Now that the Festivals season is starting, I already have 3 confirmed festivals and 3 more to confirm, I thought it would be a good idea to write an article about how I prepare for the beginning of the season.
This text is about my process, other photographers do it differently, and serves only to share what has worked for me. If you have any other way to prepare for the festivals please share it.
Basically I divide the preparation into two parts, the equipment and the festival where I am going to photograph. For the equipment I decide what I will take and confirm the state of all the equipment. For the festivals I try to know everything, from the bands that will play to the available transports.
For the festivals, I have a list of the base equipment that i carry, which varies little from festival to festival.
I always take two cameras, but I only shoot with one, the second camera is for backup. When I photograph festivals, I like to walk around with everything I need, but at a festival there is no time to stop, we always run from one place to another and for that reason I prefer to use only one body to release some weight, of course this forces me to change the lens, which can cause us to lose some moment, but until now I never felt that this was a big problem.
I work with the Canon 5DMkII, always with grip for greater autonomy and better ergonomics. Before going to a festival i clean the sensor, and I charge all the batteries, I also do a fine tuning to the focus with the Micro adjustment.
The important thing is to use a camera that is reliable in terms of focus, that has a battery that lasts, that is dust and rain resistant, that is fast and has a good dynamic range, all of that is more important than the amount of megapixels, or than the brand.
I have two lenses that at this moment are my lenses of choice for concerts, they are the Canon 70-200mm f2.8L USM II and the Canon 17-40mm f4L.
Before leaving for the festivals i clean the lenses and confirm if everything is working.
The ideal for concerts is to use very bright lenses f2.8 or less, but in large festivals with lots of light and follow spots an f4 works just fine.
Taking a zoom lens as the 70-200mm and a wide angle like a 24-70mm is always ideal, but a fish eye can be always interesting.
For those situations where you can not shoot from the PIT a 400mm or an “extender” is always a great help.
At this time we have many lenses to choose from, Canon and Nikon have excellent lenses, but brands like Sigma have models capable of doing a great job and at the most interesting prices.
I always carry several batteries and their chargers, as I use the “grip” each body is always with two batteries, which in my case comes perfectly to photograph all day, so I usually only charge the batteries at night in the hotel.
I advise using the “grip” to have two batteries and whenever possible carry at least two chargers, to be faster to charge the batteries.
The Cards that i will need depends on the way we work and the festival where we are.
If we are in a big festival with several stages and many things to shoot we will also need more cards or else we will have to spend more time downloading the cards to the computer or the disk.
I do not like to use cards bigger than 32Gb, I’d rather have to use more cards, so in case something goes wrong, I do not lose the whole job, but the important thing is to have enough cards so that we do not have to always run to the computer and Quick cards.
Yes I know, in PIT we can not use flash. Calm down, I do not use the flash in the PIT. I do not even have it in the hot shoe. But, I always walk with him next to me when I walk through the audience to photograph or when I have to go backstage to make some pictures.
When I work as an official photographer for a festival I have to make images of the public practically all over the venue and during the night there are areas that are darker, so I have to have the flash always with me.
I also happen to be called to go backstage to photograph some band and if they are in an area in low light I need to have the flash with me, I can not ask them to wait while I go get the flash.
I always have two sets of batteries for each flash and its battery charger.
Before leaving for the festival I confirm if everything is okay with the flash and with the batteries.
One fundamental thing, and one that can never fail when i´m photographing festivals or concerts is the earplugs.
It is very important to protect the ears, we are usually in the PIT right in front of the stage where there are also some of the speakers, which is very dangerous for the ears.
I use the Alpine MusicSafe Pro, which I recommend, there are several models on the market from the cheapest ones that are bought in a drugstore to the most expensive custom made, but I tested the Alpine and I loved it.
When I go to the festivals, I use a backpack or a hard case, but just to carry the equipment, I never go to the PIT with a backpack, let alone a hard case.
To carry the equipment with me in the PIT or in the festival grounds I use a “homemade” solution. For a long time I have been looking for vests to carry lenses, flashes, cards and everything I need to have with me. I searched the brands that make backpacks for photography and never found nothing to my liking, or because they never had space for everything, or because the equipment was hanging and did not allow me to run or to walk at a faster rate, not to mention that they were very expensive.
Until one day I found a tactical vest in a hunting store, which in addition to being cheap is sturdy, it has various size pockets that allow me to carry all the lenses, cards, flash, batteries, everything, and I can still run that Equipment is always close to the body.
Currently we need a computer to finish the images.
Even if we do not make big post production we have to choose the images and we have to convert them into a usable format , whether jpeg or Tiff or any other format we have to do this on the computer, because the ideal is to shoot RAW in concerts.
For this work we need a computer with a lot of disk space, a lot of Ram memory and a monitor that reproduces the colors as accurately as possible.
At the moment there are two devices that I find very interesting for this: the top of the range of Microsoft Surface Pro and Huawei Matebook X, being that the Surface can work more like a Tablet and Huawei is a laptop, but each of them have very interesting characteristics for those who need a powerful and lightweight computer, this is for those who use Windows.
With the computer I always carry a card reader, in my case I use the Lexar USB 3.0 because it is fast reliable and light, with it I can download the images quickly.
I also have an external 2TB drive, since I used the WD My Passport Ultra for the first time I was convinced, they are quick to read and write and are quite reliable, but there are many different brands and models to choose from.
Sometimes depending on the Festival, I take an extra monitor, when I go to festivals for several days and when I know I have a safe working space, it’s faster for me to work with an external monitor.
To speed up the choice of images I use a gamepad usb, similar to those of PlayStation, using a free software like JoyToKey I can select what each command does. In addition to being faster is less tiring for the wrists.
It may not seem important, but I always carry a smartphone with me. Firstly because if someone from the production needs to talk to me, they can just call me, then if there is a problem in the internet, I can always use my smartphone to send some urgent pictures, and lastly, because I can go through some pictures to share on Instagram of the festival, the organizers will like that.
For this the vast majority of smartphones will do. Some better than others, but I prefer the Huawei P9 or P10 both have a battery that lasts a long time and are able to do very good photography.
Other Important stuff
Apart from everything I’ve already said I also carry extra power cords and an extension cord (because it happened to me to come to a festival and have only one free outlet).
One thing that also can not be missing is material for cleaning the sensor, if at any time we need it is good to always be around.
Black gaffer tape to secure the buttons, so they do not move and to paste on the rubber that surrounds the viewfinder not to lose it.
I always carry some protection for the machine in case of rain, even a plastic bag, for an emergency.
I also have a security cable to attach the computer, because we never know who has access to the room where we are staying.
Monopod for those times when we have to photograph from the mixer, I always leave the monopod stored and I’ll get it when I know I’m going to need it.
Business cards, it is important to have because we never know when someone will ask us for the contact.
Before going to the festival I always try to know as much as possible about it.
Are there transportation available, are there transportation to the venue? Will I need to use any? If yes I try to know prices schedules and all possible info.
If I go to take my car I try to know if there is parking, and if there is some private park for those who will work at the festival, in any case I try to inform myself about the location prices or pass to the car.
I try to know the schedules of all the stages or activities as soon as possible, I create a time in Excel that I print in a size that approximates that of the accreditation and I also record it on the smartphone.
I look for the bands on YouTube to try to perceive the show that they present, and to perceive the movements on stage.
Then I talk to the production to know what I am allowed to photograph in each of the bands, some bands allow the official photographer of the festival to photograph the concert all other only the first 3 songs, but knowing this soon, I can organize my work better .
About the Author
Rui Bandeira is a photographer based in Porto, Portugal, you can see more of his photos on his site, and say hi on facebook and Instagram. This article was also published here and shared with permission.