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. As a beginner you will have to educate yourself. In the 11 years I have practiced this profession, I made many mistakes and learned from them. To help you out as a beginning festival photographer I have listed a few tips to help you photograph your first festival.
To apply these tips during your first festival, you first have to arrange access to a festival. If you want to know how to get access, feel free to download my free E-book.
Tip 1. Be on time at the festival and take your time to introduce yourself as the photographer
Before you being photographing the festival, first meet with your contact person. Explore the festival premises together. In the beginning it won’t be crowded 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. But don't make the beginners mistake to think you are their to drink and party.
Tip 2. Make it look crowded at the festival
It may happen that the number of visitors is disappointing at the festival your photographing for the first time. Still, your client wants photos that express vividness and atmosphere. Therefore, avoid the beginners mistake by having empty spaces, bare fields and abandoned tents in your pictures. One way of doing this is using a telephoto lens that is zoomed in, because then you capture less of the surroundings and can present small groups of people like crowded zones.
Tip 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. Try to make a good first impression on your other festival photography colleagues of the day. Always introduce yourself and if it happens you’re accidentally walking in somebody els their shot, apologize. Cooperation takes less time than photoshopping colleagues out of your pictures. Although it is sometimes inevitable that it happens.
Tip 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. A lot of my 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 something 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”.
Tip 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.
Tip 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?
Tip 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.
Tip 8. Use different lenses while photograhping the festival
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.
Looking for more festival photography tips? as a beginner? I love sharing my knowledge to beginners and advanced photographers. Feel free to subscribe to my youtube channel about festival photography!
In my brand-new course and beginners guide on | how you can build your Festival and Event Photography business. Interested? Awesome!
🙋♂️ About Michiel Ton
Hi, I'm 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!
👋 Let's connect!