the marketing material. The way a photographer portrays an artist, is the way they are seen by the world. Same with festivals and any other events, us photographers take the images that help promoters sell their tickets. From my experience I can’t say we are under-appreciated as every one I worked with valued my photography however it would be nice when more people would appreciate how much training and equipment is needed in order to produce high quality imagery and it become a standard that photographers are being paid rather than being asked to work for free.
“The way a photographer portrays an artist, is the way they are seen by the world”Nici Eberl
Do you feel visual aid is important for artists during this internet age?
Nici: Yes definitely! Especially with social media being so big, the visual aid is key. Only with a good visual concept, an artist can stand out from the crowd and successfully attract an audience and in return sell it’s music. The times when music was the main selling point are long gone. Nowadays people want to have the whole package and be entertained 24/7 and want to get to know the artist from every angle.
Has the internet made it easier or harder for a photographer to be successful?
Nici: I always say the internet has got it’s pros and cons. It’s made it easier for photographers to showcase their work and get in touch with new clients yet the competition is bigger than ever before and the photography marked same as the music market has become fairly saturated and it’s become harder to stand out. The constant comparison on apps like instagram can be toxic but likewise really inspiring. One really big advantage of the internet however is the big communities photographers have built online. I am part of a few and talk to photographers from all over the world, which back in the day would have been impossible. Whenever I have a question, there is someone ready to answer it. I guess it just depends what you make out of the possibilities the internet provides you with and also ensure you know your limits and plan in some offline time as well. Every artist has its own vision so we should never compare ourselves to others and believe in our own creativity.
Why should a band work with a professional photographer?
Nici: I believe a successful collaboration between musicians and photographers is the key to success. A professional photographer knows exactly how to represent your band, what works and what doesn’t. It is true phone cameras do take pretty decent images nowadays but with a professional photographers comes years of experience and we exactly know how to create the images you are imagining for the visual representation of your band. Photography is so much more than just taking snapshots. Investing into a professional is always worth the money.
Lastly, what advice would you give to a band looking to book a photographer and what advice would you give to a budding music photographer?
Bands: When you are looking into booking a photographer make sure you check out their social media as well as website as it gives you a good idea of what their style looks like and you can see whether it would match with your concept. When you want to have all images shot on film maybe go for a photographer who specialises in it, when you want stills and moving images it’s best to look for someone who does both but also remember photographers can be flexible and love to work on new concepts and styles. Also it’s always really helpful when you communicate your ideas and provide example images to ensure the outcome looks exactly how you’d imagined it. And last but not least, don’t add any filters on top of the final edits as the photographer won’t be happy.
Photographers: Work hard to play hard, trust me your hard work will eventually pay off! And don’t compare yourself to others, your art is unique and it does not have to look like everyone else’s in order to be good. Believe in yourself, stick to your own vision and it will eventually pay off. And last but not least work with each other instead of against each other, being a photographer can be sometimes quite a lonely job therefore it’s really important to have a good community around you and we are all unique artists so we don’t have to compete with each other.