FL Shooting Star: Elleni Toumpas

A FasterLouder contributor turned professional photographer, Brisbane’s Elleni Toumpas (aka leni_t) boasts an ever-widening portfolio. Having shared some of her favourite shots with us, Elleni sits down for a quick chat about her exploits in the pit.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I first started shooting for FasterLouder in 2006 and since then have also started shooting for local street press Rave magazine and Tsunami magazine and freelancing for national website Mess+Noise.

In 2008 I was accepted into a Queensland Government supported mentorship program, where I spent close to a year documenting Australian musician Kate Miller-Heidke. This resulted in my first exhibition, after a half-grant funded trip to the US to document the recording of her current album Curiouser, and cementing my interest in turning this hobby into something more serious.

In 2009 I co-curated and co-produced the first UnderExposed exhibition, live music and forum series which pretty much took over my life for the first four months of 2009.

Out of the music limelight and in the middle of 2009, I began working full-time as a freelance photographer and moved into an emerging artists studio in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. With this time and in this space I also photograph band promos for local musicians and have picked up many other corporate and lifestyle clients.

What drew you to the world of music photography?

What drew me in about photographing live music was the adrenalin rush. To me pit shooting is like the extreme sports of photography. You have to be as prepared as you can be, but once you are in that pit you have your reflexes and experience behind you, but also the fate of the rock gods in front of you to dictate a successful shoot. When you are in the pit and something is thrown at you I guess it’s just how quick you can adapt to that challenge and use your experience to get the most out of the shoot.

For me music photography is also about having the chance to photograph hidden moments caught on stage. The glances the singer shares after each song with their partner in the band, a quiet intimate reflective moment in the middle of a massive rock performance. And lastly, being vertically challenged, for the first three songs I can actually see what’s going on onstage, as opposed to being a paid punter standing on tippy toes and trying to catch a glimpse of the musician’s head.

What is the best gig you’ve shot?

The best gig I ever shot question is always a hard one to answer. When people ask me this question I always ask back: “In terms of the show I got my best shot? (Marilyn Manson 2007, Sounds of Spring 2008, Kate Miller Heidke at Woodford). Or the artist with the best lighting? (Anything at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre). Or the artist I liked the most? (Bloc Party, Muse, Dresden Dolls, Georgia Potter, Kate Miller Heidke). Or the one where the music and performance drew me in as an instant fan? (Maximo Park, Drawn from Bees). Or gigs that mark milestones in my career (shooting Pink in 2007; it was my first assignment for Rave and exactly a year after I first shot a gig)”. It’s always a hard one to answer.

What is the worst gig you’ve shot?

Photographically the worst gigs are the shows that you either stuff up behind the camera, or the lights are just horrible, or the musician is uninspiring. But in all honestly these are just more challenges. Actually, usually the worst gigs for me are the ones where I have been dragged along as a punter and do not have a camera in hand! I start getting the shakes and can’t bear to watch the photographers shoot from the pit.

Tip for aspiring photographers?

I guess to have respect. Respect for yourself and your art, but also the same time a respect for fellow photographers, for security, for PR reps, for your editors. Everyone is out there trying to do their job, including us photographers. Everyone’s job is just as important as another’s.

Even if you are just starting out in your career with FasterLouder, show respect much the same way you would show your boss, clients or work colleagues. Respect and being humble can get you a long way and open more doors then being rude and self-centred. This gets doors closed in your face a lot quicker.

I guess also to realise that the industry has many, many hurdles that will be between you and that pass, that opportunity, your dream or your own well-being. Be prepared to be knocked around a few times, but if you are really motivated and passionate you will find it easer to bounce back.