The summer is here, the sun is shining (sometimes), and fields all over the country are about to be bursting with with muddy boots and sound waves. Festival season is here, and if you’ve got a festival ticket and a passion for photography, you might like to bring along your camera. Read on for our festival photography tips, and you can capture the energy and colour of the summer.
If you’re interested in trying your hand at festival photography, you’ll need to pack more than your camera. Some extra equipment you will need includes:
- Spare camera batteries. You’re unlikely to have an opportunity to charge your camera on site. Bring plenty of spare batteries if you want to take photos all weekend long.
- Spare memory cards. They’re small, lightweight and will save you the frustration of missing great shots because you’re out of memory space.
- A comfortable camera strap will make your experience much more comfortable, and will minimise the risk of dropping your camera in crowded areas.
- Waterproof camera bag and cover. Even if the weather forecast is good, err on the side of caution.
- Hand wash and a bottle of water. Sun cream, mud and sticky drinks are all substances you don’t want on your camera. So be sure you can wash your hands before you reach into the camera bag.
- Lens wipes and micro fibre cloths. As with your hands, there’s always a risk of flying mud, rain or dust. Ensure you can give your camera a quick clean if necessary.
For the serious photographers:
- A tripod or monopod will help you capture those atmospheric night time shots in difficult lighting, although they can be cumbersome to carry around and set up.
- Zoom lens. A 24-70mm f/2.8 is widely considered to be the best “walk around” lens. Versatile and great for both close portraiture and distance zoom, it’ll help you get more out of your festival photography.
- Telephoto zoom lens for zooming in even closer and capturing the performers on stage. A 70-200mm f2/8 should be especially helpful if you can’t physically get so close.
- Ultra wide-angle lens. These are fantastic for capturing the scope and scale of the festival. Perfect for huge crowd shots, and capturing the whole stage.
Plan your fesitival photography shots
Check out photos from previous years
Most annual festivals have a section on their website dedicated to festival photography, and hashtags associated with the festival too. Browsing through the photographs from previous years is a great way to find some inspiration, as well as getting a practical idea of the layout and stage setups you can expect. This will give you some insight into what kind of shots and angles you might want to get before you even set off.
Get the lineup
Most bigger festivals have more than one act playing at once, so make your choices wisely! Prioritise the acts you most want to feature in your festival photography, and make sure not to miss your favourites. It’s worth keeping in mind that bigger and more popular bands are going to draw bigger crowds, making it harder for you to get close to the stage. If great festival photography is your main goal for the weekend, it might be worth spending your time seeing the lesser known bands and getting more intimate shots.
Scope out the stage
Once you’ve decided which acts you’re going to photograph, be sure to arrive at the stage very early. This will give you an opportunity to work out where the best angles and places to stand will be. Get there early and secure your spot before the crowds fill up. This is especially important if you’ve chosen to bring a tripod. Find a vantage point that’s going to give you some extra elbow room and height, and avoid the crowded scrum near the barrier.
As with any marathon photography event, it’s important to pace yourself. There are only so many spare batteries and memory cards you can bring with you, and they can power down and fill up fast when you’re caught up in the moment of capturing the perfect shot. The last thing you want to do is find yourself out of power or memory space before the biggest bands start to grace the stage later in the evening.
Don’t forget to conserve your own energy too. Most of us take better photographs when we’re not completely exhausted. So as tempting as it might be to get carried away once you “get in the zone”, be sure to take plenty of breaks throughout the day.
Festival photography opportunities
Festivals are a unique opportunity to photograph high energy performances, bright costumes and crowds of excited festival goers. With so much to see and do, it can be easy to get distracted and lose focus. So we’ve listed a few of our favourite festival photography opportunities to help you get started.
Let the stage technicians light your shot for you
The performers on stage are the most obvious things to photograph, but definitely not to be missed! Unlike most photography, you have no control over either the subject or the lighting. You’re an observer, not a director. So keep your camera ready and be patient. One lighting effect to look out for is the spotlight. A spotlighted singer against a dark stage makes for a much more striking shot than an evenly lit stage. Get your timing right, and you can capture a really dramatic photograph.
Another creative way to capture the on-stage action is to photograph the performers in silhouette. To get your silhouettes clear and sharp, you need to take your picture when the lights are behind the performers. Adjust your camera settings to deliberately underexpose the shot and close up the aperture. Take a test shot; if it’s completely dark with no backlight, you’re on the right track! Once the backlight glows up, get snapping to capture your perfect silhouette.
Photograph the festival goers
All lenses are pointed at the main stage, but the attendees have as much of an impact on the vibe and experience of the festival as bands do. If you really want to capture the feeling of the event, you need to feature these people in your festival photography. Is it a sunny flower crowns and glittery face paint kind of crowd? Or bravely singing along through the knee-deep mud and heavy rain?
A mixture of candid shots and portraits is ideal. Take a street-photography approach to swoop in on people letting loose, or taking a quiet snooze outside their tent. Festivals are a great opportunity to practice your portrait photography too, with many people feeling more open and relaxed, or adding theatrical costume elements to their clothing. Go out and talk to people, and you’re sure to find many of them are open to being photographed and will gladly strike a pose.
Play with light
The lighting at festivals can be difficult to navigate as a photographer. Bright colours, strobes, smoke machines and fireworks can all have a huge impact on your photography. But this is also an opportunity to play with the light, too! Rise to the challenge by working with the light, not against it. If you brought your tripod, use a long, slow shutter speed to capture light trails from sparklers and glow sticks.
Capture the scale
It’s easy to underestimate just how many people attend music festivals, especially the larger ones that admit thousands of people. Even for the attendees themselves, when you’re right down in the crowd, the sheer scale of the event isn’t always evident. Find a high vantage point, such as a hill, and overwhelm your audience with the sheer volume of people crowding around the main stage. Combine this alongside intimate portraits and in-crowd shots, and really give your viewer a sense of what it’s like to be there.
Tell the story
All photography is about telling a visual story, and festival photography is no different. Establish the scene, and revel in the details of the event. If it rains, capture an image with muddy wellies as a focal point. If the food is particularly good, a delicious burger in the foreground with the rest of the scene out of focus looks great. Themed décor, summery drinks and colourful signage are all little details that are easy to forget but fun to remember when you look back on your photographs. Look out for quirky stalls and fun costumes, and use a narrow depth of field to bring your subject to the front.
No matter how great your shots of the star performers are, you don’t want them to be the only things you shoot all weekend. Take a walk around the festival and look for inspiration that’s less obvious. Capture stall holders during a quiet lull, roadies sound-checking the equipment, or peaceful early morning tents to give your viewer a realistic sense of place. These are all people that make the festival too, and it’s capturing moments like these that give you an opportunity to let your festival photography tell a rich, multi-layered story.
Technical tips for your festival photography
If you’re new to festival photography, we’ve got a few pointers to help you get started. As always, being familiar with your camera’s settings and interface will avoid unnecessary frustration at the event.
Shoot in Raw. If you want to shoot like a pro, always shoot in Raw. It makes a world of difference to how much you can adjust your images in editing after. This is especially relevant to music festivals, where you’ll be photographing into the night and having to shoot in uneven stage lighting. Raw footage takes up a lot more memory space, but it’s worth it.
No flash. As with most situations, camera flash isn’t the best. Many people think that a stage with low-lighting is the exception to this rule, but the flash from your camera has no effect on the lighting on the performer. At best, you’ll end up casting unflattering light on the crowd around you, not the stage.
Choose the right shutter speed. If you’re shooting in low light conditions, you’ll need to go for a slower shutter speed to allow more light into the camera, but don’t attempt this without a tripod to steady your camera. Alternatively if you haven’t brought a tripod, you’ll likely find your best festival photography opportunities are during daylight shows. Look out for high energy performances like rock bands, when you’ll want to use a high shutter speed to freeze the movement.
Tailor your aperture to suit the act. Controlling the aperture can help you convey mood and tell your story as a photographer. A deep depth of field (f/11-f/22) is good for capturing the whole stage with sharpness, perfect for capturing the energy of a whole band playing together. Alternatively, set a larger aperture to capture an atmospheric shot of a solo artist in focus, while the rest of the stage fades into the background behind them.
Crank up the ISO in low light. If you’re dealing with dim lighting, try opening up your aperture (f/1.4 or f/2.8) and selecting a high ISO. Don’t worry too much if your image has a lot of noise. Many editing programs have fairly good noise reduction tools, so it’s better to have a noisy shot than a hopelessly blurred shot. Converting your image to black and white can also help tone down unwanted image noise.
How to deal with red light. Lighting technicians love it, photographers hate it. Red lighting on stage is common, but it’s also the worst colour for over-exposing the details and losing data in your image. If you’re seeing a lot of red light during a performance, the best way to navigate around this is to deliberately underexpose your photo and add some brightness back into your image during editing later. Again, this technique requires you to shoot in Raw.
As a burgeoning photographer, festivals are events that are bursting with inspiration and opportunities to take the kind of photos you just can’t capture anywhere else. The living, constantly moving nature of festivals that makes them tricky to photograph is exactly what makes them so fun to shoot. You might not score your most perfectly composed, sharpest shots, but the aim is to convey the emotions and excitement of the event.
If you capture some great images at a festival this summer, why not tell your story in a CEWE PHOTOBOOK? With a choice of professional photographic papers to bring out the vibrancy of your photographs, and our Layflat binding to present your wide-angle shots seamlessly, it’s a wonderful way to showcase your very best work.