Andrew White’s best photograph: Beyoncé exits the stage glimmering

‘She had been performing for an hour and a half and was heading for a costume change. But she still looks flawless – every sequin glimmers’

I’ve worked for Beyoncé on and off since 2016 when I was invited to shoot her Formation tour, shortly after she released Lemonade. I’ve shot her countless times since, but this is the photo in which, more than any other, I felt like I really nailed it.

I took it in Los Angeles on 23 September 2018, when she was nearing the end of her On the Run II tour with her husband, Jay-Z. Touring is gruelling for everyone, the pace just doesn’t let up. We were around 40 shows into the tour, but she never flagged. She exudes a raw, visceral energy that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

This was the moment she was backstage to change costumes after singing Upgrade U, one of her earlier songs. She had already been performing for an hour and a half, but she still looks flawless. I had a few seconds to get the shot amid the chaos of lights and choreography and song transitions.

The image encapsulates her confidence, swagger and elegance – the total command she has. Beyonce has been a mainstream figure in pop culture for 20 years, but she seems to have reached a level of maturity and sophistication that means she isn’t a singer so much as a creator of landmark moments. The lights, the audience in the background, the sense of movement and the outfit are what make this shot special to me. I love that every single sequin glimmers.

I started out shooting concerts for small blogs on the LA music scene, mostly so I could get free entry to see bands I liked, but it wasn’t what I cared most about. I was a skate fanatic as a teen and young adult. It was only because I lost my job at a skate company that I came to photography. But starting out shooting concerts was an amazing experience: you have to learn about light, to shoot quickly and deal with so much going on all at once.

Today, most of my work is portraiture for magazines. In fact, the Beyoncé job was the first time I’d ever been to a sellout stadium concert, let alone photographed one. But it offered challenges and opportunities that ordinary photojournalism couldn’t.

Most of the time in portraiture, you have limited time with your subject, maybe just a few hours. But working with someone over a six-month tour means you can take risks. On my first job with her in 2016, I spent the first 10 or 15 shows shooting what I thought she wanted. I think they were happy with my work, but there was a risk of it becoming formulaic.

I learned that I could experiment. One of Beyoncé’s greatest strengths as the centre of the massive team that creates a world tour is the ability to let people do what they do best and give them the space to succeed. I gained the confidence to push myself. I would set myself challenges, like only using an 85mm lens, or experimenting with flash and shutter speeds.

That process led to this shot. I wanted to shoot Beyoncé in motion at a low shutter speed so you achieve these streaks of light and the blurring, but getting it right involved such trial and error. It’s only with months to fail over and over again that eventually you get the shot you wanted all along. Repetition allows you to predict when a moment might happen and capture it as you envisage it.

Shooting someone like Beyoncé means you have to think about movement in minute detail. She isn’t sitting in a studio, and her focus isn’t on you, the photographer. Her shows are a frenzy of visuals, flashing lights and complex choreography. What’s essential isn’t just getting a shot of the artist, but taking a photograph that captures the energy that passes between them and the crowd. It’s a communal moment, something bigger than just one person. The way the light shoots across the crowd captures that as well as I could have hoped to.

Whether I’m in a studio, on as assignment or on a six-month world tour, the aim is the same: to capture the essence of a feeling.

Andrew White’s CV

Andrew White.
Andrew White. Photograph: Robin Harper

Born: Santa Monica, California, 1986.

Studied: Photojournalism and documentary photography at the International Center of Photography, New York City.

Influences: Philip Montgomery, Alec Soth, Taryn Simon, Driely S, Julian Klincewicz, Erik Tanner and Errol Rainey.

High point: “Shooting Beyoncé’s Coachella performance.”

Low point: “Losing my job at a skateboarding company after high school. But ultimately, that’s what led me to photography.”

Top tip: “Ask a lot of questions. Never stop being curious.”

www.andrewwhite.nyc, @andrewwhitey

Contributor

Interview by Edward Siddons

The GuardianTramp

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