Chelsea Jade. - Photograph by Dave Simpson

FromThePit was started by the experienced photographers Dave Simpson and Reuben Raj in 2019. Its aim was to highlight the wonderful and varied work done by New Zealand gig photographers. Each year during NZ Music Month, a collection of images is chosen by a group of curators and then put on display. In the first year there was an exhibition at Flying Out Records, then the following two years saw the event set up at Monster Valley further down Karangahape Road; satellite exhibitions were launched in Wellington and Christchurch.

From the start, Phantom Billstickers were also involved and, with support of the NZ Music Commission, each year they print out a couple of the images as large-scale posters and put them in high profile spots around Auckland. IMNZ (Independent Music New Zealand) were also early supporters and each year the video collection of FromThePit images is premiered at the Taite Music Prize event at Q Theatre (which IMNZ runs).

Thee Golden Geese. - Photograph by Dave Simpson

In 2022 and 2023, FromThePit became part of Fotofest, which allowed them to also put on some public talks. The exhibition has continued to find new ways to reach audiences in the years since, as when they made use of the council’s video screens in the public library and Aotea Square. As the years have gone by, the number of entries sent in to be considered for FromThePit has grown massively so Dave Simpson now works alongside a team of curators to pick out the best shots and run the exhibition

The easiest way to check out this year’s collection is via the video collection, which is posted at the end of this article. But let’s go through a few favourites from throughout the years to get a sense of the skills on show. While everyone at a gig now has a chance to take their own pics with the phone in their pocket, there are some special qualities that make the work of dedicated photographers shine out.

Surf Friends – photograph by Dave Simpson

At the heart of every great gig photograph is its ability to capture a moment in time. The image below is by FromThePit founder, Dave Simpson. The two-piece Surf Friends are known for jumping around like energiser bunnies, so he used black and white to crisply capture the bassist in the mid-leap (undeterred by the small space of Flying Out Record Store). Black and white is always a popular option for gig photography since it harks back to the classic band photos of the sixties.

Surf Friends at Flying Out. - Photograph by Dave Simpson

Julia Deans – photograph by Stella Gardiner

When it comes to colour images, the lighting and production effects can often provide interesting hues and textures. However, smoke machines are both a blessing and a curse since they can make the artist look otherworldly but also risk making the image look out of focus. The next image is by Stella Gardiner (another of the FromThePit curators) and it manages to show the moment when the smoke has begun to clear, but enough remains to create a ghostly cloud around Julia Deans.

Julia Deans at Bodega, Wellington. - Photograph by Stella Gardiner

Foley – photograph by Charlotte Bruin

Often there are lighting rigs at the side-of-stage and a sharp-eyed photographer can use these to their advantage, by taking account of where they sit behind the artist. This image shows rising pop duo Foley, comprising Ash Wallace and Gabriel Everett. They’ve become favourites on local radio but also put on a great live show and this image hints at the drama of a concert in full swing.

Foley. - Photograph by Charlotte Bruin

Erny Belle – photograph by Stephanie Cartwright

As the name of the exhibition suggests, gig photographers are often positioned within the narrow lane of space directly in front of the stage called the “photographer’s pit” [or “press pit”]. When the stage is high, this can provide an awkward angle for shooting. From this low vantage point, the mic often covers much of a singer’s face and the foldback speakers often block other areas of the stage. This next shot manages to include just enough of singer Erny Belle’s face and the low angle adds a sense of theatricality which matches her expressive posture and the soft tones of the stage lighting.

Erny Belle. - Photograph by Stephanie Cartwright

Written By Wolves – photograph by Samantha Davies

The next image makes even better use of the low angle of the photographers’ pit by incorporating a fish-eye lens effect and capturing the singer when he is looking directly down the barrel. Some may recognise the singer in question as Michael Murphy – the runner-up on NZ Idol in 2004. He now fronts hard rock act, Written By Wolves, who have toured regularly overseas and have a large online fanbase with far more of their streams coming from the US and Australia than they get from NZ listeners.

Michael Murphy, Written By Wolves. - Photograph by Samantha Davies

Coast Arcade – photograph by Chloe Tredgett

Of course, the classic live shot is of a singer straining to hit a note, since it instantly conveys emotion. In this next pic, there’s even more added drama due to the two lights in the background cutting through the darkness. One of the nice things about FromThePit is that it focuses on the photos, not the star power of the artist, so often fresh, exciting acts appear alongside seasoned pros. In this case, the band is Coast Arcade who may be youthful but already have a great reputation through being incredibly active on the live scene since forming in 2021.

Coast Arcade. - Photograph by Chloe Tredgett

Elipsa – photograph by Chontalle Musson

There are some acts that are trickier to shoot than others. A DJ can have a massive effect on a crowd, without necessarily being that active behind their equipment. One way a photographer can deal with this is to take a wider shot that captures both the stage and the crowd reaction, or which shows the DJ in the midst of production effects (lights, video screens, sometimes even fireworks). Another alternative is to get in close, as Chontalle Musson has in this image of singer and DJ, Elipsa. Musson often works within the EDM and pop scene which gives her access to get right on stage. She has also been a key person behind FromThePit events since 2020.

DJ and singer Elipsa. - Photograph by Chontalle Musson

Shepherds Reign – photograph by Mark Derricut

The metal band Shepherds Reign pose a unique challenge for photographers since the lead singer is buried in his mass of hair. Mark Derricut decided to embrace this fact by making it central to his photo of them. Derricut is a regular in the FromThePit shows and although he lives in Auckland, he has often supplied pics from the Smashfest festival held at Smash Palace in Gisborne – he has family in Napier so arranges trips around the event. His photos include heavier artists such as much-loved progressive hard rock band Coridian, the Rob Zombie cover band The Devil’s Rejects, and Christchurch’s Vixen Execution.

Shepherds Reign. - Photograph by Mark Derricut

Possum Plows (Openside) – photograph by Steve Bone

The audience at a live show is an integral part of a great performance but are sometimes hard to put into a photograph because they are lit quite differently to the act onstage. These next two shots are perfectly timed and with the right camera settings to capture cyclical energy between performer and crowd. Openside have a uniquely close connection with their fans and the next image reflects the feeling of positivity in the room.

Openside Seamless Hamilton, 2018. - Photograph by Steve Bone

Tom Scott (Home Brew) – photograph by Ryo Nishikawa

Home Brew have gathered a similarly devoted fanbase in the years since their original formation in 2006. Here, the crowd look like they're hanging on every word out of Tom Scott's mouth.

Home Brew. - Photograph by Ryo Nishikawa

Nathan Haines – photograph by Steve Bone

The two previous shots give a better sense of the mood in the room than a more close-up image of the artist. However, it is sometimes a shame when there is no indication of which venue they were taken at – as if the artist shown could be performing anywhere. This next shot pans out to capture the wider space to tremendous effect, with local jazz legend Nathan Haines positioned perfectly under the columns in the Auckland Museum foyer.

Nathan Haines at Auckland Museum, 2019. - Photograph by Steve Bone

Benee – photograph by Chris Zwaagdyk

Benee is undoubtedly New Zealand’s biggest breakout star of the 2020s. She is often seen in live shows bounding around the stage or pulling a dramatic pose, so it’s interesting to see the approach taken by Chris Zwaadyk. His shot is so close-up that it’s more like portraiture. The viewer is left with the impression that not only is Benee a charismatic, joyful pop star but also a musician with an intense focus on her work (which is no doubt how she’s achieved such tremendous success).

Benee at the Powerstation, Auckland. - Photograph by Chris Zwaagdyk

Eno X Dirty – photograph by Shelley Te Haara

The discussion so far has mainly been on the process of photography, but of course the charisma and mana of the artists themselves bring a huge amount to the image too. Eno X Dirty were a rap duo that came out of Grey Lynn in 2017 and created a huge buzz from their first track ‘Shampoo and Conditioner’. Manu aka Dirty shows represents his roots with a serious pūkana in this shot.

Eno X Dirty. - Photograph by Shelley Te Haara

Jujulipps – photograph by Maeve O’Connell

Rapper Jujulipps oozes coolness in the image below, which is amplified by the light shining off her sunglasses. Her effort to bring the Afrobeat sound to New Zealand stages saw her awarded the Auckland Live Best Independent Debut for her Get That Shot EP at the Taite Music Awards in 2024. Photographer Maeve O’Connell is also involved with curating the FromThePit series.

Jujulipps. - Photograph by Maeve O'Connell

SACHI – photograph by Tom Grut

On some occasions, the moment itself just has an ineffable quality. The pop duo SACHI have had some massive online hits (‘Sparking My Fire’ and ‘Shelter’), but New Zealand audiences are just as likely to know them for their live shows, where the ultra-blonde pair dress in matching white jumpsuits and are always in constant motion. Photographer Tom Grut managed to capture a moment when the group’s Will Thomas was toying with a stage towel just as explosions erupt on the screen behind him. It’s fun and buoyant, just like the group themselves.

SACHI.  - Photograph by Tom Grut

L.A.B. – photograph by Doug Peters

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that if you’re a fan of gig photography then a regular website to keep up with live shots and reviews of gigs is the Ambient Light blog run by Doug Peters. Of course, Peters has had plenty of his own shots featured in FromThePit over the years and this one of L.A.B. from the 2020 shows just how effective wide-angle can be when trying to show the full span of the stage. As always, it just comes down to finding that perfect moment to click the shutter button…

LAB, Spark Arena Auckland. - Photograph by Doug Peters


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