Whether you’re a professional music photographer or a casual concert-goer, music festivals are a great place to capture some amazing pictures. Not only are they often set in beautiful locations – from the deserts of California to the heart of Chicago – but music festivals also provide multiple days of nonstop photographic opportunities.
If you’re a professional photographer shooting for the music festival or with a press pass, you’ll have more freedom to bring the equipment you need, like DSLR cameras, removable lenses, flashes, etc. If you don’t have a press pass and are just planning on photographing the event for fun, you’ll be much more limited in what you can bring in. Either way, with a little planning and preparation, you can create portfolio-worthy images of some of your favorite bands and artists.
For the Professional Photographer
When preparing to shoot a music festival, it’s important to carefully consider what equipment you’re going to bring. You’ll want a variety of lenses to capture portraits from far away, as well as large crowd shots, but over packing can also mean the death of you after long days spent under the hot sun. You’ll want a comfortable and sturdy camera bag that can hold all of your equipment without getting in the way or weighing you down. The Peak Design Everyday Messenger Bag is big enough to hold multiple lenses and an extra camera body, features a comfortable, adjustable shoulder strap and latches shut to help keep your equipment safe.
The most important lens you’ll need will be a telephoto lens. Even with a press pass and increased access to the stages, a lot of the action will still be happening far away from where you’ll be standing. In order to get really crisp, clear shots of the musicians, try the Canon EF 70-200mm at f/2.8L or the Nikon 70-200mm at f/2.8. The large range will come in handy time and time again during the festival, and the shallow depth of field will be perfect for taking really striking portraits. You’ll also need a wide lens in order to capture the venue as a whole as well as those giant crowds. The Canon EF 16- at f/2.8 or the 18-35mm at f/1.8 for Nikon are both great options because of their super shallow depth of field paired with a super wide focal length. The party doesn’t stop when the sun goes down, so an on-camera flash is a good idea for nighttime shots. Try the Canon 600EX-RT Flash or the Nikon SB-910 Speedlight.
Once your bag is packed, it’s time to think strategy for surviving the festival and coming out of it with the best images possible. The number one way to do this is to not wear yourself out on the very first day by trying to hit every single artist. Take your time to study the lineup and do some research. Look up the artists you’re not familiar with. Find out which are the up-and-coming bands who might not be playing on the largest stages, but who have a big fan base and growing popularity. Make a plan to shoot between five and 10 artists over the course of each day. Try to shoot a mix of the biggest, most popular headliners as well as your own personal favorites. It’s a music festival – it’s supposed to be fun, even if you’re there to work.
When shooting artists on stage, even with a telephoto lens, it’s best to get as close as possible to the action. Try to get a range of wide shots of the entire band and stage, as well as tighter portraits of the artist’s face. Shoot wide with a large depth of field to get everything sharp and in focus. Shoot tight portraits with a shallow depth of field to bring the focus in on the artist’s expressions. Both kinds of images will convey different types of energy and emotion from the concert.
There are bound to be dozens of different colored bright lights shining across the stage. If the lights are causing your photos to turn out bright red, change your color balance to a cooler setting. It will save you a lot of time and energy to tweak your camera settings while you’re shooting, rather than waiting to fix everything in post-processing.
A lot of the beauty and excitement of music festivals happens away from the stages, so make sure you spend a good chunk of time exploring the rest of the venue. If it’s a camping festival, like Coachella or Sasquatch, take pictures of the tents and the community that develops among the campers. It’s also important to capture images of the location, like the Chicago skyline during Lollapalooza or the towering trees in Golden Gate Park during Outside Lands.
For the Casual Photographer
If you want to photograph a music festival as a non-professional photographer, it’s important to look at the festival’s rules about what you’re allowed to bring in. Coachella and Lollapalooza consider any cameras with removable lenses to be professional cameras, and are not allowed inside the venue. Lollapalooza also prohibits attachments like tripods, monopods and selfie sticks. Be sure to look up your festival’s rules before arriving.
The Fujifilm X100T Digital Camera is a lightweight, rangefinder-style camera that produces incredibly sharp images and inconspicuous – perfect for a festival. Sling it around your shoulder and take it everywhere.
As the “Shot on iPhone 6” campaign has shown us, stunning photographs are still possible even if all you have to work with is your phone. Despite the fact that the photo quality will be lower than on a DSLR, and your lens options are obviously much more limited, shooting with a phone still has its advantages. Not only is it much smaller, lighter and easier to carry around with you than a DSLR, but it also is less likely to be stolen than professional equipment. If you still want to shoot with something that has a higher quality, try the DxO ONE Professional Quality Connected Camera, which is small and portable, and connects to your iPhone for easy editing and sharing purposes.
When shooting with a phone, there are a few techniques and strategies that will help you create strong images. First, the quality of the photo will decrease the more you zoom in. So if you’re in the back of a crowd, and trying to get a shot of a singer’s face on stage, the image probably won’t be very crisp or clear. Rather than using your time and phone memory for blurry images of faraway musicians, try focusing more on wide crowd and group shots.
Get a wide shot of hands in the air with a bright stage in the background, or find a high vantage point and shoot down at the crowd below. You might even capture someone crowd surfing in the distance. Try to include as many bodies as possible to show the sheer size of the festival. If you’re in the front or middle of the crowd, turn around to face the people behind you and take some wide shots from both low and high points of view. Images of dancing, cheering fans are a great way to capture the energy of a show. If you’re near the front of the stage, snap some wide shots of the singer or artist from a low, tilted angle. The colorful lights at the top of the image and the extreme angle of the band will make a standard concert picture much more compelling.
Whether you’re shooting with professional equipment or just your iPhone, music festivals provide endless opportunities for incredible images. Go for the music and leave with a new portfolio of work.