An Interview with Music & Portrait Photographer Nicholas O'Donnell

12th December 2021

Irish-born music and portrait photographer, Nicholas O’Donnell began his journey in photography nine years ago at the age of 14, and since then he’s been fortunate enough to work with artists and bands including Billie Eilish, Florence + the Machine, Fontaines D.C., Declan McKenna and Yungblud to name a few.

We caught up with Nicholas when he was photographing Galway band The Clockworks in Studio Three to discuss how he began his career, what a typical day looks like for him, and, in his opinion, what makes a good music photographer.

Abbey Road talks to Nicholas O'Donnell

How did you fall into music photography specifically?

Music photography for me began with a band from my hometown called The Calvinists. At the time it wasn't a genre of photography I thought I'd pursue. When I attended college back in 2018 I discovered the music scene and it snowballed from there.

What makes a good subject in music photography and what makes a good music photographer?

A good subject in music for me is an artist(s) that leaves it all on stage. Being a good music photographer comes down to thinking outside the box through creativity, being driven, willing to work as much as possible, and just being a nice person. Getting along with the artist also plays a major factor in getting more in-depth photos of their lives.

How do your assignments vary day-to-day, and what are the most surprising day-to-day aspects of music photography?

Each day can be different, some days can be concerts locally, touring, and photoshoots. Other days can be answering emails, admin work, and editing. On rare occasions, a day can involve interviews and podcasts. Pretty much every day I'll be editing, planning, or running around, be it concerts or portrait sessions.

How do you communicate musicality/musical identity through portraiture?

With portraiture, I try to give an honest personality to each artist. If it's for upcoming music, I'll try to show some of the music through the photographs, like an easter egg in a video game.

How does the process differ in music portraiture when working with upcoming talent versus established artists?

With an upcoming artist, you sometimes have more freedom as you're creating a foundation for their style. With an established artist, they may have been photographed a lot more and know what they're looking for, which can be easier or harder depending on the assignment.

Do you think there’s a genre of music that naturally lends itself to powerful portrait photography?

I think punk can lead to powerful portraiture, especially with punk having a message.

Do you have a preference of working on location/on tour vs in a studio? How easy is it to create “tour energy” in a studio? How easy is it to get “studio focus” on tour/on location?

For me, touring will always take the cake. Trying to replicate the tour energy in the studio can be very difficult at times, for me anyway. Trying to get the studio focus on tour really depends on the level of touring. For example, if I'm touring in a small car, then it will be just traveling but if I'm in a tour bus, you can allocate a room to being a studio.

How does the photographic process differ between working with introverts and extroverts?

Working with an introvert can be more of a calming process, which could just be chatting for a bit to make them comfortable. Whereas with an extrovert, you could ask them to throw down some crazy energy and they'll be more willing.

Have you ever been starstruck on set? How do you overcome that?

It's definitely happened a few times but not so much anymore. You just have to tell yourself that they're just as normal as yourself and let yourself fall into focusing more on getting the photograph than freaking out.

What (else) does music portraiture need to do differently from other celebrity portraiture?

With music photography, more direction is needed but with celebrities, they're actors so posing comes naturally as it's a form of acting in itself.

How has social media shaped music photography, both as a craft more generally, as well as your personal work?

Social media has its perks but also huge disadvantages. If you want to succeed as a music photographer or a musician you have to put yourself on show for the world to see, through portfolio(s) and apps such as Tik Tok. Music used to be more about music but nowadays the business side plays a major part.

Who is someone, alive or dead, you’d still love to photograph?

Someone dead I'd love to photograph would be either Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison and alive, either ASAP Rocky or Michael Kiwanuka. Bit of a weird genre mix.

In one word, how would you describe your photography? 


A huge thanks to Nicholas for sharing his insights. Discover more about his work by heading to his website or Instagram.


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