INTERVIEW | Ludivine Pellissier
This month we spoke to Paris-based photographer Ludivine Pellissier. With a background in graphic design and web development she's doing a lot of travel and street photography, but her true passion is working with musicians. When she doesn't have a photo pass, she sneaks in her camera anyway to capture her favorite bands from within the crowd. If you're looking for pictures that capture your personality on stage, portraits or cover shots, shoot her a message! Time to find her some musicians to work with.
Hey Ludivine, please give our readers a short introduction of yourself.
Hey! I am a Paris-based photographer. I've been into photography probably since I was a teenager. I started out with analog photography and then joined some photography clubs at school where I learnt how to develop film. Afterwards, I discovered digital photography and I’ve stuck with that ever since.
In my professional career I’ve worked as a graphic designer and web developer, but photography has always remained one of the most important aspects of my life. I do a lot of travel photography, street photography and recently a bit of photojournalism for a french agency called Hans Lucas. But my favourite subject will always be artists, specifically musicians. I’ve always been interested in people. Getting the shot of someone in the moment is really special to me, especially when you are capturing the passion of someone living their life’s dream. I’ve done a bit of portrait photography and weddings before, but recently I’ve been studying studio photography to improve my knowledge and skills. Hopefully one day I will be able to combine my skills as a photographer and graphic designer to help artists bring their visions to light, setting the perfect atmosphere for their albums and EPs.
How and when did you get into music photography?
I didn’t grow up in a city where a lot of music events happened, but every time I did go to a concert, I would make sure to take a camera with me. Of course, like any fan, I wanted to have memories of my favourite artists. But at this point I was quite into photography and even with just a disposable camera, I could already feel the passion and energy it brought me. Of course the pictures weren’t amazing, but I would say that’s where I first discovered my love of music photography.
Then in 2011, I arrived in Paris. At this stage, I already had my first DSLR camera, but of course, it is impossible to enter a venue as a spectator with a DSLR camera. So I started jumping on all the occasions to go to open/free concerts and festivals where they didn’t bother checking bags. And during summer in Paris you have a lot of events like this, so all my pictures from 2014/2015 came from these kinds of events. But after the 2015 terrorism attacks, even these events were locked for safety reasons and bags were checked everywhere.
The same year, I finally joined a music website called Justfocus.fr. With Justfocus, I would write articles to announce an upcoming event, like an album release, concert, festival etc, then I would have access to the event with a press pass where I could take photos. Afterwards, I would write an article about the event and showcase a few of my photos. Since then, I’ve managed to cover a lot of concerts and festivals, mostly in Paris.
With which camera(s) and lens(es) do you shoot?
Well, this is probably gonna sound a bit surprising but I shoot with a Pentax camera. I don’t really know why, but Pentax seems to be a sort of black sheep in the family of photography brands, disappearing under the weight of Canon, Nikon and even Sony. It doesn’t seem to be considered very ‘high-end’ equipment. But Pentax has really good quality cameras to offer.
The first DSLR I bought was a Samsung GX10, which was based on the Pentax K10. Both the inside and outside were pretty much exactly the same. So when I had to upgrade, Pentax was just the natural progression for me because I was already super comfortable with everything about it. So most of my work comes from my Pentax K5 II with a 16-50mm f/2.8 and a 55-300mm f/4-5.8. The camera and the lenses are all water resistant, and that’s really useful for me, especially considering I often shoot at outdoor concerts from inside excited crowds with drinks flying everywhere. I also have a 50mm f/1.8 lens, but I rarely use it for concerts.
I am really in love with long focal lenses and close-up shots. Especially when you don’t really have access to the stage and have to shoot from a lower level or in the middle of the audience. I’m not a huge fan of strange distortions and weird perspectives in my pictures. And I also like being able to shoot without being seen by the artist, to ensure a natural look or behavior of the person I’m shooting. Being too close to the artist or the people in the audience you’re shooting might attract their attention, which has the potential to kill the moment. On that note, I also have a flash, but I actually never use it at concerts for the same reason and also because I just don’t really like the look of it.
I recently upgraded to a Pentax K1 II and a 24-70mm f/2.8 lense. I can’t really use my 55-300mm with it because it’s not designed for a full frame camera and so you lose a large part of the image, so I am going to have to find a way to pay for a new and obviously super expensive new long focal lens...
I can’t wait to bring this new camera to a show, but because of course, with this COVID situation, it is waiting, impatiently and sadly, at home.
What is the best and worst thing about concert photography?
I’m not sure I can pick one specific thing for each. But for the best parts, I would say that I really love the spontaneity of the moment. Anything could happen and you have the chance to capture really amazing moments. There is no posing, you just have to look and seize what the artists give naturally. It can be a gesture, a look, or even an outfit. And each concert is different. You really can capture the artist’s personality, without asking them to show off. And I just find that magical.
And that spontaneity I love works for the venue and the lights as well. You can get an amazing shot because the lights just changed and suddenly you have amazing colors or flare. I kind of like this randomness. However, the lighting can also be a real issue, especially if you don’t have a super expensive camera that can handle high ISO without destroying your pictures. That’s probably one of the worst things about concert photography.
Another drawback for me, and I’m not sure if it’s just a French thing or not, but in big venues or for big artists, photographers are usually allowed to only shoot during the first few songs, from the bottom of the stage. After that they have to leave. I’ve been lucky enough to not have been in that situation because I’ve only shot smaller artists, free concerts and electronic music festivals where they don’t really care. I’m not quite sure why they do that, it really goes against my point about spontaneity and being there at the right moment to catch the right picture, because the artist is not necessarily going to do anything amazing in the first few songs. You will almost certainly miss the climax of the act.
The two other obvious bests and worsts are that mixing my two passions, music and photography, is amazing and the fact that it’s really hard to be paid for shooting concerts.
How would you describe the live music scene in your city (or country)?
Well, aside from COVID… France has quite a creative and active music scene. Obviously, more things are happening in Paris, but you still have a lot of concerts in other big cities and festivals are constantly expanding to new regions throughout France. Some of the biggest or most famous summer festivals happen in other regions.
I would say that Paris is probably quite similar to what you would find in most big cities that are culturally orientated. Paris is quite eclectic, so you really can find a bit of everything, whatever genre you are interested in. We also have a lot of venues and places suitable for concerts, from massive outdoor stadiums, to small indoor concert venues, and of course a lot of bars and clubs that host small concerts and live performances. From my own experience in the techno scene, there was a period when you had an event happening almost every night. So you basically had to choose between events. It’s not necessarily the case for every genre, and since then the scene has unfortunately died down quite a bit, but we still have a really active and creative musical scene with a lot of choice (pre-covid times of course).
Do you find it easier to shoot gigs of bands you really love or of bands you didn't know before (or you wouldn't call yourself a fan of)?
I wouldn’t say it’s easier. I guess for artists I know, before the event, I’m just way more excited about the gig and I’ll probably put more pressure on myself to get THE perfect shot, like THE picture I would love to see of that band and that I could be really proud of. But once I’m shooting, except for the fact that I’m dancing and singing at the same time if I know the band, I would say that I shoot the same way. My brain kind of just sees the subject, the light and the possibilities that the setup and the venue offer me.
I really like to shoot bands I didn’t know before, because sometimes you have some amazing surprises and you discover great artists, whether it’s their personality, their show, their style, their light or even just their music. And even if you are not a huge fan of the music, visually speaking, some artists really have something special on stage that creates amazing pictures!
What was your favorite shoot and why?
That’s a really difficult question! I have shot many different people and styles, all the way from rock to electro. Photography wise, they are completely different: artists moving along the stage versus artists more static behind the deck.
I’m not sure I can pick only one, but I have a few names in mind.
A band I really love is The Struts. I discovered them as the opening act of a Rolling Stones concert, where I was just a regular spectator unfortunately. They were a really small band back then, now they’ve grown up quite a lot and I’ve seen them several times since. They are just amazing on stage. The singer, Luke Spiller, is a great showman, with amazing outfits and great gestures. They are amazing to shoot! I’ve managed to sneak my camera into all of their events, besides the Rolling Stones one, because they were all small venues.
Another shoot I really loved is the french band Brigitte. I shot them during a free summer festival, from the audience. The lights and the two french singers were amazing and the result turned out fantastically! And as I was saying earlier about the good surprises from bands you don’t know before, I shot the singer Aurora and I really loved her universe and how she acts on stage.
From the electronic music side, the french DJ and producer Laurent Garnier is always great to shoot because he is super expressive when he plays and his joy of being on stage is just glowing. Two other notable mentions would be the two french artists Rone and Thylacine as well because their sets are always beautiful with a lot of colours and video projections.
What can musicians expect when working with you? And what do you expect in return?
I’m not exactly sure how to answer that, because I haven’t really worked with an artist yet, but I would just say that by working with musicians I want to highlight their work and be able to show people what I see in them. Music is not just music, it’s also largely the personalities and personas behind the music and I think it’s really important to be able to capture and show that. Live music is the moment where artists are offering their art to the world and being part of that, capturing it, is beautiful.
If you could only go to one festival a year, which one would you pick and why?
That’s a tough one! But I would probably say the MaMA Festival. I only went there once but it was a really interesting concept, as a photographer at least. Over the course of multiple nights, you have concerts in several venues, all in the same area of Paris. It’s focused on new artists and small bands. It’s a bit complicated to organize yourself, because you have to run from one venue to another and you can’t stay for too long in any one place if you want to shoot a lot of different concerts. But you see so many new things!
What's the best purchase you ever made (can be gear, software or whatever)?
It’s not really the best in terms of quality, but maybe I would say my 70-300mm lense, because I think that most of my concert shots are taken with it. And I really love it! It’s more the concept of a super long focal lense than this one in particular, but yeah, it really defines a bit my style I guess.
Which bands are still on your bucket list?
I don’t really have a bucket list as such, but I guess I could say that I would love to shoot some legendary bands that I really like. The Rolling Stones or The Cure for example, I was so frustrated to be at their concerts without being able to shoot them!
Another band I would like to shoot again is Green Day. They are amazing on stage and I shot them with my first DSLR camera a long time ago, which I sneakily brought in. But the quality wasn’t fantastic and I didn’t have the knowledge I have now. I would really love to shoot them properly one day!
What change would you like to see in the live music scene (or in the music industry in general)?
I don’t consider myself aware enough of what is happening in the live music scene to be able to really answer that except by saying that I just want it to start again… But I guess if I think about changes from a photographer point of view, I would pick the things I mentioned about the worst aspects of concert photography.
Being allowed to shoot for more than just the first few songs of a concert and that concert photography be considered as a real paid job rather than something done for free in exchange for tickets or visibility would be great!
Is there anything you wish you had known earlier?
I wish I had known that there were music blogs you could work with. It wasn’t really something I thought possible without being a “real” journalist or photographer. It took me some time to realize that it could work. I actually had to meet someone who was a part of a music blog to figure it out.
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All images: © Ludivine Pellissier