Photographer spotlight: An Interview With Nat Michele

Photographer spotlight: An Interview With Nat Michele

29th September 2022

Earlier this year, we launched the inaugural Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards, the first ever awards to celebrate the art of music photography and the talent behind the lens.

The competition ran across a series of distinct categories, with winners selected by a panel of photographers, music artists and creatives. The awards recognised 2021’s most unforgettable, unique and unsung music moments and the varied and talented photographers who captured them.

Shortlisted emerging & professional photographers were unveiled and celebrated at an exclusive awards ceremony, hosted here at Abbey Road.

We recently started profiling some of the talented photographers who participated and had their work shortlisted by our judges, including Rankin, Shygirl, Jill Furmanovsky, Moses Sumney, Sacha Lecca, Dana Scruggs and Simon Wheatley.

You can read some of the previous pieces in the series below:

- Anthony Harrison

- AboveGround

- Chris Suspect (winner of the Zeitgeist Award)

- John Lyons (winner of the Live Music Photography Award)

- DeShaun Craddock

- Riccardo Piccirillo

- Neelam Khan Vela

- Hana Kovacs

- Jason Sheldon (Junction10)

This week we spoke to Nat Michele, who was a finalist in our Studio Photography category. This category was open to photographs showcasing musicians at work and play in the studio. Images that capture the magic that happens when musicians come together to write, experiment or record.

Check back every Thursday as we continue to profile some of the talented photographers who participated.

Shortlisted Photo

Studio Photography Award (Category supported by Bowers & Wilkins)

Exploring the process of recording music. Two creative processes at play, where music creation and the art of photography meet. The artist behind the lens and the artist in front of the lens. The category was open to photographs showcasing musicians at work and play in the studio. Images that capture the magic that happens when musicians come together to write, experiment or record.


Photographer Spotlight: Nat Michele

"Make the type of work you want to make, from the very beginning. Having a sense of who you are as an artist will enable you to figure out your own pathway, without bending to the needs and wants of others or trends, where you could compromise your taste and identity" - Nat Michele

Nat Michele is a film photographer based here in the UK. An eye for detail and a passion for honest storytelling, Nat has collaborated with numerous artists such as Bombay Bicycle Club, Jake Bugg and Sam Fender with work appearing in multiple publications.

As part of our ongoing series in profiling the talent that took part in our Music Photography Awards, we spoke to Nat about her work in music photography, creative processes, artistic expression and her go to tips for aspiring photographers.


How did you fall into music photography specifically?

I have always loved music from a young age, and was fascinated by album covers and artwork as a child. I loved the tactile nature of this kind of photography and how it was an extension of another art form.

When I moved to London in 2010 from my sleepy hometown in Cornwall to pursue a career in photography (I was working at fashion magazines back then), I was excited to experience live music on a larger scale and spent most of my free time at gigs. I guess I kind of naturally fell into music photography as I would always carry a camera around with me at shows (before the phone!). As cheesy as it sounds, in a city where I knew very few people at that time, it felt like a place where I could completely relax and be myself, so I knew it was something I wanted to do more of. I loved the energy and the lights and the excitement of the crowd - it was something I was craving back home in Cornwall.

What was a hobby and how I spent most of my free time, quickly became something I was really driven and passionate about.

And was there a particular image or body of work that was a major inspiration when starting out?

I have discovered an abundance of photographs in various genres which inspired me in completely different ways, whilst working as a picture editor for magazines and newspapers over the last 12 years. However, I think that my interest in photography began properly when I was given the World Press Photo Book in 2002, which published the prior year's most important, and sometimes, unseen photographs. With the 9/11 terror attacks that year, images from that morning were published across nearly every page. Although I was only 12 years old at the time, I remember feeling extremely moved by the rawness of the images - there was a heightened sensitivity seeing them compiled beautifully within a book. I got a sense of the photographer behind each image, whether that be a photographer documenting details of personal belongings covered in dust, or a photographer's decision to document one man's final moments. I noticed a sense of duty in all the images I saw: to document what was in front of each of those cameras.

In an era before the smartphone, the importance of that is now very clear. Would we ever really understand the true events and the intricate details from that day without these photographers? The unfiltered, rawness documented on the pages for history to remember. I remember feeling incredibly moved by the trueness, by the authenticity, but above all - by how photography has the ability to really move somebody emotionally, as well as the significance in documenting exactly what is in front of you as a photographer.

Later in my life as my love of music developed, Linda McCartney became a huge source of inspiration for my own personal practice. Her fly-on-the-wall style of capturing moments, whether that be in the studio with The Beatles, or at home in Scotland with Paul documenting family life, she always portrayed authenticity in a really considered, beautiful way - moments to cherish.

I think my love of documenting what’s in front of me, combined with my background in fine art, has created a mix of reportage and fine art photography as my true sense of style and what I love to create.

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

A great subject for me, is someone who simply doesn’t mind me being in their personal space and observing. In my opinion, a great music photographer is someone who is patient, who has an appreciation for both the musical art and the photographic art and how they can relate and communicate with one another.

What advice would you give to someone getting started?

Make the type of work you want to make, from the very beginning. Having a sense of who you are as an artist will enable you to figure out your own pathway, without bending to the needs and wants of others or trends, where you could compromise your taste and identity.

It’s easier said than done, but in the long run, true collaborators will book you for your eye, taste and style as opposed to simply the need of a photograph. For me, those relationships create the most fulfilling projects which is what it’s all about, in my opinion.

How does your approach differ when working with upcoming talent versus established artists?

Established talent, in my opinion, sometimes have a greater sense of self as an artist, and therefore know what they like, and how they like to be portrayed on camera. In reality, that comes down to more in depth conceptual discussions before the shoots, and more hands-on when it comes to editing the best selections post-shoot.

On the whole however, not everyone's the same, so I generally just try and stick to my “work hard and be kind to people” ethos and always, always put photography first, whoever the artist. It can be easy to get wrapped up in the occasion, so staying focused in those moments is fundamental to creating the work you can be truly proud of, regardless of all the pressures and expectations that can sometimes arise from photographing an established talent.

Photographing upcoming talent really excites me. I love to be a part of someone's journey from the very beginning and observing where they go from there. From my experience, photographing an upcoming talent tends to be quite a free process, where everyone is open to ideas and input and I love being within that type of environment - sometimes it can be one of the most creative places to be!

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

Honestly, I’m not sure there is. A great portrait can be made anywhere and everywhere with the right ingredients. Every person on this planet is one-of-a-kind, and each artist relates differently to the art they create, the environment they are in and fundamentally, the camera in front of them.

The best portraits for me, are unplanned - you can never tell when one will arrive on your roll of film. A powerful portrait to me, is a snapshot in time that becomes one to remember, regardless of any genre of music.

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?

I actually haven’t done a lot of touring, just the odd back to back show. I think that’s because my photographic style and medium of choice doesn’t lend itself well to high-energy, high volume outputs. I much prefer an intimate environment like a recording studio where I can get to the core of who they are as a person as well as an artist and the work they create, as opposed to big stadium tours where a true connection between one camera and the artist could become diluted.

I do, however, think if I was living and working in the '60s, my answer would be very different, as there was so much more value placed on photography as a craft back then. Tours for me in 2022 are chaotic, and the “lists of assets” sent to me by record labels suck all creativity out of the job before I've even started. The inauthenticity of churning out specific assets just doesn’t sit well with me and what I personally like to create.

I do, however, really admire photographers who can keep up with today's fast paced touring life as a photographer - the work is endless, and exhausting and it takes a certain type of character to be able to do that and remain true to themselves and their craft. There are a bunch of them out there doing it really really well, I just don’t think I’m one of them!

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

I couldn’t be more introverted if I tried (!), so I naturally sympathise with anyone like me. I think sympathy and understanding can go a long way when it’s just you and an introverted artist, and if you’re not alone and there’s a big team, I like to try and make the environment feel as though it’s just the two of us.

As an introvert, photographing an extrovert can be exciting - you can rarely plan, you’ve just got to go with your creative instinct much of the time - something I really like to do. Sometimes they take little direction, but at other times, it takes a lot of focus on me as the photographer to remain calm and composed.

Shooting on film is naturally a slower process - it forces you to slow down and consider each shot carefully, so in a high energy room, it can be just as important not to make a photograph as it is to make one!

Have you ever been starstruck when photographing someone? How do you overcome that?

I’m not sure I’d call it starstruck, but a feeling of great appreciation for someone and gratitude to be able to work alongside them, is how I feel. Sometimes I can find my mind wandering a little between frames, thinking about the magnitude of the occasion - but I always try to remain focused on the shots when I have my camera in hand. It takes a lot of practice, but like I said before, you’d regret not remaining focused when sifting through your films after, if you didn't.

For me, as someone who has anxiety, It is actually my pre-shoot prep which is important on big occasions. I put a lot of energy into sleeping and eating well and I find Rescue Remedy and breathing exercises very useful if my hands begin to shake!

How has social media shaped music photography?

Music photography is consumed and recognised very differently in 2022 as opposed to 10 years ago, but that does not mean there isn’t a need for it or there aren’t talented people out there creating the art we see and 'like' on social media, everyday. Quite the opposite in fact!

Social media has seemingly become a tool for musicians to create a brand image and identity as an extension of their music. Whilst that sounds great on paper, I fear it has become a bit contrived and inauthentic. Photographically speaking, it has opened up new lines of work for 'Content Creators', which is great, but seemingly a lot of the time, the volumes of social content required by labels vs the budget they have, often equals poor quality. A musician once said to me “a post a day keeps the label away” - and I think that pretty much sums up what I am trying to say here (!)

I have a love-hate relationship with Instagram. Whilst I like the community aspect, and enjoy it as a platform to connect with other photographers and musicians - as a visual first platform, it does not respect the image makers which utterly infuriates me. It is dangerous for the livelihoods of photographers and their work. Respecting an artist's copyright, whatever industry you are in, is an absolute must. Instagram, however, which is arguably at the forefront of how most of us consume digital imagery nowadays, have created a “share culture” where more often than not, our work is shared, copied, distributed and altered without our direct permission. I would use Instagram a lot more if it respected the art I have worked so hard to create.

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

Without a doubt, John Lennon, for obvious reasons. What a hero, a talent, a wonderful human being he was. He was really creative and loved photography as well, so I probably would have just geeked out over cameras and a cuppa!

In one word, how would you describe your photography?


How did it feel to be nominated in the Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards 2022?

Such an honour and a surprise! Thank you! It has given me the confidence I think I needed in myself.

Why do you think it is important to create a platform like the MPAs to showcase music photography?

Music photographers are arguably some of the most underpaid, overworked and undervalued creatives, and like in any industry where it is hard to fight for a fair fee, or even a credit on our work, it’s sometimes hard to not feel disheartened or to give it all up.

A platform like the MPAs not only recognises the imagery and skill and value music photography holds, but it can also inspire a whole new generation to pick up their camera and give it a go, purely for the love of the craft.

Everyone’s a photographer these days (with an iphone etc), so a platform that is dedicated to recognising good work and supporting creatives is really refreshing!

What have you been doing since the awards? And what is next?

I have been busy creating album artwork for a variety of musicians. It seems that a lot of music was written during the Covid period, and now a lot of musicians are preparing to release them and need artwork! It’s been a busy and highly creative few months! I can’t wait to see them released.

I never really know what’s next when it comes to photographing other people, but for myself, I’d like to continue to print more of my work in the darkroom. It’s a place I truly love to be, especially after a busy shoot - it’s quiet, dark (obviously) and allows you to fully immerse yourself in your work with zero distractions. I love to bring my work to life in this way when time and budget allows.
Don't forget to head to the official MPAs website to get a comprehensive overview of all the participants, nominations and winners.

To keep up with Nat, follow her on Instagram at @nat_michele and her website..

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