Caught in the act: how to shoot live music festivals

Live music events are challenging to shoot. With difficult lighting conditions and fast-paced acts, the perfect shot doesn’t happen by accident.

We headed up to the Bathfest music festival in Somerset. But whether you are shooting a large festival or an intimate gig in a bar, the fundamental skills are the same; you’ll need fast shutter speed to freeze the performers and to expose for the lights to capture the ambience. 

You also need the right kit for the job, and a midrange zoom, with a wide aperture, is the workhorse here – the faster the lens the better. Additional zoom lenses will add to the variety of your shots, such as telephoto for more intimate close-ups or wide-angle to show off the entire stage or massed crowd.

If you can wangle it, a press pass is worth its weight in gold; they allow access to the press pit, enabling you to shoot in relative comfort right at the front of the stage or even behind the scenes. It’s definitely worth contacting organizers of smaller events, who may be happy to provide a press pass in return for some images. 

But festivals are about more than just the acts; shoot anything and everything for a more interesting documentary of the day. There is so much going on, from fairground rides to close-ups of festival-goers. With dance events, in particular, the crowds are usually far more interesting than the DJs on stage.

Step-by-step: Getting the gig

Extra essential kit

Shoot the crowds

Festival festivities

It’s not all about the acts, the essence of the festival can be captured in the people.

This feature was originally published in PhotoPlus Magazine, to subscribe, click here