Music festivals provide an almost endless supply of awesome photography opportunities. So it’s no surprise that one of the most frequent questions I get from students is how to photograph music festivals.
Read on for the top tips to get you taking great festival and stage photographs. You’ll see how to capture the band from different angles, how to get candid images of your favorite acts, and how to get that perfect photo of the band taking their bows on stage.
What to Photograph
One of the biggest challenges you’ll face at a music festival is choosing what to shoot. There will be so many amazing acts playing across a range of genres that it can be difficult to decide what you would like to capture for posterity.
Make a list of the bands you want to see, do your homework by getting familiar with their music, and then be prepared to shoot from the hip. In most cases you’ll not know what time an artist is playing—let alone where they’re playing—so it’s best to have a few different angles in mind.
If you’ve ever seen one of your favorite bands live, take note of where they were on-stage and what gear they used. You’ll probably want to be in roughly the same position at the festival as you get a more natural perspective with your photos.
If you’ve not seen the band live before, have a look at some of their other live shots and find out what sort of viewpoint they use for their albums and promo photos. For most bands that is also where they’ll be onstage during the festival performance.
You’ll also need to be flexible and make sure you have a camera equipped with a wide zoom lens that can take in as much of the stage and crowd as possible. You’ll need a fast camera to capture shots as the act plays.
The sky’s the limit!
There are so many amazing places to shoot at festivals, but before you start getting excited just remember that you might not get to shoot at every location during your time there. These days music festivals are drawing thousands of people and you may not be able to find a spot near the stage or throng of people to get a really good shot.
But don’t let this put you off. There are so many ideas in shooting from unusual angles that you’ll always have something exciting to photograph. Your imagination will provide the inspiration for your next shot.
You’ll want to get up close for the shots that you know the band will like and keep your lens at a wide angle (around 40mm or more) to capture as much of the crowd as possible. Try not to forget about the environment around you. You’ll be able to use foreground props and postcard-perfect scenes of nature and all the interesting people at the festival.
Tips For Great Festival Photos
Be there early!
You’ll have a lot more freedom to move around when the festival gates open and it’s also when the most interesting people-watching happens. The crowd gathers in anticipation of the acts that are playing later at night, but you’ll also find a unique vibe around mid-day at festivals. People are so excited that most of them are not wearing any shoes! And they always seem to be ready to play or hang out with you as you shoot—especially if you have some beer on you.
Get the big picture
When you’re walking around the festival grounds, don’t forget to look up. There is always something interesting going on way above your head and it will make for a great shot. If you’re lucky you might even capture some flying projectiles as part of your image.
Think outside of the box
Don’t worry about getting in the first few rows or at least close to the outer stage area if that’s what you want. Always be aiming for the middle, closer to the main stage. You’ll want to be near enough to have an unobstructed view of your shot but also photograph the crowd too.
Shoot with forethought and a plan
For camera settings, take a look at any photographers’ stand-out photos and then try to emulate them. For example if you see a concert photographer holding up their camera at a certain angle and framing their shot, do that too.
Be patient, it will pay off
Don’t be in a rush to take any photos. Instead wait for the perfect moment to capture that one amazing image that you’ll be proud of. The time it takes will be worth it when you see your shot hanging on your wall!
Get the whole band in the shot
Depending on how large the stage is that your band is playing on, you might not be able to photograph everyone in one shot. Instead try to find a way to get all of them into your frame for one single image.
If you’re not sure what’s the best angle for a shot, simply try it and see what happens. You might discover something really interesting and end up with a great image that you hadn’t intended to take.
Wander away from the crowds
If you see a vantage point that you want to get a great shot from, try to find a way back on yourself to move towards your target point. Chances are the crowds will be too thick and close together to make this possible however small steps can help you get back up there!
Get as close as possible but don’t forget about your depth of field
This is one of the biggest mistakes new concert photographers make. If you get too close to the crowd, your image will be out of focus. Instead, try to find a good spot that will provide you with a nice blurry background and make the retouching process easier later on.
Festival photos are a great way to practice your concert photography skills in a different and fun environment. While it’s true that some of the situations might be more challenging than shooting at a typical concert, don’t let that scare you away from making the most out of your next festival experience.
Always remember to try to enjoy yourself first! Concerts are meant for having fun and using the camera is just one way to get everything into perspective at once.