For starters, who are you? Where are you from? What have you been up to? Tell us a little bit about yourself (this will be the intro paragraph before the interview starts)
My name is Will Beach, I’m a photographer and videographer based in South East London. I was born in Taunton, Somerset but raised in South Wales. I dropped out of school at 17 due to a lack of direction. I was lucky enough to have been given the chance to go to a private school but I found that it wanted to push me in a certain direction… I was told I needed to work hard to be a lawyer, doctor or working in finance if I wanted to be successful and make good money – all I wanted to do was art, drama and music, subjects which the school encouraged me away from.
At 17, I decided to take a break from education and drop out of school, leaving my A levels incomplete. I moved to Scotland to work on my Godfathers farm for 6 months which allowed me to save up enough money to travel, I’m still extremely grateful for him letting me work with him and stay there rent free.
I then spent time in LA and Melbourne working all sorts of jobs, including door to door sales, bartending in live music venues and as a waiter at the Marriott hotel, Melbourne.
At the age of 20, after spending 2 years outside of the UK in Australia and LA, I returned to the UK and worked on my grandfathers farm. I heard of an opportunity to study Media at Goldsmiths, University of London through a good friend of mine at the time, the deal was that I would have to take a foundation year to cover my missed a levels, but then, if I passed, I would be allowed on the full time degree in Media and Communication. The degree sounded like a huge opportunity to better my understanding of Media, as I was running a music blog/magazine at the time, I thought it would help me learn how better to manage it. I produced a portfolio compromising mainly of photography I’d taken whilst in Australia or working on the farm. The majority of shots were actually taken on my iPhone.
My foundation degree was the only time id been taught photography and even then we only did one term on it, shooting with vintage analogue cameras and processing in the dark room. At this point I was shooting a lot of friends, the majority of them musicians and working as a runner on music video shoots in London. Therefore, after passing my foundation degree I decided that I did not need to study Media as I was already active outside of university. I never thought the opportunity to go to university was possible so I challenged myself and put myself on to one of the most academically rigorous courses, studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics (BA) Hons.
5 days after my dissertation hand in date I found myself on the Ed Sheehan tour with Anne-Marie as her photographer, having been asked by Warner Records to cover her photographer for a week. I spent 3 days there before being asked to stay with the team for the remainder of the UK and European tour. At the time it was all very surreal and I didn’t have much down time to process the scale of the opportunity, I will always be grateful to her and her team for the opportunity and the experience!
Since this, I’ve taken on work with VEVO and a brilliant production company called Lemonade Money based in London, these jobs have led me to shoot Jorja Smith, Jain and Octavian.
How did you get into photography? How long have you been doing it? What was it that drew you to the art?
It probably sounds really typical but I always had a thing for photography or visuals in general, although I probably actually started taking photos around 14 years old. As a kid my main focus was actually on music and, in fact, I met my manager at a music festival when I was 17! I got talking to him and we both found that we wanted to become A&R scouts at a music label, he now is for Parlophone, Warner Records, whereas I’m taking the shots for them! But yeah, I think music was pretty much where my interest in visuals came from as I was always the kid with his headphones in, spending most my time looking for new songs on the internet rather than doing my homework.
This obsession with music led me to being really inspired by music videos and album artworks. I think they are so important, especially in todays instagram age where everything seems to be visual based and instantaneous. I was really inspired by videographer like Nabil Eldurkin who has worked with Kanye West, Frank Ocean, James Blake and Foals. Like most creatives of my generation, one of the greatest influences for me was Kanye West, whos emphasis on visual presentation as well as music really hit home with me.
Aside from this, I was always taking pictures on my phone or my old Kodak camera. Only recently actually, I met with an old friend to discuss everything thats happened recently and he pointed out to me that I’ve always been thinking of things in a visual sense. I was always the one at school who’s powerpoint presentations looked the best and I even remember entering a photographer into my local village show which I won. I wish I still had the photographer, maybe I’ll try find it, its probably in the bottom of my mums garage somewhere!
This may sound odd but I have this thing in my mind where I find myself often looking around my surroundings thinking “that would make a great shot”. It’s like this urge inside my head to capture frames that I find visually appealing. I’ve always had it.
What is your favorite part of being a photographer? And the worst?
My favourite part is waking up every morning, being my own boss and doing something I love doing. It’s the most liberating feeling but at the same time the most stressful. I’m an overthinker and I’m trying to learn not to worry so much about where the next pay check will come from and just focus on the now. It’s easier said than done when you live in an expensive city like London!
Obviously, I’ve managed to keep the relationship between music and photography strong as all my work to date has been focused around capturing musicians or working with them on projects. I love that I’ve been able to do that as its kept all my passions fulfilled and even led me to more possibilities. I’m the sort of guy that isn’t happy being labelled a photographer which is why I also play around with music production and even manage a artist currently, on top of my freelance work. I feel like I don’t want to be limited to one area of creativity, especially as I feel I have a lot more to give in other creative outputs.
The worst bit of being a photographer is that it can be a lot of work. I mentioned earlier that I’ve recently taken on management which I’m extremely grateful for, as before this you are literally running a whole business on your own. I feel like people who work 9-5 jobs work in a section of that business and are all pieces of the puzzle which make the business runs smoothly. Whereas being a freelance, you have to act as the whole puzzle and control each of those areas yourself, at least until you start bringing in a team around you.
The truth is the I’ve never been happier than I am at this point now as I love my job so much and just want others with talents or passions to trust themselves and feel the same way as I do on a daily basis.
If you can remember, what was the first show that you photographed?
I began in the instagram age, so I remember it was all about getting that great picture for instagram when it first started. I used to take so many pictures on my phone at gigs before I started taking a camera along with me! My first proper show though was probably a friend of mine, he goes by the name Willow Robinson. He’s a musicians now based in LA and I used to shoot his gigs whenever I could.
I think one of the first bigger artist jobs I did though was Nadia Rose, a British MC. I used to shoot for the students union whilst I was at Goldsmiths University, you know those horrible club photos of drunk people spilling pints over one and another? I was that guy. It paid off though as Nadia came to preform at Goldsmiths and they asked me to shoot the event which was a massive opportunity! The photos were horrible as it was super dark and she was jumping around all over the place so I couldn’t get my shutter speed high enough to capture anything without the image being incredibly noisy. I was shooting on a Canon 700d at the time which I’m sure most beginner photographers have started with!
What advice would you give to your former self looking back?
Don’t take life too seriously. As long as you are proactive about the direction you want to head in and are kind to people, you’ll get somewhere with it. I’d probably tell myself to just be more confident too. Having been on stage with Anne-Marie in front of 90,000 people, I’m no longer afraid to put myself in places which I was maybe once a bit too afraid to do.
It’s very hard as a kid with a dream to convince your parents that you’re going to be a photographer as they just think its completely unreasonable unless you break into the big time, which I’m still working on by the way, give me a year! I wish I could have been more convincing to them but at the same time every part of my journey and the things I have learn along the way has led me to this point. Sometimes I wish I had more conviction and just fully backed what my mind was telling me. I feel like I’ve been afraid of stuff in the past where as now Im getting older I see that it doesn’t actually matter, just small things like personal image. Especially growing up in a small rural town, you are very much in a bubble which I always felt like I wanted to break from but lacked the conviction as a kid to do it.
Out of all of the photos in your portfolio, which photograph is your favorite and why?
This is such a hard question, you might as well ask me who my favourite sister is!
There is no doubt that my recent work is defiantly some of my best in terms of technical ability but the memories I have attached with certain images mean a great deal.
For instance, the first day shooting with the Anne-Marie team will always be a special one, especially as I was using a rented camera and a lens I had never used before (one which I now use on a daily basis as its my favourite). But at the same time, the shots I’ve done of Jorja Smith are defiantly some of my favourite work I’ve done, aesthetically!
And then again, my recent work with Octavian was just a really exciting project to be involved with!
What is your typical gear setup when shooting shows?
My gear set up has grown over the last few years. I used to shoot with just a camera and a 50mm prime lens. Now my kit list is a bit more vast. I tend to carry my Sony A7Rii with a 50mm and a 14mm lens. Both of the lenses are old school manual focus lenses as I prefer to shoot on older lenses for the look. I then carry a digital flash with me which I will only use rarely, this tends to be mainly for portraits or for more underground events where you can get away with shooting flash. I wouldn’t dare use one on the biggest gigs as It would be so distracting to the artist.
I also carry some filters with me, I’ve been experimenting with a 6 point Hoya star filter recently which gives me some nice looks.
You’re currently doing a lot of work with Anne Marie. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about what that experience has been like? More so about what life is like on tour and as a touring photographer?
So I’ve recently finished the tour with Anne-Marie and its been incredible! To be honest, I know many other photographers who would kill to be on tour with a musician but I went and found myself on one of the biggest selling stadium tours in recent history, straight out of university. I don’t think Ive still let it sink in myself to be honest! Her whole team were amazing and we all got on really well, which they kept telling me was rare for a touring party! It’s difficult because I’m not able to form much of a contrast with it apart from the small venue gigs I’ve shot. You defiantly have a lot more room and freedom in these stadiums to work but its a hell of a long way to the back if you want to get a good stage shot!
Tour life in general though has been incredible, its taken me to countries I’d wanted to visit for a long time, the only thing is that your time in these countries/cities is so limited. Sometimes I found we flew in to a city and were pretty much back out the next day without having seen any of it, only the inside of its local stadium. A funny tour story actually is that when I first got on the plane in London to fly to Ireland for the first day of the tour with Anne-Marie I thought no one liked me as no one spoke on the flight or in the taxi on the way to the venue, but after touring for three months I realised that travel times are often the only time you get to sleep and have down time – so everyone, including the band and crew, make the most out of taxi rides and plane journeys shutting their eyes at every possibility.
You have a very distinct editing style that kind of reminds me of on camera flash film photography. How would you, yourself describe your work?
I’m glad you’re seeing a distinct editing style, that makes me extremely happy to hear! I’ve been really influenced by Brockhampton’s approach to visuals recently and their very natural looking style. There has been a slight shift in photography recently which I discussed with Jamie Lawsons photographer Andy on tour. Andy pointed out that the whole idea of photography before was based on two questions – What and Why? Where as he said I processed another question – How? I think my link between visuals and music has led me to wanting to edit in special way which adds to the overall feel of the image. In simple terms I want the edit of the image to be almost as interesting as the subject within it. I know a lot of photographers will probably be mad with me for this but thats just the way I love to work. That being said I have a specific style which I revolve around and it has become my style for sure. I would describe it as digital film, without trying to sound too pretentious! I love the film look but I think its so achievable on digital camera as long as you know you equipment and the technique required to make that film look, from the moment you capture the image to the editing process afterwards – I should note I only ever use Lightroom to process my shots, I don’t ever like to over edit them in photoshop, I hate over-processed photography!
Do you think that your personality shines through in your images or do you like to keep personality separate from your images?
100% – If you saw my flat and bedroom I think you would agree. From the clothes I wear to the decor in my flat, there is defiantly a style which is resembled by my shots that fits with me. I love this though, I think its shows that I can get over my personality in my work, maybe not all of it but defiantly where my head is at with aesthetically, if thats such a thing!
When I shoot though, I don’t like to direct. I really love to just shoot my model or subject however he/she is. A lots of people say you want to make the model comfortable around you to get the best out of them. I don’t necessarily agree, I think their personality is their personality and if its being shy in front of the camera, something special can come from that too. I’ve only mentioned this as its the subjects personality I want to shine through more than my own.
Being based in London, what is the music photography scene like there? Have you had the chance to shoot in the States before? If so, I was wondering if you could speak on any similarities/contrasts the two have?
The music scene in London is absolutely buzzing right now. It’s probably the healthiest its been for a long time, maybe since the punk rock era? I’m a massive hiphop head and most of my work trends to revolve around hiphop which is only on the up in London. I recently got to shoot Octavian who’s one of the most exciting new talents on the planet, not just in London. It was a big opportunity and one I’m sure I will look back on in years to come.
I’ve never had chance to shoot in the states but hopefully I will soon! I’ve been working on it and I’m hoping it won’t be long before you see me out there.
What advice would you give to our readers and other young aspiring music photographers?
Completely trust your own opinions and don’t let others sway you. There is no right or wrong way to do photography, there are no rules. Be yourself, don’t follow the trend. Go just pick up a camera from the local camera/vintage store that you’ve never heard of and just shoot on that. The photographers that are doing big things right now are all ones who have a point of difference rather than just following the trend.
Stick to it and don’t ever think it won’t happen because it will, I’ve been doing it for years and I’m still learning and improving every day and I’m sure I will for a long time. If you can keep a mentality where you want to learn and want to improve you’ll be absolutely fine.
My best piece of advice is just to surround yourself with people who will let you be actively creative and not judge or put you down for things you might say or do. I’m lucky that I have amazing people around me here in London which has helped me be braver when creating and shooting, they all share my passion to get somewhere with their chosen skill, be it music, film or even painting. Be confident, the older you get the less important things become and you’ll see stuff you worried about when you’re young is so irrelevant, just get a camera and shoot if you feel you have something to show.