When Matthew Met… Britney Spears

Wednesday, 30th September 2015 – Learning from mistakes – The Britney Spears Lingerie Fashion Show

It was my biggest opportunity to date and I messed it right up. The good news is, I learnt from it – I think.

It was exactly 12 months ago – September 2014 – and I had a press pass to the Britney Spears Lingerie Fashion Show here in Copenhagen. I was excited, I won’t lie. Excited for two reasons: A) I was going to photograph and potentially meet Britney herself and B) I was going to photograph lots of beautiful women in their underwear. Is this a shallow confession? Absolutely. Do I feel like I should be apologising? Er, no.

There was a red carpet zone by the door and I avoided it like the plague. The reason being that I actually don’t know any Danish celebs and I can never shift the pictures anyway. There were plenty of other photographers there, photographing for BT, Scanpix and Polfoto. You could argue, I suppose, that it would do me good standing there and learning who was who. But I tried that once before and it go me nowhere. So I shuffled off.

At the end of the catwalk I found the photographers’ area and was the first one in. I was soon joined by a few others, and we actually got talking, which is very rare amongst photographers. Hell, we even took a selfie!

Soon enough the show started and the models arrived on stage and I quickly went in to Auto Pilot. The lighting guy was doing his or her thing, and I was shooting in Shutter Priority I believe. And so I just kept clicking and clicking and one after another the scantily-clad girls marched towards me, blew me a kiss, and went back the way they came. I had some great shots.

And then Britney arrived. I hadn’t even noticed, but all of the photographers behind me had disappeared and made their way towards the side of the stage where she was stood being interviewed. I stayed exactly where I was, and after a couple of minutes she was told to take to the catwalk and strut her stuff. Suddenly her eyes were fixed towards me and down she came, smiling and staring at my lens the whole way. I snapped back to reality and papped away, not even bothering to check that the images were looking OK. All of the other ones looked great, so I had nothing to worry about, right?

Of course, that’s bollocks. I screwed up. I can’t even begin to tell you how or why, but I suspect that the lighting in the room changed and I failed to change with it. Or my camera settings at least. It was also possible that I was holding down the Spot Metering button on my camera (a trick I’d taught myself exclusively for when subjects are stood in front of a very strong backlight, like the sun, for example). I press this button when I want to be absolutely sure the subject / model is correctly exposed, and I suspect I did it here, too. The result is a piss-poor picture which no editing could get right. Wanna see it? Course you do…

Straight after the show the press were ushered in to the press room, where I was given a second chance to photograph the former princess of pop. Once again there were dozens and dozens of people standing there with their professional cameras, but also people holding iPhones and the like. It was a media circus.

Eventually Brit (as I like to call her) joined the melee and was placed slap bang in the middle of the models in their undies, and I gotta say she looked “startled.” It’s the kindest word I can use, because I can’t imagine how difficult that becomes over time. I’m sure in the beginning all the fame and attention feels pretty good, but after a decade-and-a-half it surely becomes a bi-product of the industry. The word on the grapevine was that she was suffering from a cold, and had come directly from Germany just an hour or so before her appearance, so the stress must have been intense. So I’m not judging Brit, but it was uncomfortable viewing. I kept my mouth shut whilst everyone around me cried, “Britney, this way. Look over here, Britney.” I got the shot I needed and backed away.

The final problem I had to solve (or in this case never did) was the issue of finding a buyer for my images. My friend Michelle (from the US) had, in exchange for me adding her name to the guest list, been busy finding contact details for US-based fashion and gossip mags. But unbeknown to the both of us, her efforts had been in vain, as the spreadsheet where she’d saved them hadn’t saved properly. Alas, there were no details to hand. So I edited as quickly as possible (even the shit one I had) and started making a few phone calls. New York; LA – I tried several and left messages galore. Not a soul called me back.

It’s often said that photography takes up about 20 percent of a photographer’s working schedule, whilst the other 80 percent is selling and marketing. I think this is a pretty fair statement and one that seems to fit with my monthly patterns. And I don’t dislike the 80 percent side of things, but sometimes it can feel like a total waste of time, and hiring someone to work with me on this feels like a good idea. But finding an agent in Denmark is hard, as my office colleague Pernille confirmed this morning. “It’s not something we do in this country,” she told me.

In the end I uploaded the content to Demotix, which is a platform I recommend to photojournalists who have good stories and images they want to sell. Publish your stuff on there and it at least gives you a name to use when trying to get in to over-hyped events or concerts. “I shoot for Demotix,” I say, and in I go.

The fashion show wasn’t a complete waste of time. I enjoyed it and the rush of being there, for starters. It was also nice to get my friend’s name on the list, as she’s a HUGE Britney fan. And let’s not forget, that I got some really nice pictures from it which look great in my portfolio. If it taught me anything, it’s that the photojournalism industry is getting increasingly harder to get in to if you haven’t got the connections or an outlet who has agreed to take your content. Some people suggest not getting in to photojournalism but steering clear all together. My experience since becoming freelance has taught me the same, but the chase is still exciting and the variety of jobs can be fun and challenging. It helps you hone your skills in different areas, I suppose.

I’ll see you back here tomorrow for another Journal entry…