At just 21 years old, Irish photographer and director Christian Tierney has shot major international celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres, The Weeknd, Katy Perry, and homegrown heroes like Niall Horan.
The self-taught Dubliner has had a camera in his hand for the best part of his young adult life.
With an impressive showreel of bespoke music videos for artists such as Macklemore and James Bay, Tierney collaborated on a custom photography and videography series for UFC champ Conor McGregor that would eventually send his own profile as an emerging talent to astral levels.
The 21-year-old took a minute from his hectic schedule - currently touring with Niall Horan and capturing the singer's European tour - to talk to IrishCentral.com about how and why it all began and what's next on the agenda.
What spurred your love for photography? How did you get your start?
CT: "I’ve always been obsessed with art and anything visual. When I was 11 or 12 years old I borrowed my dad’s camcorder to make skate videos with my friends and I really enjoyed it so I got my own camera for Christmas. It was just a hobby but over the next couple of years I started to love it more and more and I spent hundreds of hours on YouTube watching tutorials to learn how to shoot and edit professionally. Soon after I got my first proper camera when I was 14, I was asked by a local musician to make him a music video. I’ve always been obsessed with music too so I jumped at the chance to earn a little bit of money by putting my two passions together. After my last day of school before summer, my dad drove me into the city, I made the music video, absolutely loved the experience and just put everything into shooting music from that moment onwards. I started a YouTube channel where I posted my music videos and got to work with bigger and bigger musicians, then I started photographing the artists too because my camera could do photo and video, and somehow it just snowballed over seven years to where I am now."
Did you have any "big break" moments?
CT: "I’ve definitely had a few stand out moments. The first was when I got to shoot Macklemore when I was 15, just before he got really successful. I used to email every single artist coming to Dublin on tour and I’d be lucky to get one reply out of every hundred I sent. At that time Macklemore was an underground Seattle rapper trying to make a bit of a name for himself internationally and luckily his manager was one of those few who replied to me saying yes. I was a huge fan of his and I got to shoot him for a day, and then about a month later, Thrift Shop came out and he blew up to the megastar he is now. Having his name on my portfolio that early massively helped me out when approaching other big artists and that really pushed my career forward at a young age."
"The next stand out moment happened when I was 17. Similar to the Macklemore story, James Bay was practically unknown at the time and was playing a tiny show in Dublin to less than 100 people. I went down to film an acoustic video with him for my YouTube channel and he said he’d just finished writing a new song called Let It Go and wanted to do that for the video. That video ended up getting over 6.5 million views and Let It Go is now a major hit all around the world. All of a sudden millions of people were seeing my work and my channel grew massively. I also started to get a reputation as someone who could pick who the next big artists were going to be so more and more people wanted to work with me and I had a lot more credibility in the industry."
"Skip forward a few years and getting to work really closely with Conor McGregor for his fight against Floyd Mayweather was obviously a huge break for me. I went from shooting one off gigs for musicians in Ireland and the UK to spending months documenting one of the biggest stars in the world during the build up to what would be the biggest sporting event in history, having my work regularly posted to his 20+ million followers. This took my work to a whole new level and I’m so grateful to Conor for allowing me that access and giving me an opportunity like that."
What happened when you came to the US? You got close to some pretty amazing A-listers?
CT: "Yeah I photographed an amazing event in Montecito, California this February. A friend of mine, Ursula Nesbitt and her husband Patrick held a one day charity event called the Kick Ash Bash in their home and polo estate to raise money for those affected by the tragic fires and mudslides that took many lives and homes in Santa Barbara a few months ago. The whole community came together and many locals like Katy Perry, Ellen DeGeneres, Charlie Puth, Michael Keaton, Kenny Loggins and loads more came down to perform and show their support and say thanks to the brave first responders. It was a really special day and I was so lucky to be able to capture it all."
What do you shoot on?
CT: "For photos I use a Canon 5D Mark iii and my go to lenses are a 50mm f1.4, 24-70mm f2.8 and 135mm f2. For video I use a Sony a7s ii."
Whose work inspires you and why?
CT: "There are so many great music photographers at the moment. A few of my favourites are my friend Conor McDonnell who works with Calvin Harris, Ellie Goulding etc. Matty Vogel who’s currently touring with Thirty Seconds To Mars and Hélène Pambrun who’s touring with Harry Styles. There’s a celebrity photographer named Greg Williams, he shoots a lot of actors and I love his work because he has really good relationships and trust with everyone he shoots and you can really feel the intimacy and realness in his photos. That’s something I strive to achieve. The legendary Sebastião Salgado also inspires me massively, his work is absolutely mind blowing."
Describe your average month - are you on the road a lot? Is it a tough lifestyle to keep up with?
CT: "I don’t really have an average month because my job is always changing. One month I might be photographing loads of gigs at home in Dublin for loads of different artists, then another month I might be traveling lots or doing more video than photography. At the moment I’m touring around Europe with Niall Horan which is really hectic but so fun, I absolutely love it. I’m in a beautiful new city every day with brilliant people and then I get to shoot a huge show every night. Shooting the same artist and same show over and over again on a tour is a really great challenge because I have to find ways to make my photos different each night."
What do you do in your down time?
CT: "My work takes up a lot of my time because I don’t really think of it as a job but when I’m not working I’m usually listening to music, binge watching TV shows or spending time with friends. I also love making music. I don't release any of it, I just really enjoy the process of it and it's one of the few things I can do where my mind almost switches off and I won't think about anything else for the few hours I'm doing it."
If you weren't following this path - what would you be doing instead?
CT: "To be honest I’ve no idea. I was so young when I started doing this that I never really considered anything else. I find psychology really interesting so maybe something in that area. I’d always have to be doing something creative or musical though, whether it was my job or just a hobby."
What's next for you?
CT: "I just want to keep doing what I’m doing, always learning, making work I’m proud of with artists I love."