We're well and truly into festival season now, and as usual it's been a washout so far! No matter the weather, though, here are a few tips on taking good shots in crowds at festivals.
Photo by Gary Wolstenholme.
Get Up High
In a crowd, the higher up you can get, the better the shot you will be able to achieve, ideally without a sea of hands in the way of your lens. Try reaching directly up at arm's length as although you can't see much yourself, your camera should have a clear view.
Remember, don't go climbing on any scaffolding or poles - you could get kicked out, and hurt yourself.
Some festival sites are on hills too which means you can find a prime spot further up the slope so you are higher than most of the crowd. You then need to use your compact's zoom to get you closer to the action on stage. You will need a long zoom, though, because as the shot below shows, even if you do stand on a slope so you can see over people's heads, if you don't have the zoom power to get in close, the people on stage will just look lost and you'll end up with lots of photos of the crowd.
When the sun begins to set, you'll need to move closer to the stage if you want to capture decent shots of the headliners. As a side note, most compacts try and use flash when it gets dark so make sure you turn it off. If you don't turn your flash off you'll probably end up with a shot that shows a few rows of heads or the detail that's right in front of you and nothing behind which means you won't be able to tell who you were watching on stage that evening.
If you're heading for the main stage arriving early to get a spot at the front is advised. If you don't, as the shot above shows, you'll have trouble filling the frame with band members. Smaller stages are easier to get closer to but if it's a particularly popular group you're heading to shoot, you'll still need to be there within plenty of time otherwise you'll have rows and rows of heads in front of you.
Sometimes, if you can't get really close to the action, it's better to back off and get some great wide angle shots of the whole stage and the crowd. Some compacts have panorama modes which can be handy when you're trying to take wider shots such as this.
Don't forget there's plenty going on at festivals that's worth photographing and the action off stage tends to be easier to capture when you're working with, what festival organisers count as a, 'none professional-style camera'.
As mentioned above, to get good quality close up shots of your favourite bands and acts, you need a good zoom. Ideally, something that has the 35mm equivalent angle of view of at least 300mm would be handy. To keep the quality of your shots, try not to use digital zoom and invest in a waterproof camera or an underwater case for your compact to keep it dry and to offer extra protection for times when it could end up in the mud.
The steadier you hold your camera, the better your shots will be. Hold the camera with two hands, and try to keep it straight to avoid wonky shots. A camera strap is also a good idea, in case you lose grip on your camera through jostling crowds. If you have a barrier in front of you use it for support or lean on a wall that's behind you. If you're in the middle of the crowd just hug your arms as close to your side as possible and try and keep your hands still.
Have A Plan
They'll be plenty of information online about who's playing what stages but it's worth buying a programme when you arrive and keeping it with you so you know who's playing when. If you don't want to spend money you'll often find the line-up posted around the camping areas of the festival which you can snap a photo of or make notes from.
Have a look at shots other fans as well as photographers have taken at previous festivals to see what shots work and what don't. Once you're there, you could find a band you quite like the sound of but don't really want to take any photos so you can look out for key moments (the guitarist in a mid-air jump or the lead singer leaning over for the crowd etc.) that are worth photographing. You'll soon be able to pre-empt what they're going to do next so when you do have your camera in-hand, you'll be ready to capture better shots.