Behind the Lens: What You Don’t Know About Festival Photography

The Jungle Giants performing at Grooving the Moo 2017 (photo by James Simpson)

With the summer months approaching, punters across Australia are gearing up for festival season. You may know all the big acts that are coming to town, but do you know those who capture the moment for you so that you are able to live in it? Festival/Live music photography is an art form which is currently gaining a lot of traction amongst photography enthusiasts, and while it is obviously a tough gig, those who dwell it often say that it is extremely rewarding, which is evident in the extraordinary resulting images. Not knowing much about the process of festival photography myself, I attempted to learn as much as I could about it from scaling the internet (after not receiving replies from the photographers I emailed inquiring about their profession); here’s what I learnt.


Whilst there are the obvious preparation tips — take spare batteries, take different removable lenses, dress for the weather, stay hydrated etc. — festival photographer James Simpson warns to be prepared for the moment you actually get into the photography pit. He warns that you should be aware of how hectic it gets in there — theres literally thousands of fans screaming, fist pumping and crowd surfing meters away from you, theres security pushing them back, theres a band or musician playing into amps right behind you and theres other photographers crammed into the same strip of space trying to get the perfect shot, all within a limited time of the set. Simpson states that while its a wild fifteen minutes, it provides a rush of excitement that you wouldn’t be able to get from just seeing the band play alone, and that often helps to provide better photos.

As well as this, it’s also wise to plan the acts you need/want to see and photograph ahead of time so that you make the most of the experience, says Simpson.


I thought that those lucky enough to be granted access to the front of the pit to take photos would have free reign over what they capture, but apparently this is not the case due to the ‘three song rule’. I first saw this mentioned in an interview with Chicago-based photographer Paul Natkin, who stated that it first came about at a Bruce Springsteen show, so naturally I looked into it. As it happens, when bands used to play in large venues in the 80’s, they would give out hundreds of photo passes, majority of which to paparazzi who apparently did not know how to shoot photos and instead relied on the bright flash feature to get the shot. To no surprise, Springsteen walked off stage one night during a show and demanded that something be done about it — and thats how the idea that photographers were only allowed to shoot the first three songs of a set to allow both the performer and the fans to enjoy the show arose. For those who shoot festivals exclusively, this is usually around the time they take to get a drink, regroup and figure out their next move.


When it comes to photographing live music, theres a certain set of rules of etiquette you need to follow, taking into consideration the fans, the security, the band and the other photographers. This includes not using a tripod (as if that is even worth pointing out), not getting in the way of fans or, when you do, apologising and stating that it’s only for the first three songs, staying out of the way of security and other photographers, and not blocking the view of the performers. Another, which I did not know was a common problem, is to not ‘ghost’ or copy the exact moves other photographers. Creativity, like most other professions, it highly valued in the festival photography business, and so being about to frame and shoot your own photos is extremely important.

When it comes to the fast paced world of the music industry, even the capturing of a single moment is intense and powerful, which is why the art of festival and live music photography is so important.

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