INTERVIEW: Chontalle Musson - Photographer

Photo credit: Chontalle Musson

Photo credit: Chontalle Musson

This New Zealand Music Month we wanted to draw attention to some of the talented people working behind the scenes of the NZ music industry.

Most of us love looking at the incredible photos that come out following our favourite gigs, but don’t often think about the spectacular eye behind the lens. We caught up with Chontalle Musson, one of our favourite live music photographers, to talk about her experiences in this field.

To start off, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

I’m 25 and I work and live in Auckland, and on the side I run the music section of The Speakeasy and contribute as a music photographer.

When did you first get into photography and what inspired you to start?

I think I’ve always liked taking photos, and being photographed. I had a small point and shoot camera when I was 17 and I’d take it to parties and stuff, this was all back when cellphone cameras were so bad! But I really got into photography when I moved to Florida and worked for the Walt Disney Company. There’s so much to capture and I loved the parades and shows and the community of people I met there too.

I’ve seen a lot of the photography work you did during your time in the Disney College Program. How was that experience and has it influenced the work you do now?

Honestly I think it did influence my work a lot when I first started covering shows; my old editing style was a lot more overexposed, like how I edited when I was at Disney. But capturing the shows with my friends I learnt quickly flattering angles and such.  

When did you decide you wanted to do this professionally, and was music photography always the dream?

So “professionally” is a loose term, and technically I’m not a professional, as that implies I get paid which as of right now I’ve never been paid to cover a gig (I’ve done headshots etc. though). I always thought music photography would be good since back in 2015, when I started going to heaps of gigs, but I didn’t really know how to get into it so it wasn’t until I moved back to New Zealand and to Tauranga that I got super into it.

What was the first gig you ever shot? And which gig has been the most memorable?

The first gig I did was at The Kings Arm in Auckland; may it Rest In Peace, and it was the band Protest The Hero, who are from California. It was kind of a mess but I really loved it! Most memorable is so hard! Either Panic! At The Disco, just because I’ve loved Panic! for so long and I love the photos I got, or covering Homegrown this year as part of their media team because that’s basically insane when I think about it.

Is there a particular genre of shows that are your favourite to photograph?

I would have to say pop punk, or artists I like, just because I have a feel of the music already so I vibe with it more. And pop punk acts just use the stage so much, and I never really got over my emo phase either haha.

Any mosh pit horror stories?

So I’m pretty lucky because I’ve haven’t done many shows “from the crowd” but the grabbing and beer spilling is usually the worst - or drunk people screaming at me to take their photo.

Following on from that, do you ever fear that your gear will get damaged at gigs, by spilled drinks, wild mosh pits or anything else? How do you keep it safe?

Always. Every time I see the “from the crowd” on the release I’m like YIKES, but a lot of crowd do actually try not to push us, and cameras are heavy so you probably don’t want to be hit by one either. But it’s usually fine, and it’s the risk we take for the best shots. I just keep my camera as close to my body as possible, if the crowd is super bad I’ll only bring one camera so it’s easy to keep safe and when I’m moving to the other side of the venue I put my camera above my head, and I haven’t broken anything ... yet.

What gear do you use when shooting gigs? And if you had an unlimited budget, what gear would you use?

So I currently use the Canon 6dii with the Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 lens and the Canon 5div with the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 lens and the BlackRapid slim double strap. I love my kit to death honestly. I would probably keep everything but switch my Tamron for the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 just because it’s faster in low light. I definitely get an external flash, and I think tank backpack because I’m very weak. I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% done with buying camera gear to be honest.

If you could photograph a show by any artist, dead or alive, who would you choose?

Katy Perry probably. Her production is MAD and she’s an all-round amazing performer and human, so probably her!

When you’re not shooting gigs, what else do you like to photograph in your spare time?

I like going to comedy shows, I’m excited that it’s comedy fest right now! Netflix and online shopping is basically me. And just kicking around with friends and stuff, keeping it super chill.

The music industry is known to be quite male dominated. Do you find this rings true in music photography also? Do you find that being a woman in the field brings about any additional challenges that the men you work alongside don’t have to face?

I would say 80% of the music photographers I know of in NZ are males, but we have the best ones in my opinion. They are all super nice and supportive and there’s none of the horror stories that you read about overseas. The photographers in Auckland are one giant family, and the photo pit is our sweaty home!  

What’s the best of advice you’ve ever been given, personally or professionally?

Don’t stress so much. Don’t worry. I always get so worked up before a gig because I want to do a good job for the publication I’m contributing too, for the PR and for the band/artist and I always get told not worry so much because I’ll do just fine! Still working on that though.  

Following on from that, what advice would you give to anyone looking to get into music photography, or any type of photography even?

Buy an entry level DSLR, go to your small local shows or hit up local bands and say you’re starting out and just want practice and you’ll come to their gigs for free and provide them with some dope pics. And don’t be afraid to shoot your shot! We all started somewhere.

If you could only listen to music by two artists for the rest of your life, one kiwi and one international, who would you choose?

This is a rough question omg. Kiwi probably the Coridian lads, they have dope tracks always and are great live which is an added bonus. International is ROUGH because my genre tastes are so broad; either Katy Perry or All Time Low though I can’t decide between the two.

If you could magically learn any skill overnight, what would you want it to be?

I would wake up and have the entire New Zealand building code and its standard memorised. I’m an Architectural Technician and wannabe be project manager so that would make my job so much easier and that’s so much information too!

Anything else you want to tell us?

If you see me in the pit say hi, I swear I’m not scary!

Go like Chontalle’s photography page on Facebook here and check out her amazing portfolio of work on her CPM Photography website!