Rocking music festival photography tips from professional photographer Nesrin Danan
posted Saturday, July 28, 2018 at 6:00 AM EDT
Photographer Nesrin Danan has been shooting music photography for the last six years and has shot many concerts, tours and festivals over that time. The 22 year old photographer from Portland, Oregon may be young, but she has a lot of photographic experience and know-how. Through Adobe, she has shared with us some interesting background plus some great tips and tricks for any photographer hoping to shoot a music festival or photograph musicians in general. Below are Nesrin's own words:
Background/Experience Capturing Music Festivals
I’ve been in the music photography business for about 6 years, so between tours and festivals I have a lot of experience under my belt. I’ve shot too many festivals to count! My favorite festivals are definitely Coachella, Lollapalooza and Bumbershoot, but going to new ones every year is so fun because they’re all so different. At these festivals, I’ve shot G-Eazy, Kiiara, ASAP Rocky, Kehlani, Super Duper Kyle and so many more. I’m definitely trying to make it to Lollapalooza, Governor’s Ball, Bumbershoot and Outside Lands this year.
I’ve always loved music photography, and getting into that as a career led me to touring with artists, both during the off-season and then on their festival circuits in spring/summer. Now, even if I’m not on tour, I try to hit up a few festivals a year as one-off dates with artists to capture those experiences. Festivals are such a dope atmosphere; the fact that hundreds of thousands of people come together to have a good time and listen to music is so awesome.
A Memorable Experience While Shooting
One of my favorite experiences while shooting at a music festival was actually backstage at Coachella last year; Ariana Grande came up to me in the artist compound and told me she loved my sunglasses! We chatted for a minute, and I played it cool but I’m so obsessed with her. That’s also the only place something random like that would ever happen!
Best Backstage Moment
Capturing a band’s set from backstage is a very different experience from just going to a show in the crowd or even shooting from the pit! Sidestage is my favorite angle because you get both the artist and the crowd in the shot; it highlights the true energy of the performance. You also get the best view in the house to watch the show!
Most of the people I shoot for are friends, so it’s dope to watch my friends do what they love and watch the crowd appreciate their passion. I’ve had some of my best memories before and after shows in the green room too; people in the music industry are so creative, funny and positive to be around. One of my favorite things about the artist area at festivals, though, is that everyone’s there—all sorts of rappers, singers, actors and actresses will come watch an artist’s set, and it’s really cool to see all of these creative people supporting one another.
Advice for Aspiring Music Photographers
I always tell budding photographers to just keep shooting! You should take your camera everywhere if possible. Figure out your personal shooting and editing styles. Also, being nice to people is key. Make friends and connections wherever you can, because you never know where your big break might come from.
Music Festival Photography Tips
Packing – For festivals, I normally have to pack quite a bit of stuff, but I’ve learned to narrow it down to the necessities, so my camera bag doesn’t break my back. I usually only take one camera body (most photographers take two, but hey, I like to live on the edge), and two or three lenses. My go-to right now are the Canon 6D or 5D Mark IV, the Sigma 35mm Art lens, Canon 24-70mm lens, and my manual 85mm lens. These give me a range and have never failed me! I also take my little film camera loaded with Portra 400, a disposable or two, and my iPhone, of course.
Permits and restrictions – You can only have cameras with detachable lenses if you have a press or artist pass, and even when you can get a camera in, most festivals allow you to shoot three songs from the pit, and then you’re out. No photos are allowed in artist areas, including backstage (we all sneak a couple shots though), and some larger festivals will confiscate cameras if they see you taking street style shots around the festival! It’s so crazy. I get to sidestep some festival regulations if I’m there with an artist, but some of them don’t even care what kind of pass you have and they’re strict on it the whole time. Apply early for media passes though, and you have a good chance of getting one!
Composition – Composing a great photo is all about finding the angle that best highlights the subject. I normally try not to do the up-the-nose shot that most photographers get when standing too close to the stage—a rookie mistake. I usually shoot from one of the far sides of the pit, catching the artist in a cool pose or dance move. I also love sidestage shots to incorporate the crowd in the background and using a telephoto lens at front of house for some wider stage shots. The crowd actually has the best angle though—they’re straight on, and not too close, but just close enough. If you have a good spot in the crowd, and epic iPhone shot is totally possible!
Mobile photography – I take iPhone photos everywhere I go! They’re so quick and easy to edit on the go, and I can post to my socials quickly if I don’t have time to get on my laptop and edit from my camera yet. Lightroom CC (iPad, iPhone, or Android/Chrome OS) for mobile allows you to shoot and edit in RAW, which is a huge gamechanger for image quality on a mobile device. People ask me if I took the photos with my camera, and I have to show them the app! I especially love these shots for behind-the-scenes images, content for my stories, and candids.
Lighting – Festivals being an all-day event, you have to get used to anything Mother Nature throws your way. We all hope for overcast days with a fantastic sunset, but more realistically we get direct sun, rain, and dealing with how to shoot at night with whatever the lighting designer has in mind.
I love daytime festival shots, and I think direct sun is so fun to play around with. Being on tour has also fine-tuned my skills of working with the designer light shows and pyrotechnics that nearly every artist has at night. The number one thing to remember is, as the photographer, YOU have the power to make these photos look how you want!
Editing is a major part of how your photos will come out; I use Lightroom CC on my laptop and there are a couple things I always take into account when editing:
- Shoot darker, because you can always lighten photos up. I frequently shoot my shots a bit underexposed and it gives me more leeway when playing with brightness and exposure preferences.
- Vibrance and saturation are everything! I use all of the tools in Lightroom that allow you to really fine-tune tones and color variances; I’m on a warm tone kick lately, so I play up the reds, oranges and yellows in my photos. These always come out awesome in sunset images, or when an artist has a good light show with these colors.
- Create presets that fit your style; I have my own presets that I use for different occasions (ex: outdoor stages, indoor venues, backstage portraits with flash, outdoor portraits without flash, etc.) and these help keep my work cohesive and give me a starting point when editing. Lightroom makes it so easy to create and save these presets! I always tweak them to fit the images perfectly, but it’s what a lot of people see as my “editing style”.
Color - Colors are, to me, the most important part of any photo. Color tells a story and gives a photo a personality, so I generally try to play up color (in a natural way) rather than mute it. When shooting festivals at night, stage lighting will have a lot to do with whatever strong colors you’re working with.
During the day, you’ll probably see more brights and have some more white contrasts, due to the sky or other negative space. Be conscious of color and look for those shots that are saturated and fun but also aesthetically pleasing.
Sunsets are obviously the best, and you get that stunning golden glow, but I also love the blue haze that comes right after a sunset, before it’s completely dark. Some of my favorite color combos also come when an artist is wearing a crazy outfit and I can get them against a neutral backdrop, or when they’re wearing something a bit more simple and you get the rainbow sea of the crowd in the background.
Photo organization – I generally edit as I go through my images, flagging them along the way. The Best Photos feature in Lightroom CC for web highlight certain ones you’d love or want to come back to. When I’m satisfied with how a photo looks, I export them to a new folder with corresponding names, such as “coachella-01,” so they’re all easy to find.
You don’t have to be a professional to take good festival photos! Just get out there with your friends, have a great time, and catch some good lighting. :)
Thanks to Nesrin Danan for sharing these great tips with us to share with you, our readers, and for allowing us to share her images within the article.