Music Festival Photography: How to Make Your Photos Sing

Long days and warm weather go hand in hand with cold beer and upbeat tunes. One of summer's seasonal perks, especially in lively London, are the many music festivals that pace fun filled days of non stop celebration (find a list of 2015’s Summer fests here) and make great, albeit challenging, photo op’s. Make the most of the experience and take heed of our top five tips for music festival photography to make your pictures sing:  

1- Choose your subject

James Blake by Kmeron

James Blake by Kmeron

It may seem obvious, but there are many things you can photograph at a music festival: colours, lights, motion, emotional intensity, instruments, people, couples, friends, styles, superstardom and more. Thinking about possible subjects and deciding what you want to focus on will help open up your perspective in terms of the images that you can derive from a music festival setting, and, when you are in the middle of the sweaty loud crowd, it will help you aim your camera in the right direction. Remember that a music festival is more than just a concert, there are pre-concert,  post-concert and in-between concert narratives too!

2- Do your research

Photo by Steven Böhm

Photo by Steven Böhm

Research the band (or bands) you are going to photograph before the show and take note of how they usually perform, what their light shows and screens are like, and also, the kind of mood they create. Do they tend to perform sitting or do they jump around the stage? Do the band mates interact? Do they change their instruments between songs? What kind of patterns do their shows follow? Remember concerts are fast paced events, and the more you know in advance in terms of what to expect, the better decisions you will be able to make in terms of where you are going to take pictures from (front of the stage, sides, back), and what equipment you will need.

Peelander-Z by Incase

Peelander-Z by Incase

If you can, it is also a good idea to visit the stage before the show, that way you will know what the spatial dynamic is like. Also, remember to check the time of the day that the concert will take place to verify the position of the sun in advance (get your Sun Seeker app here).

3- Plan ahead and be early

Once you’ve done your research you can plan ahead in terms of where you will stand and what equpiment you will need. Keep in mind the light and the distance you are going to shoot from. You won’t be able to set up a tripod in the crowded surroundings, so if it’s going to be dim, then ISO settings will probably have to be quite high. If you want to take pictures from a distance, or close to the stage, pick your lenses accordingly and remember that in crowded fast paced situations it’s best to “travel light”. 

Photo by David Burke

Photo by David Burke

Also, be early so that you can get the spot you want, test the light and lenses and also perhaps get some good pre-concert shots. You can also contact magazines and other publications to try and get a press pass which will grant you access to a better location.

4- Use Limitations in your favor

Photo by Incase

Photo by Incase

Shooting with high ISO settings inevitably means that there will be noise in your image, and that’s fine, you just have to find a way to use it to your aesthetic advantage. Limits are always a creative opportunity, so if people are moving around you, work with the motion and not against it. You can take this idea even further and create your own conditions to experiment with as Lars Von Trier and Jørgen Leth did in their film Five Obstructions.

5- Let the music inspire you

Notes of a rock song by Bùi Linh Ngân

Notes of a rock song by Bùi Linh Ngân

Although music is a formless art, it has inspired many visual artists including Kandinsky and Picasso who have found creative ways to express melody in colors and lines. If you are photographing a musician, try to capture the mood of the music as well, and not just the situation. Or take it to a whole other level of abstraction, and turn a tune into an unrelated image that makes your picture sing!

Find some more music festival photography tips by professional photographers here