INTERVIEW | Simon Kallas
Updated: May 1, 2021
If you're a fan of black & white pictures just like us, you need to check out the work from London-based concert photographer Simon Kallas! He has a love for post-rock and post-metal and might have dropped our favorite quote ever (can you find it?)! Read why his favorite shoot was the one he didn't bring his gear to and what his best purchase was (spoiler: it's not what you'll expect!).
Hey Simon, please give our readers a short introduction of yourself.
Hi, Thanks for having me.
My name is Simon Kallas and I am London based photographer.
How and when did you get into music photography?
By accident, really…
It was 2010/2011, I used to take my camera everywhere, shooting just random photographs of anything that I found useful in terms of digital drawing or as a base for digital graphics or case studies for painting…
So I found myself at a gig, with this camera in my hand and bang, took a few shots and was instantly hooked on… It was somewhere in York Way, London, the place doesn't exist anymore, and the band...they don't exist anymore either...Double Handsome Dragons.
Have you studied photography or are you self-taught? And how did you craft your skills (did you watch online tutorials, had a mentor, trial & error)?
I am self taught. Most of my skill came from practice.
I've spent a lot of time with a camera. Getting to know your tool is one of the most important parts of any craft. Having some basic knowledge of composition and understanding of how light works, was an advantage.That base came from drawing and painting.
I started when youtube wasn’t that popular so i absorbed whatever knowledge i could from available sources on the internet. Reading blogs and forums helped with technical aspects,and troubleshooting but practice helps to develop technique and the process of learning is much more enjoyable...
I still learn and develop. I don't think one ever stops.
I wish I studied photography, I still might, who knows...
With which camera(s) and lens(es) do you shoot?
I use Nikon full frame DSLR (d750, d850) with prime 20mm, prime 50mm, and 70-200 zoom.
What is the best and worst thing about concert photography?
The best thing… I think that would be the energy that flows between stage and audience. As a photographer you are bang in the middle of it, and it is electrifying to feel that current. When you're right there in your zone, focusing on shots and at the same time you are this conductor of an amazing force. That very feeling is what got me hooked…
The worst...you never get to see the show.
How would you describe the live music scene in your city (or country)?
Oh… London… vibrant, huge, unbearable, absorbing, fast, inaccessible, …
You can get to a gig... jazz, metal, hip-hop, dance, whatever type of music you can name, almost every day of the week… if you can get your ticket or pass...it is busy and it is its curse and blessing at the same time… Well… pre covid that is...
Who do you usually work for? Bands, labels, agencies, press, etc.?
Mixture of all, but, my favourite way of working is for/with artists.
You seem to have found your style in black & white photography. What do you like about it?
I suspect B&W allows for more focus. Color is more familiar to the eye, but B&W allows me to show more… and perhaps focus better on what it is that i want to show...
Do you also do colored edits in case you get hired by someone? If yes, do you find it harder to edit these than using your signature b/w style?
Well, I shoot in color, I develop color, and just then, when I am happy with it, I process for B&W . So, no, it is not harder. I suspect I spend more time processing B&W then developing a photograph. If I am asked for color, I will deliver color.
What was your favorite shoot and why?
Haha...The one I didn't bring my gear to.
It was one of my favorite bands playing at my favourite venue in London, the Roundhouse.
I have received my accreditation very late and I already was on my way to the venue not expecting to shoot.
So I went in, sat in the pit, watched the band perform a full set, took one photograph with my phone and had the time of my life… It was hard because I couldn't shoot but it was an amazing experience. I was able to fully embrace that energy I've mentioned before.
Luckily, there were two dates at the venue, so I went back the next day and took my photographs.
What can musicians expect when working with you? And what do you expect in return?
This is quite a complicated question to answer.
I will work hard for anyone, I'm easy going, curious and patient, very patient…
I will give anyone a healthy amount of credit, trust and respect.
But I will stay true to myself and my craft. Be it ad hoc or one off shoot…
For these all I ask is trust, honesty and patience.
I believe in building working relationships. I know they work. I know they produce better effects. I prefer this way of working.
The base is the same...hard work and trust. add understanding, add knowledge of the way your musician is likely to move, behave and look on stage.add ability to anticipate. add knowledge of their music, and you will see how much better the pictures are. Learn what they are, let them inspire you...
Build on that and you have yourself friendship. And when you are 3000 miles away from home, in a shity club full of strangers, when you feel utterly down, and tired from sitting in a van the whole of yesterday...that familiar face down the pit (up on the stage) might just spark a lot of energy and confidence and joy...
and that is precious...
This method requires time and willingness, but if you allow it...sky's the limit.
Be a fan, Be an artist, be a friend, and be true ... don't be a c#@t.
What's the best purchase you ever made (can be gear, software or whatever)? Or what’s the best workflow hack you discovered?
Comfy, grippy shoes for the pit…
I struggled a lot on the three week tour, having just a pair of trendy trainers.
After a few nights of shooting my feet had enough. You don't realize how much you actually do with your feet in the pit, and how weird and tiering some positions might be...
I have bought a pair of fancy running shoes that imitate bare feet sensation…
These are peculiar, some call them ugly, and sure they might be…(they are!!)
But they work magic.
Which bands are still on your bucket list?
I don’t really have a bucket list.
But I insist on saying that I would die a happy man if i could take a portrait of Nick Cave (can anybody help me).
What change would you like to see in the live music scene (or in the music industry in general)?
As of today ( April 22nd 2021) I would like it to survive the plague.
Take away the word Music from the Music Industry, and imagine a portrait.
Who do you see?
a CEO of certain gender age and skin color? or your favourite Musician?
Let me leave it at that.
Is there anything you wish you had known earlier?
Oh, so many things…
But seriously, I can't think of a single one. I accept the never ending process of learning and its pace… Why regret?
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All images: © Simon Kallas