Behind the scenes of a rock and roll photo shoot

Published:  April 28, 2011
Behind the scenes of a rock and roll photo shoot

It is close to three years now that I have been photographing live music bands. All the while, I have been wanting to really sink my teeth into doing some off-stage promotional photography for a band – be it big or small, but the opportunity never arose.

Until now.

My lifelong buddy Hakan is managing a young hard rocking Perth band called Shots Fired. The lads have relocated to Melbourne and are gearing up to hit the local gig circuit for some serious R And R! (That’s rock ‘n roll boys and girls!)

I was asked if I could do their promotional photography as the band liked my live music photography they had seen in my book and wanted to work with me. The feeling was quite mutual as I was so keen to explore this side of my photography and really dug the band’s tunes so both parties agreed to get this happening.

Several weeks ago, the band asked me to suggest some locations for them to look over. As we were after a grungy Rock ‘n Roll look and feel, I showed thm some of my photos from the abandoned Brunswick Brickworks, the closed Larundel Mental Institution and some central locations around the CBD and surrounding inner city sprawl.

After careful consideration, and once all the planets had aligned (read, both our calendars were in sync) the big day had arrived.

The plan of attack was to visit Larundel first. I had done some photography in there a couple of years ago – and the place is as creepy, derelict and sinister as one can expect. There are great ghost stories permeating from the legend of the mental asylum and everyone was genuinely excited about the prospect of shooting in there.

Some shots inside the Larundel Mental Institution

After a crazy drive with two cars filled with a bunch of long haired louts (band and photographer) and an even crazier band manger who has a constant and descriptive penchant of commenting on every single lady he passes by in his car – we finally arrived!

It took us forever to get there due to an accident on the road but that gave me some time to run through some ideas and concepts in my head for the shoot. We had a trunk full of paraphernalia and gadgets that we could use for the shoot so we were all well prepared. We even had a jerry-can full of fuel (!)

Once we got to Larundel, we noticed we were being followed almost straight away by a patrolling security car. The jig was up before it had even began. There was no way we could go inside and the NO TRESPASSING signs now plastered all over the place, pretty much foiled our plans as well.

Dejected we all sat as we realised the shoot wouldn’t be happening. Band manager Hakan decided to approach the security guard to plead our case. But as to be expected… no chance, no way, no deal, over-my-dead-body guys.

The Larundel shoot was not going to happen.

Head bowed and dejected, Hakan returns to the car after being knocked back by security

There was silence in the car as we drove off. We had wasted nearly two hours getting to Larundel and didn’t know when we could all schedule our calendars to be all in the one place at the one time.

As we were driving away, Hakan decided to stop at Pentridge Prison – now known as Pentridge Village as all sorts of housing and accommodation has sprung forth. The prison’s facade still remains so we went for a stroll to see what was on offer.

As a test shoot, the boys lined up against the infamous wall of the prison and we took a few practice shots.

The first shot

Walking around the former prison yard we noticed a fenced off area. It was screaming to be climbed over as behind it lay an old wing of the prison which appeared to be still intact in this now, pseudo-inner-city-suburbia that was springing up.

As the guys were climbing over the fence, I said, “Great, we’re the only stooges who would actually dare to break in to a prison!”

I seriously couldn’t believe we were doing this but it was all in the name of rock ‘n roll, art and hopefully, a decent photo or two!

We rushed up all sorts of metallic stairwells not really knowing where the hell we were going to end up – but we were now deep within the prison which housed some of Australia’s most hardened criminals and frankly, there was no turning back. There was no time to be creeped out about it all, we had a job to do and quickly looked for a decent location to take some photos. Once we saw the dead rat splattered on the floor in one courtyard, we knew we were at the right spot! Consider it an omen.

The boys sit high above Pentridge

Awesome! We had our first slab of photos and now we were going to head to our next point of call to make use of the remaining available light – the abandoned Brunswick Brickworks.

We got to the Brickworks and entered pretty much with great ease. We explored the place and found a nice warehouse area up a flight of really steep, rusty stairs. The space was huge and the various holes in the roof provided some nice moody, atmospheric lighting for us to use. The light just seeped in from above and as the guys were prepping themselves, I took a few test shots which confirmed the great, warm light we had to play with.

In the pre-production stage of the photoshoot, we had decided to do a tribute shot similar to what rock photographer Ross Halfin had done with Iron Maiden way back in 1985. Band lined up against the wall, blindfolds on. I think we quickly decided that would be a little too naff, a little too Iron Maiden and cliched, so we kicked it up a notch and took it to a bit of a sinister level.

With manager Hakan sprawled on the ground… somewhat dead – lead singer Dan would be standing above the band, execution style pointing a pistol to guitarist Andy’s head. Through the camera’s viewfinder, I yelled with excitement as I was taking the shots. It was looking damn fine from where I was standing.

Shoot 'em down

The beautifully lit warehouse

I think the hardest part of the shoot at this point was to keep ourselves from laughing but I gotta tell you one thing that totally blew my mind, the minute I called the boys in for the next shot, the laughs stopped and as if on cue, they were ready, able and willing to get the work done. Amazing attitude. Professional beyond belief and just dedicated to the cause at hand. Bravo lads! You were a fucking joy to work with.

Once the warehouse shoot was over, we spent some more time in another part of the complex doing some individual head-shots and the like. We had plenty of light left and wanted to maximise the day as best as we could.

It was now time to do the ‘killer’ shot. Band. Dark tunnel. Smoke. Brimstone. And of course… fire. Yep, fire!

On paper, we wanted the band to be surrounded by a ring of fire. Remember the jerry-can full of fuel I mentioned earlier? I’m sure you know where we headed with that huh?

Before we actually did the shot, we talked about the danger present, and what to do should things go wrong. Fire is incredibly unpredictable and not something to be played with (!) – but we were all confident we could do this and get the shot we had all envisioned with no one getting hurt.

After drawing a circle of fuel around the band… it was time to light it.

Without hesitation the boys were primed and ready to do this. But of course, the freaking thing wouldn’t light up on first attempt now would it? It was so damn funny seeing the band’s manager on his knees with lighter in hand willing to light up his investment in hellish flame and watch it (and us!) all go up in a waft of lurid black smoke!

Hakan tries to light the fuel!

Once it lit, the wretched flames just came to life at a ridiculous pace and with a sickly crackling sound it traversed totally around the band. The light was gone and in its place was thick black smoke. I could hardly see them at all but judged their position by the flames at their feet!

We had no lighting for this relying solely on the flash speedlight bouncing off the low ceiling and hitting the band from above. With the fire at their feet creating the red glow, I needed the flash to hit them from above otherwise we’d be left with a silhouette only.

Problem was, the massive amount of smoke present was all over the place and I could hear the flash make an eerie ‘pfffooommmf’ sound with each shot as it was lighting up the smoke above us all as it worked overtime lighting the shot!

I had mere seconds to check the photos we were getting. But we had to be so quick with this.

One, we were illegally lighting a fire around the band, two, we had to be weary of neighbours calling the authorities after the waft of smoke was pouring out of the abandoned brickworks! And trust me, there was smoke! And three, the flames would be dying real quickly once the fuel burnt.

The guys were firing off the poses whilst all the while making sure the flames weren’t getting too close.

It was impossible to breathe, uncomfortably hot and a total race against time to get the shots happening.

Ton of fun too!

Flame on

All in all, I had an absolute killer time today. It was wonderful rekindling some old memories with my pal Hakan and it was extra special working alongside a bunch of dedicated and determined boys! I look forward to shooting them live.

You can learn more about Shots Fired on their official website.

3 Responses

  1. Nomadic Qwen

    I don’t know how dangerous it really was but that fire photo is breathtaking.!

  2. MG

    Awesome pics boys. Looks like you got a good photographer.

  3. Pingback: Shots Fired At The Old Ararat Gaol: Photoshoot | Visceral Industry

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