Good festival photography is the key to keeping memories – and the festival itself – alive in people’s minds. But with everyone with a smartphone thinking they’re a professional, how do you pick the right one? Photographer with a background in music, event management, marketing and PR, Tim Ertl, explains all
“A festival isn’t a product. When you buy a festival ticket you buy the promise of having a good time. It’s purely emotional and not tangible. And what’s the best way to capture emotion? A picture.
From a festival PR and marketing point of view, good festival photography is my main method of working throughout the year, reminding people of their good time and giving new customers a feeling of the festival vibe.
Good festival photography is not just about selling tickets, it enables people to visualise a line up, a location and the people there, and the atmosphere behind everything. Without good quality pictures, my abilities to make a successful promotion are very limited and poor. There’s a reason the cliche is “a picture is worth a thousands words”.
However – these days, everybody with a smartphone thinks they are a photographer. The problem is that it’s very hard to find people who are skilled enough to capture the atmosphere of a festival. There is a very special and unusual skill set needed to get good results, but most of the time promoters don’t really care.
Most festivals have press photographers who are sent by their publications and have one goal only: stage photography. The problem with this is that the photos look the same all over the planet and they don’t tell you anything about the atmosphere of an event.
On the other hand there is always somebody with a better camera who is prepared to take some photos in exchange for a free ticket – and the promoters are happy. Often, the quality of the pictures from their selection do not match the quality of the line-up at all, nor the rest of the visual appearance of the festival. Sadly, it’s rare that a promoter wants to pay for good photography, so most of the talented people stay out of this business.
To be a good festival photographer you have to have a very special skills set – it’s an unusual combination of hard and soft skills.
Technically, you have to be very fast and skilled. Conditions are changing extremely rapidly, as lights, the crowd, artists and many more are all in flux. It’s a high-speed business. You need lots of experience, not only on location but in post production too.
From an individual point of view, you have to be able to read and immerse yourself into a crowd. You have to feel what they feel, experience the same moments, and dance with them. You have to connect with them on a certain level.
If they feel your are one of them, if they don’t feel you and your camera are intruding, you will always get a nice reaction back and people strike cool poses for you, or you can be part of their experience and capture it without them even realising – they don’t even see you anymore while enjoying their moments.
Only then will you be able to catch that festival vibe. If you are a stiff guy with too much expensive gear hanging around your neck, you just won’t get it. Part of the secret is blending in.
You can’t always see a great moment but you can feel it. So it’s your heart directing you in order to get a beautiful picture. Or as Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
I think that’s why festival photography is a truly special art form.
So how can you be sure to get a photographer worthy of your event?
Hiring a good festival photographer is difficult. Check out the portfolio first. Not only the look of their photos is essential, it’s the selection, especially in festival photography. It’s the key to a good story. Festival photography is story telling. There is nothing more boring than hundreds of similar looking, poorly selected photos, trying to tell the story of a festival. That won’t do the job.
Street photographers are used to working fast and in crowded places. A good spot to look for. Reserve a budget for them as you do for your artists. Give your photographers full freedom, access to every corner and not many guidelines; you want your photographers to have freedom and a loose brief, but really to allow them to capture what they think are the truly special moments.”
Check out a selection of Tim’s photos here: