(Watch video above to see some footage and hear me talk about these things.)
NOTE: Most of these tips are from the perspective of being hired by FlyHi Films and other media companies to cover the festival. The festivals haven't hired me directly and aren't a client of mine.
Over the past few years I've found myself shooting A LOT of footage in the music industry. Usually its for one specific artist at a time but the past couple summers have been pretty busy filming music festivals. Here are my essential tips on shooting a festival based on my experiences and what I have learned as a filmmaker.
1. COVER THE EXPERIENCE, NOT JUST THE ARTISTS.
Typically when filmmakers/photographers are hired to cover any event, the FIRST thing that runs through our head is "Ok, we need to shoot what's important, and obviously it's the artists because THAT is what people paid to see." Well yes and no. People did pay to come see and enjoy some music, but more often then not they paid for the EXPERIENCE! Ultimately the festival is paying for you to be there so they can have marketing material. You're most likely gathering marketing material for NEXT YEAR'S FESTIVAL and (usually) artists don't play the same festival every year, so don't obsess over covering every second of Snoop Dogg or Sam Hunt's set.
Instead, focus on the heart and tone of the festival! Film people having fun and enjoying things other than the music. Find out what makes that specific festival unique and showcase that. It's your job to sell people on the festival through your video/photos. You need to make people at home regret not buying a pass, convince people on the fence to go, and get return guests excited to come again!
2. BE READY FOR MAGIC HOUR.
For anyone who doesn't know, Magic Hour (or Golden Hour) is that glorious time in the day when the sun is starting to set and everything is ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL! It's our favorite time to shoot and for a very good reason. Music festivals are usually all day long and unfortunately we HAVE to film outside when the sun is super bright and ugly. Harsh shadows every where, everyone looks sweaty and miserable, and if the dynamic range on your camera isn't great, you're looking for a contrasty mess.
You need to find out WHERE and WHEN the sun is setting and have some shots in mind to get during that time. From my experience, about 75% of the the footage that makes the final cut of a festival or daily recap comes from that one hour of the day. The only reason the other 25% didn't come from Magic Hour is because it was impossible to get then (artists playing earlier, special events during the day, etc.) So make sure you know where to be when the time comes and make sure you're not distracted with dinner or taking a break during that time!
3. ACT LIKE A PROFESSIONAL.
Yes, we have VERY cool jobs. We get paid a lot of money to go do things other people pay lots of money to do! Our lives are awesome, but let's make sure we keep it that way. You are at the festival to work. Feel free to have fun and enjoy yourself, but you have a job to do and make sure you do it well. It's so easy to see everyone else hanging out, drinking, and having a good time in the artist compound area or out in the festival and join in on the fun. You're going to be in a world of hurt if you don't have your priorities straight and someone from the festival catches you drunk when the headliner goes on. Make sure the festival and their marketing team feels taken care of and comfortable having you around.
Don't hang out in the pit to watch an artist. I know, it's VERY tempting to abuse your privileges and watch an artist you like from a great spot, but don't be that guy/girl. If you need to shoot from the pit, get in, get what you need, and get out! If you don't look like a total tool, you're probably blocking someone's view who has spent all day in the sun nearing a heat stroke just to keep their spot. Be respectful and also...
Don't bother the artist. They don't want to take a selfie with you. If you're hired to shoot for a music festival (even by a production company), you are representing the festival to those artists. I'm sure there is some way to tell them you love their work in a way that's not bothering them or making them uncomfortable, but if you're not sure don't even risk it. Just leave them alone and let them enjoy the day.
4. BRING THE RIGHT GEAR.
This one is pretty obvious, but it deserves mention. You're going to need a long lens. Festivals can get really crowded and sometimes you can't get close enough to the stage or people in the crowd. I love having Canon's 70-200mm 2.8 IS II in my bag and for me it's essential to every festival I shoot.
Having variable ND filters have changed my life. I shoot with Hoya's variable ND filters at every festival ALL DAY LONG. No more cranking up the shutter speed and getting jittery footage or crushing the aperture and getting a flat image. Invest in some and you'll see the difference.
5. DON'T DIE.
This one might be more obvious than the last one, but it's easy to forget to take care of yourself! Drink a TON of water. When I shoot, I usually have my Canon C100 MKII, monopod, and a bag full of lenses. At any given time I'm probably walking around with and extra 20-30lbs and it can wear you down quick. It doesn't help that the sun will be beating down on you all day...which brings me to the next tip I always forget and then hate myself for...
Wear sunscreen. Just do it, or you can walk around with the back of a snap back burned into your forehead like I did. Up to you.
Most festivals are multiple days so don't get dehydrated, sunburnt, and physically exhausted too early.
6. WORK WITH A GOOD CREW.
Obviously this goes for every shoot you go on, but working with a good crew can make or break your festival experience. If you have the luxury of bringing people with you, make sure you are bringing people that have a different skill set that is a compliment to what you do.
For example, I love to shoot shallow depth of field (Usually around 1.4-2.8) tight shots in 60fps or higher. It's not all I shoot but it's one of my strengths. This is why I love shooting with my buddy Brian Canaday because he is SO GOOD at getting wide high energy shots with a lot of movement. Together we have the perfect mix of footage because our footage doesn't compete against each others, but compliments it.
Not your first festival?
I realize a lot of these tips are for people who don't have much experience shooting music festivals and can be a little obvious SO here are a couple quick tips you pros might NOT have known.
- Find the VIP and Handicapped Sections - When festivals get overly crowded, these sections are great to get some space from every one and (for short guys like me) elevate yourself above people so you can use your long lens to get some good shots! Just make sure you don't hang out there too long.
- Offer to Get The Security Guards Water - Yes this is a nice thing to do because its usually extremely hot outside and they are stuck in one place BUT it helps them remember you so they don't have to stop you and check your credentials every time you walk through a gate.
- Take a Picture of The Schedule - You're probably going to lose the paper schedule or leave it somewhere, take a picture of it on your phone to be safe.
- People Are Annoying - Every 30 sec. you will hear one of three things - 1."What you taken pitchers for?" 2. "Hey take my pitcher!" and 3. "Where can we see these?" Even if you're taking video, people are kind of clueless and have no idea. Don't try to explain to them you're taking video just tell them you're with the festival, the festival is going to post them on their website and social media, and you'd love to take their picture....then pretend to do it, give them a thumbs up, and walk away!
Even though there is SO MUCH MORE to shooting a music festival, this is a great start so go out there and get some good stuff! If you think I've missed anything please feel free to leave a comment and let me know!
*Again I want to make it very clear that the music festivals aren't clients of mine, but I have been hired by multiple production companies to help them cover a festival.
You can always contact me here.
Weekly movie recommendation: Whiplash
You can hear me talk about it here.