8 tips for a starting festival photographer
Updated: Aug 15
As festival photographer you’ll be at the best parties, you’ll be practicing your hobby, you’ll be making new friends and, while doing this, you’ll be at places many people don’t have access to. If you do it well, it won't feel like you are working. There is no official education or school to go to, to become a festival photographer. You will have to teach it to yourself while doing it. In the six years I have practiced this profession, I made many mistakes and learned from them. To help you out as a starting event photographer I have listed a few tips. These tips only apply to photographer who already have gotten access to festivals. If you want to know how to get access, feel free to ready my post on how to become a festival photographer.
1. Be on time at the festival and take your time to introduce yourself as the photographer
When present, first meet your contact person. Explore the festival premises together if he or she has time. In the beginning it won’t be crowded yet at the festival, so this is the perfect moment to shoot some fun details. Don’t forget to visit the stage manager before you enter the stage. Introduce yourself and remember his or her name. Find out if there are spots on the stage you’re not allowed to be and see if there are any other ‘rules’ to follow. If you’re a good sport and obey the rules, you might be treated with a beer at the end of the day.
2. Make it look crowded at the festival
Sometimes the number of visitors is disappointing. Still, your client wants photos that express vividness and atmosphere. Therefore, avoid shooting empty spaces, bare fields and abandoned tents. One way of doing this is using a zoom lens, because then you capture less of the surroundings and can present small groups of people like crowded zones.
3. Be nice to the other festival photographer and videographers
At the larger festivals you are probably not the only photographer or videographer to capture the event. It is possible you are going to be working close to each other. Always introduce yourself to your colleagues and as it happens you’re accidentally walking in somebody els his shot, do apologize. Cooperation takes less time than photoshopping colleagues out of your pictures. Although it is sometimes inevitable that it happens.
4. Don’t be a festival photographer that takes boring group pictures.
At each festival I’m asked at least once: please, take a picture of our group. Many clients won’t use posed group pictures of their visitors because, well, they don’t express a lot of spontaneity. And I don’t think these kind of pictures fit into the story I am trying to tell. Taking them is a waste of time. However, you can always try to create someting that does look spontaneously. Tip: you could ask a group to not look into the camera while toasting for example. I call it this a “no-looky”.
5. Never take photos at the festival of people who are using drugs.
Everybody is really enjoying the party; some more visibly than others. It’s not a secret that drugs are being used at festivals. However, organizations and visitors don’t want to show it off. Therefore, pictures of drugsusers should be avoided. The last thing you want as a visitor while using drugs, is somebody pointing a camera in your face.
6. Make it look clean at the festival
Waste bins are not known for being objects of beauty. However, they are necessary items to keep the festival clean. Still, you don’t have to photograph them. Avoid them. If there is still some garbage on the floor on one of your best photos, use the spot removal tool in Lightroom This tool pastes similar pixels from a different part of the photo. When you use this tool correctly, it looks as if there has never been any waste before.
Slideshow: Before and after picture of trash that has been removed. Can you spot it on bottom left corner?
7. Try to photograph all artists at the festival
Every DJ and artist are the important people of the event. They create atmosphere (vibe) and determine the course of the day. They are the main characters of the story you are trying to tell. Many of my clients want to send the performers a photographic thank you after the event. And this way artists will remember you to next time. Don’t distract them for too long; otherwise the champagne is spilled.
8. Use different lenses.
The story you want to tell should be composed of a variety of photos. Therefore I use four to five different lenses per event. Lenses I frequently use are wide angle lenses and zoom lenses. The 70-200mm lens is the perfect festival lens and absolutely my favourite, because you can shoot from a certain distance. People aren't aware of being photographed and this results is more spontaneity and unicity. These are often the best pictures. However, you would also like to take cool overview pictures. I usually take a 16-35mm lens or a 15mm fisheye lens.
Watch how I have put these tips into practice at the Magic Break Festival. [Dutch with ENG subs]
Info about the author
Hi, my name is Michiel Ton. I am a professional Business and event photographer from the Netherlands with loads of experience in covering business events and dance / music festivals. In addition to being a full time photographer, I am also a graduate as a teacher in social science. I have passion for creating unforgettable memories through my photography.
My social media channels for more of my photography stories.