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So You Want To Be A...

So you want to be a…professional photographer

Throughout the trenches of the Australian music industry, you’ll find few who have married creative abundance with business acumen quite like Michelle Grace Hunder – and even the others who have, rarely do so with such panache.

As a professional photographer, Michelle (or National Live Music Awards “Live Music Photographer of the Year” to you) has earned a reputation as a savant. Working with touring heavyweights behind the scenes, during live concerts and virtually every capacity in between has afforded Michelle with an otherwise unobtainable insight into not just the practice of professional photography, but the philosophy behind it.

We picked Michelle’s brain about all of it.

How did you get your start in the entertainment industry?

Its a kinda weird random story, but I didn’t pick up a camera until I was 31, super late starter. I kinda fell into shooting in the music industry through close friends, and it really resonated with me very early on so I just threw myself into it. Started going to any gigs I could find that would have me really and shooting press shots for artists that were my friends. Originally I was shooting exclusively in the hip hop scene but later branched out to cover pretty much all genres these days. I shoot press shots/album covers/magazine covers as well as concerts and touring with artists.

What does your day-to-day job involve?

Well the thing about my job is that no one day is the same. It really depends if I have a shoot, or if I have shoots to edit, in what my day will look like. If I have a shoot it generally will involve getting prepared for the shoot, likely it would be at my studio in North Melbourne. If it’s editing, I have been working mainly from home rather than the studio in recent times, as I’ve been touring a lot and have found I’m wanting to be home more when I am in Melbourne. So it really varies. Then all the boring admin stuff like emails, invoicing, social media! And finding time for exercise and all those things are really important. So I don’t really have a locked in schedule I just have a list that I like to tick off every day with the things I need to get done. That seems to work for me!

What have been the highlights of your job?

The main highlights have been the self publishing of my photography book Rise – A photo-documentary into Hip Hop in Australia which came out in 2014. The printing of the book was crowd funded and we also did a fundraising gig which had some of the biggest names in hip hop perform and help support the project which was incredible!! After that I worked on a project called Her Sound, Her Story for 4 years, which was a full length documentary, an 88 portrait series and also a big concert that we did as part of Melbourne Music Week, all celebrating women in Australian music. Both Rise, and the portrait series are now archived in the National Sound and Film Archives of Australia which is cool!! More recently I was named National Live Music Awards “Live Music Photographer of the Year” and have been touring pretty consistently with an artist named Ruel, which has been a huge career highlight!! I also really enjoy mentoring young female photographers now and sharing my knowledge to inspire a future generation of women picking up cameras!

Can you describe some of the more trying times you’ve experienced in this job?

There are always super unglamorous parts to our job! I think when I first started out as a female shooting in music it felt like people wouldn’t always take me seriously but I pretty much just didn’t put up with any of that crap so I don’t really feel that anymore. It’s pretty standard for most music photographers to have issues with security guards at one time or another, of various degrees! I’ve been thrown out of venues, pushed out of the pit (when I’ve had the right passes etc) just cool stuff like that. Probably the most trying time I’ve had has been this COVID pandemic and working out how to keep inspired and motivated! Its lead me to live streaming on Twitch, which has actually been one of the coolest things ever and a way to connect with my community and teach workshops to whoever shows up!

“There are a million photographers but only one that sees the world like you do.”

Gear is obviously an important part of being a professional photographer. However, many beginners may not have the funds to purchase professional-level kit. What advice do you have for beginner photographers who are currently piecing together their set up?

It’s probably the question I get asked the most, yet I feel it is one of the least important things for people starting out. I know that sounds crazy, but I really think it’s true. I feel that most important is to learn with whatever camera you have access too, find out what the capabilities are and how far you can push those capabilities. Learning how to use your camera in any situation is far more important than what camera you actually have. Amazing photos have been taken with lots of different cameras. It’s important to understand light, and composition. I would get my head around those things before worrying too much about gear, that’s my one big tip!!

Given that everyone is walking around with a camera in their pocket, the digital realm is jam-packed with non-professional content. What can burgeoning professional photographers do to be heard (or seen) above all that noise? 

Find your own voice. There are a million photographers but only one that sees the world like you do. I think the biggest issue for young photographers is finding their style and voice, and it can take a while, but it really is the uniqueness that you bring to your art that will make you stand out, not trying to emulate anyone else….

We’d love to know a story of when you didn’t take the shot. Have there been any instances where you’ve cloaked the camera to enjoy the moment for yourself?

It’s pretty rare these days, but I found in the last year or so I tried to do it more where possible. I went to see Queen last year and just watched, which was phenomenal. I also saw Kendrick Lamar at Splendour a few years ago, after shooting all of his previous Australian shows, so that was cool. It’s tricky as a music photographer to not feel like you want to document everything, but occasionally I get the opportunity to just go along as a fan!!!!

Tell BLUNT one thing about your job that most people would never guess.

There is far less shooting that anyone really thinks. 

Who has been your favourite artist to work with and why?

Definitely working with Ruel and the relationship I’ve established with him and the whole team. It’s a really special team to be part of. 

You can follow Michelle’s adventures via Instagram, Twitter and tune into her Twitch tutorials.