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How to get the most from your festival photography

Bjork headlines day 2 of the Wilderness Festival, held at Cornbury Park in Oxfordshire Featuring: Bjork, Atmosphere Where: Charlbury, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
WENN Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s that time of year again – festival season! If you want to get some shots with real sales potential then follow our tips in this guide. I’ve got advice for all of you, so if you’re a seasoned pro with official accreditation or just a reveller with an interest in taking great photos, I’m sure there will be something here that helps. I’ve been speaking to the guys on our awesome live news team and they’ve told me what sells with insight into what our clients have been asking us for when it comes to festival photography.

3 top tips to get you started:

  • Make the most of your time in the queue – print media are always on the lookout for shots outside the festival scene
  • See if the festival offers a blogger or smartphone photography pass – perfect for Stockimo contributors
  • Always keep an eye out for new festivals – if you get in from the offset, there’s more chance of securing a yearly pass
Queue of festival-goers at the Glastonbury Festival, UK, 2010.. Image shot 06/2010. Exact date unknown.
Rohan Van Twest / Alamy Stock Photo

No accreditation? No problem

First off, it goes without saying really, but if you can get official accreditation (permission from the event organisers) to take photos for commercial gain then this is really beneficial. It can get you access closer to the artists and keep you out of any future legal issues when you sell your images, but there is plenty of opportunity for you to get saleable shots without this. Some festivals also offer a specific blogger / smartphone photography pass which will allow you to shoot and sell those images taken with a phone. Perfect for Stockimo users wanting to sell their work on Alamy – you often need to prove you have a blog though to obtain this from the organisers but that should be pretty easy to set up if you haven’t done so already.

For smaller festivals it’s much easier to get accreditation and generally a quick word with the organisers and flash of a press card will get you the nod of approval and coveted wristband. Also look for festivals in their first year. If you can get in at the start with one, it is much easier to continue shooting it for years to come.

Many of the festival shots you’ll find used in print (particularly newspapers) show situations surrounding the festival itself though, and you don’t need accreditation to shoot for them. Think:

  • Shots of attendees queuing to get into the festival
  • Hoards of people carrying backpacks, tents etc waiting for trains on their way to a festival
  • The gates opening and people running through carrying interesting things like wheelbarrows or buggies full of provisions for the weekend ahead
  • Groups of friends in face paints, getting the party started early with drinks outside the venue
  • Groups in fancy dress on their way to a festival taking other forms of public transport, mixing with the regular general public
  • More general stock shots of trying to purchase tickets online. Getting tickets for popular festivals such as Glastonbury in particular is always of interest
  • Travel chaos in and around the area of the festival
  • Weather shots related to the area the festival takes place

So next time you think that festival photography without accreditation isn’t worth it, think again. If you can get official accreditation then keep on reading.

AFJ0BY Revellers watch Squarepusher at the 2007 Glade Electronic Music Festival in Aldermaston, Berkshire.
Alex Flahive / Alamy Stock Photo

Got accreditation? Great! Make sure you get shots that clients want

So you’re in and you’ve got one of those wristbands that everyone wants, congratulations! But before you get too smug, remember your work has just begun and unless you shoot the right material you won’t be making enough sales to cover your ticket price. Yes, that’s right – unfortunately for many freelance photographers even with official accreditation you still might have to pay for your ticket, sorry. Your first instinct might be to rush down to the photographer pit on the main stage and to start snapping away, and this is fine, but remember you’ll probably only be allowed to be there for the first three songs of the set so make sure you get everything you need before you’re moved away. You will probably need at least a couple of different lenses for this (easier to have attached to different cameras) and if you’re shooting the main artist try and get shots of them looking up or interacting with the audience without the microphone obscuring their face.

Once you’ve got your shots, make sure you caption them well – don’t use the caption of “Beyonce live at V Festival” if it’s a shot of one of her backing dancers. If you’re shooting for news, then get those pics uploaded as soon as humanly possible as the quicker you can file them the more likely there are to make the dailies. Try and limit what you send to your best group of shots only.

Most of the best selling festival shots are away from the artists though. Some areas to focus on:

  • Look for celebrities going in and out of VIP areas, enjoying the festivities and / or interacting with fans.
  • Images of famous politicians at festivals always do well
  • Atmospheric shots of what’s going on, people splashing around in mud, people blowing bubbles, spitting fire, drinking from mini champagne bottles, jugglers, anyone dressed up in fancy dressed with face paint, or, in many cases not dressed at all (hey, anything goes at some of these festivals)
  • People in headbands, skirts/shorts and wellington boots
  • Any kind of quirky fancy dress
  • The police, either groups of them, or even better, enjoying themselves and having selfies with people, wearing funny wigs etc
  • Overlooking shots of the festival area. Look for a high vantage point
  • People interacting with extreme weather. Baking in the sun or rolling around in the mud after a huge downpour
  • Another popular area, particularly for the tabloids, are images of illegal activity at festivals. Drug taking, yobbish behaviour, public sex and even setting things on fire. If it’s gonna happen anywhere, it’s at a festival
  • Finally, although it sounds slightly morbid, if any tragedy strikes then for news imagery purposes try and get some general scene setter type images that would be of use to the news outlets

Hopefully this will give you some ideas of what to shoot the next time you’re at a festival. If you’ve got any tips yourself that I’ve not mentioned, feel free to share them in the comments.

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