Tina Korhonen is a music, portrait and editorial photographer whose work has been widely published, including in NME, Kerrang, Metal Hammer, Rolling Stone, The Observer, and on album, book covers and artwork. Features about Tina and her photography have appeared in the British Journal of Photography, Practical Photography, Kameralehti, Helsingin Sanomat (Finland), Nikon magazine and Kerrang!. She has also been a critic and a visiting columnist in Practical Photography. Sign up for Tina’s  mailing list for exclusive talks, workshops and print sales.


How did you get started as a photographer?

My father had a Canon AE1 and was a keen amateur photographer, so I had a camera in the house when I was growing up. My father took a lot of family and landscape photographs, and I loved trying the camera out from the young age. When I was a teenager I got into loud Rock’n’Roll music, punk mainly, and and started to take photos at gigs and concerts. I offered the images to a small magazine, a fanzine really. This was just before the internet took off — In today’s terms it would be an online magazine, I guess. They started publishing my photos and I enjoyed both taking them, and seeing them published. It was still a long way from that moment to becoming a professional photographer, though. Luckily, I had people around me who saw that I could take a decent photo and gave me opportunities.

Who/what inspires you — or what keeps you inspired as a photographer?

Great images, styles and art in general inspire me. When I was studying in the London College of Printing (now London College of Communication), one of my lecturers introduced me to Philip-Lorca diCorsia. I loved his hidden flash guns in fridges and street corners. I still do. One of his books is in a pile of books next to my desk. The other important ones (in that pile) are Gathering Storm — the Album Art by Storm Thorgerson and Gregory Heisler’s 50 Portraits. Nowadays I love checking all kind of artists on Instagram. You can find so much creativity and inspiration from there when you follow the right artists.

Looking at your work, the lighting is really striking. Have you got any tips?

I love the play between shadows and highlights. It sounds really cliched and romantic even, but lighting makes the images. Alongside great subject matter and location. That is the holy trinity. I used to be really particular about the lighting taking hours to set the lights, but nowadays I am not too strict, or exact how it set lights, often preferring just one light or ambient light and a reflector. Maybe it is experience that has made me quicker. Maybe I like simpler things now. Mind you, I still get kicks out of hiding lights to fireplaces or lampshades. The use with lights is evolving with better digital cameras with more sensitivity to light. Now you can produce great images indoors using ambient light in background and even as a main source, without studio lighting. 

What are the challenges and do you have any tips for taking great photos at gigs?

Lighting, or the lack of it, is the biggest challenge in live photography. Low lighting and red lights that take too much detail away are my headache. Then again, when the lights are properly designed and bright enough for photography, you can get iconic shots that would look great on any gallery wall. The other challenges are the access, which is sometimes limited, and high stages can be problematic, too: They are great for the audience as it is easier to see the show from the floor level, but when photographers are crammed into a narrow security pit in front of the stage, the nose shots (where you can see into nostrils) are inevitable. My pet hate in live photographs is a microphone covering singer’s face or mouth. That is a total turn off for me and I see it too much in new photographers portfolios [and on] Instagram.

What/who helped you become the photographer you are today?

I used to shoot a lot. I used to go to a lot of jobs, that wouldn’t make me much money, if any, when I started out in Matrix Pictures. I was eager to learn and get experience so I used to accept any job. I worked hard, and I still do, even though I don’t shoot as much and I mainly do photoshoots.

Please tell us about an exciting project/commission you’ve worked on. 

I did two shoots with Kiss, the American rock band at Download festival 2015. Often there is not much time with the artist, especially for editorial shoots. These shoots were no exception, but I got to see the space available and had time to set up before they came to the shoot. There isn’t always time to be really creative in these 15 minutes shoots, sadly. You have to have the shots for your commissioning magazines and they have to work well in print. So sometimes you have to compromise on creative lighting, and posing, and you can’t take the band where you want to but you have to do it on their terms. I had to do the shoot at their backstage area. Luckily they were headlining the event, so they had a rather big area for themselves. However, portacabins are not spacious enough for the platform boots-wearing rockstars like Gene Simmons. With my assistant we set a backdrop on the outside wall of one of the cabins. The British summer weather was not at its best and it looked like it is going to rain again. Luckily we got to do the shoots without any rain. The backdrop got wet from the water that was already on the roof though (see the vertical image). You can see the moody skies in that image, too.  Working with someone like Kiss who are very professional is easy in that sense that they know what to do and they want to make it work. They also have a strong look with their make up. The characters they have created that are great visually.  I had met Gene before, so I knew that if I talked about him, he would be happy and that’s what I did. He is a big star in rock world but he was ok and gave me what I needed. I also got to shoot the whole of their set. The only tricky part of it was all the pyro that I had to avoid on stage – and hundreds of great shots to edit. 

What piece of kit could you not do without?

My Nikon D5 of course, and a Nikkor 85mm, f1.4 lens is my favourite at the moment. I couldn’t live without my battery operated lights, either.  In addition to those, Pockets Wizards make my life so much easier. I am not a fan of leads. I have tried other transmitters and receivers but Pocket Wizards are the most reliable. I keep my gear reasonably simple. 

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be braver, go closer, and crop. And ask more questions from the people in the know.

Have you ever had to make an insurance claim?

If so, please tell us what happened. I don’t think I have made an insurance claim while I have been with Williamson and Carson. Back in the day, years ago, I had a boost battery for my flash gun and while I was doing a photo call it overheated the flash so that smoke started to come out of it. It was supposed to be a good brand battery, too. I cannot remember if I could claim that or whether I dealt with the battery maker though. I wanted to insure exhibition images and their transport when I did the Gibson Showroom exhibition in the West End of London a few years ago. It was so easy, just one phone call, to add cover for that into my current insurance for the time period needed. I was very pleased with that.

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