How to become a festival photographer in 8 steps.
Updated: Jan 27
In this post I will share my vision on how to become a festival photographer and how you can maintain your spot in a very competitive world. There are a lot of photographers and not a lot of festivals. It can take a long time until you can get your foot in the door and make a living out of this profession. If you already have access to a festival, and want some practical tips for when you start shooting at a festival, then I suggest you read my post about starting as a festival photographer.
Step 1. Invest in decent gear
The first step is to make sure you are able to take good quality photos. You can borrow, buy or rent decent gear. The choice is up to you. I would recommend buying your own camera, because it allows you to practice every time you want. Buying a full frame camera is my recommendation along with a zoom lens and a wide angle lens. This way you can capture great overview photos as well as facial expressions and you can pay attention to details.
Step 2. Get access to a festival
Your main goal in the beginning of your photography career is getting experience. And you will only get experience by going out into the field and take photos. You have to invest some time and effort in becoming an experienced photographer. Don’t expect to get paid the first time. But how do you get access to a festival as a photographer?
You can ask the organization of the festival to allow you inside with your camera gear so you can practice shooting a festival. You can make a deal with them to give them the photos afterwards as a token of appreciation. Keep in mind that a festival already hired a photography team, it’s important to be nice to them and let them do their work.
You can contact a media outlet to see if you can shoot on their behalf. I started doing festival photography for a website that I owned in the past, called exQlusiv.com. We arranged access to take photos at festivals and we gave them promotion in return. This method has taken me to places like Ultra Europe, Ultra Miami and Mysteryland to name a few. But more important, it gave me a lot of experience in the field.
If you know an artist, you can ask if you can join him to his/her gig(s). This way you will have the chance to meet some people in the scene and you can offer the artist you’re touring with some value by creating content for him/her.
Step 3. Offer value
Make sure that you are enthusiastic in your communication when applying for a festival photography job and try to offer something valuable for the person you are contacting. Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are contacting. They are probably wondering, what’s in it for me? Be sure to have a great answer to that question.
Step 4. Build your portfolio
It's important to be able to show your work to other people. Be critical about your own work though. You are only as good as your worst photo in your portfolio. Taste also changes and as you keep improving, you might want to update your portfolio regularly.
Step 5. Network!
If you have access to an event, it's important that you network. You can take unexpected, but nice photos of people backstage. If it's a good photo, show it to them and ask for their business card so you can send it to them. They might be really happy with that picture and will remember your name for sure. The more you can expand your network, the more people will likely think of you when they need a photographer.
Step 6. Be a nice person to work with
There are a lot of people who want to practice this profession for the wrong reasons. At the end of the day you are there to do a job. Not to hangout backstage and try to get selfies with artists to upgrade your social status. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the person that you are working for. What does this person expect from you? Try to think of things he or she would like from you. Be social, but not too social. I generally try to scout the energy level of the person that I’m working for and be one step higher in my energy then that person is. This way you won’t be annoying and will probably leave a good impression.
Step 7. Keep creating value for other people.
If you keep creating value long enough, eventually people are willing to pay you for it. This goes for almost everything. I once had an assignment in Belgium for Thomas Gold. I drove to the festival on a Saturday and was planning to drive back on Sunday. I noticed that on Sunday there was a festival nearby where 2 DJ’s, whom I had met on a previous festival) where performing. Since I had some spare time that day I offered to shoot some photos of their show for them. I created value for them, they liked my photos and the next time they were in need for a photographer, they had me top of mind. A few months later they asked me to shoot their Tomorrowland show, where I shot some of my best portfolio material so far.
Step 8. Keep practicing and keep learning.
I believe in a lifelong learning. Try to get a mentor, join Facebook groups where they share information, watch Youtube tutorials etc. If you have reached a point where you think you've learned enough to start sharing your own knowledge with others, then do so. Become a mentor for others. Because sharing knowledge makes you understand your own way of working beter.
Want to learn more about my photography? Watch this video and see how I shoot a festival.
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.