Alter The Press!


Interview: Marianne Harris (Photographer)

Since starting out over five years ago, Dorset-based music photographer Marianne Harris has seen her work published in numerous magazines, on various music websites, countless blogs and even on t-shirts. With a dense portfolio consisting of bands like Paramore, Bring Me The Horizon, A Day To Remember, Deaf Havana, The Darkness, and many more.

Now in 2011, Harris continues to work closely with numerous bands, both established and up and coming bands as well working with numerous brands; most notably Monster Energy and Big Deal Clothing.

Marianne spoke in-depth to Alter The Press about how she started out as a photographer, using social media, her role with Monster Energy, what emerging bands we should be checking, and much more.

Alter The Press: Marianne, could you explain how you started out as a photographer?
MH: Hey. I started going to small local shows in Summer 2005 with my husband. We really got into the whole live music thing, and with two young children at home it was awesome escapism from normal life. We started meeting bands and got to know the regulars at shows. It became an anticipated social event. Most shows I ended up sitting in front of the barrier with my digital camera, something I was never prevented from doing, and gave the promoter the pics in exchange for entry. It was great, I had the best seat in the house and loved being allowed to sit there. But the pics were usually terrible and after a few months my hubby persuaded me to go buy a DSLR.

Over a period of several years, and a lot of shows, I slowly learned how to use it properly and started taking better photos. The bands I was going to see on a regular basis started posting my pics on their Myspace pages etc, and I started promoting my work properly. I got a few small commissions with Kerrang Magazine in Summer 2006 (less than a year after I started shooting shows), and then began reviewing and shooting for Metal Hammer in late 2007. Then the best local venue, a dry ski slope come rad music venue, got shut down due to finance, and a few weeks after that vandals set fire to it. Was the sad end of an era, but it pushed me to start going to other venues and other areas of the UK. Lots of the bands I’d met and made friends with in the humble beginnings of their careers have since become successful bands. I owe a lot to Yeovil Ski Lodge (and Flicks, now The Orange Box), and to that music promoter. Some of my fondest memories will always be of the shows in Yeovil back in 2006/2007.

ATP: Have you always done music photography or have you explored other areas?
MH: Music photography is my thing really although I have shot a few weddings for close friends, and I shoot models for clothing brands. I wish I was good at shooting landscapes because sometimes I so want to just go camp out under a sunset or something and capture how beautiful they can look. I’m utterly rubbish at shooting landscapes.

ATP: A lot of your work is with hard rock/alternative bands. When you were growing what bands were you listening to?
MH: As a young girl I was massively into Adam And The Ants. Only people over the age of 30 will even know who the heck I’m talking about. I still have my vinyl albums! They’re cherished. Aha. And Frankie Goes To Hollywood. As a teenager I was into Guns N Roses, but I only listened to them to start with because there was a boy with a long curly mullet that I fancied like mad who was really into them. I stole his copy of Appetite for Destruction and played it constantly on my record player that sat on the floor of my bedroom. I wish I hadn’t given it back because it was the original pressing with the half naked girl on the front and I’m sure it’s probably worth a lot of money now! I still have the original ‘Welcome to the Pleasure Dome’ album by FGTH though. I’m never selling it.

In my late teens/early 20s I was majorly into Take That, I went to see them when I was 19, when they were just getting big, and that progressed into liking The Backstreet Boys, NSync etc. In 2002 I found out about Linkin Park; I was watching Kerrang! TV when the video for ‘One Step Closer’ came on and it had the most profound effect on me. It was the best thing I’d ever seen. I became quite obsessed with the band, and quickly got into other heavier rock bands too like Incubus and Papa Roach. I joined the Linkin Park fanclub and started collecting memorabilia. I have all kinds of things framed on the walls of my house including some very rare valuable collectables and signed Cd's, posters etc, including 2 signed copies of their first ever EP. The first concert I ever went to was in March 2003 I think when they played their first show in the UK for nearly 2 years. Was at the Brixton Academy, and I still remember it now, Chester climbed up onto the speak stack and flipped off it. I was totally engrossed. As a member of the fanclub I had really cheap tickets and met the band after the show. I had to run to catch my train but it was worth it. I guess that was the thing that sparked my love for live music too because we took the kids to see them a few times after that as well, and then started going to Reading Festival every year. And then the local shows followed.

ATP: When you starting taking photos, were there any photographers that influenced you?
MH: For a long time I didn’t have a clue about photographers at all, and definitely didn’t know anything about music photographers. When I started paying attention I came across the work of Cindy Frey. She was taking the kinds of live photos I was trying to take - dark backgrounds, lots of definition and colourful light trails, and action. I really liked her work. I also really like the work of Steve Brown. He works with digital backgrounds and all of his work is striking and dynamic. It makes me fairly sick with envy. But in a good way. He’s amazing.

ATP: Since starting in 2005, your work has been used in various forms (print, artwork, online etc). What are your most memorable shoots?
MH: Most memorable live shoots are the first time I shot a festival, Download 2006. I met a guy at a merch stall at a tiny show in Bournemouth a few months earlier who I kept in touch with. The band he managed were playing on the Snickers Stage, and he invited me and my friend along with them as part of their team for the weekend. Was a pretty incredible experience, we had AAA and it completely wowed me, but more so because Bullet for my Valentine’s manager gave me a main stage pass and permission to shoot from the stage during their set too. Pretty surreal opportunity for someone who’d only had a camera for about 8 months.

Another memorable live shoot was shooting Linkin Park at the Astoria in 2007. I applied for accreditation and was told it would probably be a no. The day of the show I got an email saying my request had been accepted by management. I was so excited, and absolutely petrified! Luckily the lighting for their show was incredible and I got some wicked pics. They’re probably one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen, absolutely superb.

Promo/band wise there are so many but if I had to pick some it would be shooting The Blackout in a uni laundry room back in 2008. I first met them in 2005 and had wanted to do promos with them for a long time. Also the day I shot both A Day To Remember and The Devil Wears Prada in Cardiff. Watching Tom Denney from ADTR trying to jump over and over again was funny, especially as it was his suggestion to do a jump shot. Eventually they all nailed it though, and they used that photo in their ‘Old Record’ album that was released in November 2008. That was when it really started to sink into my family’s head how serious I had become about my photography; my son saw the album and just stared at me open mouthed. ADTR were one of his favourite bands and he couldn’t wait to get to school to tell his friends his mum’s photo was in one of their albums.

ATP: How would you describe your overall style for both portrait and live images?
MH: That’s so difficult to answer. It’s hard to recognise that you have a style but lots of people say they instantly recognise my work so I guess that I do have my own style. I know that I try to make my images as dynamic and striking as possible, high levels of contrast, good composition, high black levels. I try to concentrate the eye to the subject rather than the background in portraits, unless the background is an integral part to the overall feel of the image, so I shoot lots of close cropped images. And I like shooting from below, because I like how it makes people look more imposing and important. Plus the sky makes a far more interesting backdrop than trees or buildings. I tend to desaturate portraits and keep live pics as colourful as possible. I love black and white live images personally, but there seems to be a school of thinking that taking all the colour out of images is a safe option for covering up imperfections, which I guess it true to a degree, but every time I make an image black and white that’s in the back of my head nagging me all the same. The truth is that some live pics do look much better that way.

ATP: Does having a unique style make a photographer stand out from the crowd?
MH: Well I think that depends how outlandish that style is. If you’re going to stand out from the crowd it should be in a positive way. I think a totally unique style is a rare thing, most people take inspiration from others in some form or another, and it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out from others. It takes a lot to wow anyone, but that’s what you need to do to grab attention. Perhaps just being able to take consistently decent images and presenting those images in the best possible way you know how, to as wide an audience as you can, might be enough to get your work to shine? If you’re determined enough it might.

ATP: What advice would you give to any budding music photographers?
MH: This has gotten shorter and shorter over the years but my advice is to keep your expectations realistic, go shoot small shows, give up and coming bands your love and support (they might become your new best friends and hook you up when they’re bigger), work hard, continually strive to improve your work, present it in the best way you know how, be prepared to work 110% 24/7 and keep the faith.

ATP: You have a strong online presence with Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr accounts. How far has online/social media helped your work get noticed?
MH: Yes I do spend inordinate amounts of time online promoting myself and networking. I think it’s been a key factor, not so much now maybe but definitely when I started it was essential. Myspace helped a lot, especially when I made my first website in 2007 as Myspace was at its height. I got a lot of work directly from there. Now I rely mostly on word of mouth and recommendations, but having so much of my work online is a huge positive, even though I get increasingly frustrated at the growing amount of people who think it’s cool to remove my name from my pics before republishing them on Tumblr etc. It’s one of my biggest bug bears. It inspires me to have the occasional rant or two on the subject on Facebook. Aha.

ATP: Do you think having a good knowledge of modern music is essential as a music photographer?
MH: Yes absolutely! Having a good knowledge of the band you are shooting is even more essential though; if you know what to expect from a band you will get the best results. You’ll be expecting certain things, movements, interactions with other members and their audience and will be able to capture it. Having knowledge about the structure of music is useful too. I very often watch band members and wait for the unusual things they do…guitarists tapping for example, or drummers hitting cymbals a certain way. Waiting for breaks in the songs because that might be when someone jumps or throws themself into the crowd. Managing to capture the interesting or exciting or dynamic moments in live music is what will help get you noticed.

ATP: Having worked with a variety of bands including unsigned bands, what up and coming bands should readers be checking out?
MH: Well I mostly listen to metal core, hardcore, post-hardcore, alternative rock. Most of my favourite bands fall into one of those somewhere, so most of my recommendations will come from there too. The bands I choose to regularly go shoot are the ones I enjoy the most and would recommend so go check out all of these bands: Bury Tomorrow, Shadows Chasing Ghosts, Yashin, Feed The Rhino, Burn The Fleet, Heart in Hand, Our Time Down Here, Atlas&I, Deaf Havana, Vanna, The Ghost Inside, While She Sleeps, Lower Than Atlantis, We Are Fiction and the two bands I manage: The Valiant and Death of An Artist.

ATP: What characteristics do you look for when a new band asks for a shoot?
MH: Characteristics are unimportant as far as me agreeing to shoot them goes as I will shoot pretty much anyone who asks me to shoot them, if they have personality all the better, and usually by the end of the shoot they’ve opened up and given me (and my camera) some personality.

ATP: Are there any shoots you would change or regret?
MH: Generally speaking no because I know that at the time of each shoot I did the best I could within the conditions of that shoot. I put the same amount of effort into all my shoots whether it’s a live show, or a shoot with a signed or unsigned band. There have been a few shoots where I’ve found myself getting a little frustrated with people who either haven’t been as cooperative as I’d like or who are so laid back that they’ve had no vision or expectation, and therefore little enthusiasm. I had one band once who no matter what I suggested wanted to just stand in a line, shoulder to shoulder. I do sometimes wish I hadn’t given bands certain images though, because sometimes the ones I think are the best aren’t the ones the band like most and they put the ones I’m less happy with online. At the end of the day as long as my subject/s are happy with the end result that’s all that matters.

ATP: You also work closely with Monster Energy drinks company. What is your role with them?
MH: Ah Monster. I completely and utterly love working with Monster Energy. They came along, well Alex Baker (the UK Monster Energy music embassador / Kerrang Radio dj) came along, and offered me a job at a time when I was feeling particularly neglected and unsure of where I was going. I’d spent the year before constantly emailing music magazines with my work trying to get people aware of what I was doing, and badgering Metal Hammer to give me more work, neither of which were very successful, and was feeling pretty dejected. I was already friends with and regularly working with lots of the bands they support in the UK and they offered to pay me to do that on their behalf. So for the last 2 years or so I’ve been going to shows, events and festivals they’re involved with as their photographer, helping to promote those bands and events, helping with the Facebook page, and offering advice whenever I can. And it’s the best job ever. All of the people I’ve met connected with Monster have been genuinely lovely people, all friendly and very passionate about what they do, and I’m constantly being praised and feel truly appreciated. I have much love and respect for Monster.

ATP: The UK festival season is now more or less in full swing. Where can we expect to find you in the coming months?
MH: I’ll be at a number of smaller festivals, Ghostfest, NASS, and hopefully Hevy Fest. I’ve already done loads of music events this year: Hit The Deck, Crash Doubt, Groezrock (Belgium), Black Star Fest (Belgium), and Slam Dunk North and South. All of them were wicked fun and great to shoot. It’s all about the mad hang outs.

The bigger festivals aren’t looking likely to be honest, unless Monster are involved, mostly because I no longer work for any publications and have no credible reason to ask for accreditation. Which is a shame considering the amount of bands I know and work with who are playing at most of them. It does sometimes get me a little annoyed that youngsters with little experience working for webzines can get passes for big festivals when decent photographers are declined, but that’s the nature of the game; the job of press agents is to get the event press coverage, something I can’t always guarantee, and they don’t really need to worry about who is taking the photos. I can’t even remember the last time I applied for major festival accreditation, and nowadays I usually get into the smaller ones through bands or their management, sponsors or promoters. The smaller festivals are more enjoyable for photographers though I think, there tends to be less restrictions and it’s easier to get band access so I can hang out with friends. If any bands I know are reading this and playing awesome shows though please think about and invite me, hook me the heck up! :D

ATP: Is there anything you'd like to say to close the interview?
MH: Yes, please go check out my work at and go check out the bands I mentioned earlier. You might like them!

Further information on Marianne Harris can be found on her Official Website.
Marianne Harris on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Further information on Monster Enery Drink can be found at
Further information on Big Deal Clothing can be found at

Words by Sean Reid (@SeanReidATP)

Alter The Press!