Festival Photography hints and tips

This is the 3rd of the 4 blogs on surviving and enjoying festivals. This one contains hints and tips relevant not only to festival photography and festival video, but to general live performance video’s and stills

Chose the right equipment – stills

If you are doing pub, club or festival photography, you will have one common problem – lack of light, and where the light is coming from
Let’s take a pub scenario first
Most pubs have very little “Stage lighting”, it you are lucky it will be a 2-4 100Watt lightbulbs, positioned above front of the band. This is fine for the audience, they can see the band. It’s great for the band – they can see their instruments, their music if they use it, and will be able to see the audience.
But it’s a real pain for the photographer! No illumination on the faces of the players, and the drummer will be in darkness.
Things aren’t made much better if the band bring their own illumination. The problem is that they want to be able to see the audience, so they put the lights on the floor, which now means that all you have is a band that all look like halloween ghouls as the light comes from below them!
So what can you do?

Always be there for the setup and sound-check period. As they are doing their soundcheck, find out where everyone stands. Probably by adjusting the lights just a little at least the lead singer and guitarist can get some reasonable illumination on them.
Is there somewhere different that you can stand to make use of different lighting sources? – you might be able to get some great shots by standing behind the band and shooting out towards the audience. Shots from the side can also help you make the most of the light. Rim-shots – ones where the light is directly behind the singer or musician can be particularly atmospheric.

The question of flash guns is always a great topic in the bar amongst the photographers in the bar at a festival. I personally never use them – they piss the band off, the audience don’t like them, and they end up knocking out the lighting if overused. Maybe a compromise is to run them at 1/16 to 1/64 – at least then you might be able to get eye catchlights without the downsides mentioned above.


Joe Bonamassa at High Voltage
Slash at High Voltage

Choosing your kit

It doesn’t matter what brand of camera you have however
High ISO performance is essential – I set my camera up at ISO 12,800 to start with – and most of the time that is essential
Fast lenses are essential – aim for F2.8 or better
Have 2 cameras – one loaded with a 70-120 F2.8
and another with a 18-70mm F2.8
You will then be able to cover all of the basic shots in small and medium venues.

Even these festival photography shots that you see here, were created using that combination
I also use camera slings. Two pro cameras with fast lenses weigh a ton. Slings enable you to change cameras in the dark really quickly, and can be set up such that the cameras are behind you when not in use – a great boon for getting through the audience without damaging the cameras, or the people who have paid to be there

Know your kit!

More important than having the right kit, knowing how to use it in a club and pub  environment is essential
You will be in the dark, learn how to

  • Change your lens by touch alone
  • Change your memory card or battery in less than 2 seconds, and have a system where full cards are kept in a different place from ones that are empty
  • Be able to change the main settings – f-stop, shutter-speed, and ISO without looking for the dials.

Festival photography - Black Stone Cherry - Chris Robertson

A few words on GoPros

GoPros should be great – small unobtrusive, up to 4K, and are a accepted by broadcasters. But they need some handling
The big problems with them are overheating and battery drain – particularly on the GoPro 4
Here are some things to consider

A GoPro with a battery backpack, in a warm club and standard waterproof handling will overheat and stop working after 17-18 minutes
There is insufficient battery life in a standard GoPro to cover a normal performance
We therefore use open back, Aircraft grade Aluminium cases with external batteries to get around these issues

When coupled with 128GByte cards(Be wary, not all GoPros can take this standard), will give guaranteed, high performance throughout even the longest of sets.

Note thtat the GoPro 4's all have open backed aluminium cases

Things to consider that are specific to video

Whilst festival photography is still required, most clients want video as well.
Use a monopod – it gives you the stability without the bulk of a tripod, but, watch out for “live floors”.
Some floors were originally designed as dance floors , and they pass bass vibrations to the camera very effectively leading to a very funky “Vibration effect” – great as an effect, but it will totally ruin the general footage.
If you are on a “live floor”, put the monopod on your foot – which acts as a good shock and vibration absorber!

Again, high ISO performance is essential. Whilst you can take out noise from stills reasonably quickly by using de-noising software, doing the same on video takes so long that it really can’t be considered

Festival Photography and Video Specific Hints and Tips

You are in competition with up to 120,000 cameras! You need to plan around the possibility that your shot isn’t used and you don’t get  all the payment and credits due to you.

We find that “Fast” is better than “Best” By this I mean that getting the shots to the commissioning editor at the earliest possible moment is key to getting them published.

Therefore our workflow looks like this

1.Take the shots, and load them onto a device such as an iPad

3.Select the ones you want to use, and by either using the crew wi-fi, or by using your phone  tethered to the iPad, and upload using your standard service providers data network. However, there is still a problem with this approach

For the reasons given in the first of these festival blogs, it may not be possible to get a reliable signal, therefore it may be necessary to do the uploads overnight, when mast usage reduces.

Festival photography drone shot

This is part 3 of a 4 part series

Check out Part 1 – Surviving a festival – A little bit of planning goes a long way here

Check out part 2 – Large festival survival – and how to camp in style here

Part 4 is coming soon

Related Images: