As a festival photographer I have photographed many amazing festivals worldwide, amongst them are Tomorrowland, Ultra Music Festival, A State Of Trance, Amsterdam Music Festival and Magic Break festival. And what I’ve found out from my years of experience as a festival photographer is that although every festival is different and unique, that you can give yourself a head start if you take the following tips into consideration when you are going to shoot your next festival or music event.
Tip 1. Start photographing before the festival starts
I always like to be at the festival before the event starts, especially when it's the first time when they hire me as a photographer to shoot the festival. This gives me some extra time to explore the terrain, know where the stages are and know where I have to be at certain times. And in the beginning there will be less sensory input. The fewer stimuli you have to process, the more space it will leave to think creatively. So on my first walk around the festival terrain I always go look for detailed shots. These are photos of objects that don't need visitors to be an interesting addition to the story I want to tell. And during the editing process of the photos. I change the position of these photos to try and create a story that follows a chronological timeline.
Tip 2. Try to think in term of dividing energy at the festival
I always try to think in terms of dividing energy, energy for me as the festival photographer because sometimes you are shooting for 10 hours straight. So I always try to drink enough water and have a healthy lunch before I start, and don’t over eat during dinner to avoid the after dinner dip. But I also think in terms of energy from the audience. If you are shooting a festival where you know that the visitors have been looking forward to. Then you can assume that in the beginning there will be a lot of energy and enthusiasm among the visitors. That is why I always try to be present at that moment. So I can try to photograph that form of relief.
Tip 3. Take candid shots when photographing at festivals
What I love most about festivals and event photography is taking candid shots and those are shots of people who are clearly living in the moment and are having a nice interaction with each other and are living carelessly. They are not thinking about what they are going to have for breakfast tomorrow, or that time back in kindergarten when they were bullied. The best moments are moments of people that are in the here and now. These moments often occur through interaction. So I always look for moments where people are looking into each other's eyes. And where they radiate a certain energy.
Tip 4. Staying in a positive flow when rejecting people’s photo request at a festival
At festivals you will always find visitors asking you to take portrait photos of them and their group. And these are not the kind of spontaneous photos I like to take, or photos that my clients like to use. So I always try to avoid having to take these kinds of shots.
What i found out is when you say no, people tend to feel rejected and when people feel rejected that puts them in a bad mood. And that indirectly puts me in a bad flow of my own energy. So I always try to avoid this by being friendly and giving a nice compliment.
“You look very photogenic, but I’m not focusing on these kinds of photos right now.”
And in some cases I ask them if I should take the photos with one of their phones. This way they don’t feel that rejected, and the nice interaction I have with these people gives me energy instead of draining it.
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Tip 5. Shooting indoor stages at festival
When I switch from shooting the outdoor stage to shooting indoor stages at a festival, I always take into consideration that there will be a lot less or almost no natural light. Light moves super fast. So fast that your camera can’t make the right calculation for you. That’s why I always switch from AV mode to manual mode. Because this gives me more control over my camera settings. There is no right formula for having the perfect camera settings each time. But there are a few points I take into consideration.
Think in light. Where does the light come from? I'm trying to find a pattern in the lighting plan. A good lighting technician usually adjusts his lighting plan to the rhythm of the music. That way you can try to predict when what kind of light will come.
Never go lower in your shutter speed than the focal point of your lens
Listen to the music and shoot at a climax moment
Always keep your camera as still as possible when using a slow shutter speed
When I enter an indoor stage and I see that the tent is full of smoke, I sometimes choose to come back later. A tent full of smoke almost never the right environment for beautiful photos. But keep in mind that a little smoke can also create a beautiful effect in your photos!
Tip 6. Don’t be annoying when photographing the DJs at the festival
As an event photographer at a festival it's very important that you take into consideration that you're not annoying towards the artists and the DJs. They are there to do a job, and this is more important than you taking a photo.
Always ask the stage manager if you can go onstage. And understand that if you are on stage. You are entering the office of the DJ. I also take into consideration that it can be annoying if you're standing right in front of them, but if there's a moment that you can take an awesome shot then go for it! But when you do, have a firm plan before you start. Because if you do this more than once during a DJ set, you can become annoying.
Step by step plan to shoot in front on the DJ on stage.
Feel the vibe and check if it’s the right time for this plan
Listen to the music and try to time the climax
Take your position when the time is right
Aim and focus on a nice composition
Shoot until you think the moment is over.
Tip 7. Shoot a closing photo of the festival
At the end of every festival I always try to take a money shot. For me this means a photo that really captures all the energy of the crowd with the main stage, with the DJ having his hands in the air and if possible some extra special effects like fireworks or pyro’s. This is the type of photo the organization is wanting or willing to use on their social media at the end to thank the visitors for their visit.
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🙋♂️ About Me! Michiel Ton! Great to meet you!
I am an international festival and event photographer, with a lot of experience in corporate events and festivals. In addition to being a full-time photographer, I also graduated as a teacher of social studies. I have a passion for creating unforgettable memories through my photography!
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