The summer's started and shops are stocking up on wellies, tents and other camping essentials which can only mean one thing....festival season is now upon us. In fact, the Download festival kicks off this coming weekend. Unfortunately, we all can't get press access to these events but just because you don't have access to the front of the stage doesn't mean you can't snap a few great shots of the rock stars while you're stood shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow fans.
Photo by Gary Wolstenholme
What Camera Gear Can I Take?
If shooting from the crowd, it may be worth checking in advance what kind of camera equipment you can actually take in. An increasing number of events do not allow "professional-style" cameras into the main arena. In this case a super-zoom compact may be the best option. Ideally, a camera and zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent angle of view of at least 300mm will be required, unless your aim is to take atmospheric shots of the whole stage.
Having your camera on a strap can save it from hitting the floor but when you're in a crowd of people having a strap around your neck may not be your best move as not only will it get in the way, you could also injure yourself if it gets tugged off your neck. Forget the tripod too as there's hardly any space for you to stand mind about your camera's support.
You also need to pack gear to protect yourself and your camera from the rain that will undoubtedly fall during your music weekend. A lightweight raincover is good enough to keep the worst of the weather off your camera. If you're using a compact from the crowd, it may be worth looking to see if there are any underwater cases available for your camera, as this will provide a little more impact resistance too.
Do Your Planning
As festivals are chaotic places, always attempt to find out the stage times before the festival starts. That way, you'll not miss the music or great shots you want to capture. It also pays to arrive at the stage early so you can be as close to the act as possible. If you intend to camp out at the front for most of the day, ensure you drink plenty of water, as dehydration can be an issue on hot summer days.
Think About Safety
Once you've arrived, whether you're camping or not, you need to watch your belongings and this goes for everything including your tins of beans as well as your camera! But if you don't want to carry your kit constantly many festivals are providing secure lock-up facilities now. These can be very handy for protecting your gear, especially if the weather takes a turn for the worse, or your campsite is particularly feral. However, if you're at all unsure about the safety of your equipment leave your best stuff at home and make sure that the camera you do take never leaves your side.
Taking Your Shots
If you do want to take your DSLR you'll generally need a shutter speed fast enough to avoid camera shake, unless the artist is particularly active. This isn't normally an issue at outdoor festivals, as many of the bands will perform in daylight.
When shooting from the crowd, your options for composition are limited, but you may have all the time in the world to pick your shots, as no-one will tell you to put your camera away after three songs! Watching the artist and attempting to pre-empt their movements will pay dividends. As the light fades, getting what you need becomes more difficult, depending on the lighting and due to the fast turnaround bands have on the stages you'll also have clutter to contend with. Avoiding wires, monitors and speakers will help to give your shots more impact. Sometimes this means waiting for the artist to move from behind the microphone and monitors to get the a clear shot but it's worth the wait.
Of course, music festivals are full of clichés and sometimes a nice rock cliché sits well with the coverage. When the guitarist clambers onto the drum kit, you can almost guarantee you will get a great shot of them jumping. Catching them mid-air is also a popular shot and learning to capture it is something that will become second nature once you've done it a few times over your weekend.
Remember to pay attention to what's happening off the stage as well as on. Turn around and capture the crowd of people stood watching the acts with you and there will be stalls, fairground rides and of course fields full of tents for you to capture. If there's a fairground wheel jump on for a ride and capture some bird's eye-view shots of the festival grounds or in the camping areas, find a hill that gives you a slightly higher vantage point to take your shots from. There will be plenty of opportunities to shoot candids of fellow festival goers, too.
Visit Robert White, one of the UK's leading photographic retailers, for more information on the high-quality imaging equipment they stock.