A rock musician on stage at a festival plays the guitar. Photo by Ben Morse.


Costumes, sun, and rock & roll: top festival photography tips and techniques

Whether you’re pitching your tent for a full weekend of live music or going to a concert with friends, make sure you're prepared to capture all the fun of the summer. Festivals and music events are filled with spectacular stage sets and props, quirky costumes and, of course, incredible performances that all add to the atmosphere. So pack your Canon camera and follow these top tips from a festival photographer to take shots that are the envy of all your friends.

Ben Morse launched his career as a professional festival photographer with just one email. He was an enthusiastic amateur looking to develop his skills, and saw festival photography as a way to combine his passion for music with his growing interest in photography. "I was just getting started and wanted to broaden out my portfolio past the musicians that I was shooting. I thought a festival would be a good way to do that, so found 2000trees, a wonderful small rock festival in Cheltenham, England that I thought might give me a shot. I emailed them and they said, 'Yes, we love your work.'" In fact, they liked his work so much that they invited him back the following year, as a paid photographer.

"Shooting a festival is much more fun than just attending it," says Ben. "I discover a tonne of new music and get to feed off other people's creative energy, which is very exciting." The varied conditions that festivals present mean that they're the perfect training ground for photography enthusiasts – a great place to develop your skills while having fun.

Here, Ben shares his advice on how to take more creative shots by working with your environment, looking for unusual compositions and using your zoom to maximum effect.

1. Be where the other photographers aren't

"One great thing I've learned over the years of shooting festivals is that it pays to be where the other photographers aren't," says Ben. "Some of my favourite shots are the ones I've taken when standing in the crowd and the singer has come down to the barrier. The other photographers remained in the pit because that's where their pass got them access to, and they didn't think to move around to get the best shots. I love shooting from the crowd's perspective because it's the view that most people remember. I see it as my job to be there and get in amongst them to soak up the atmosphere."

This tip doesn't just apply during big performances, either. Use the time before and after the music sets to explore the colourful scenes around the festival site. "There's tonnes of cool stuff you can shoot at a festival. There are always people dressed up in crazy costumes wandering around the place. And my feeling is if they're wearing a costume, they want to be seen, so they would probably love it if you take their photo. It doesn't hurt to just ask. Just say, 'Do you mind if take a photo? You look amazing!' Most of the time, they will say, 'Yes.'"

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Men in blue jackets and bow ties pretend to play inflatable instruments in a field. Photo by Ben Morse.

2. Pack the perfect camera kit

If you're looking to improve your festival photography this summer, the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS or Canon EOS M50 are great festival companions. The powerful 40x optical zoom on the compact Canon PowerShot SX740 HS will help you to easily switch from shooting fun with friends nearby to the spectacle playing out on stage further away. Plus, with 4K movie recording options, you can capture your favourite songs beautifully.

"A PowerShot is a really good option," says Ben. "It's really useful to have a big screen that you can flip around to see things on. Something with a decent zoom on it is also useful, so that you can get the action on the stage from the crowd."

Check the rules surrounding photography equipment at the festival or gig you're going to before you leave. Some events only allow you to take a compact camera, whereas others might allow you to take a mirrorless camera or DSLR without a photographer's permit.

The Canon EOS M50 is a compact yet versatile mirrorless camera with a DSLR-sized 24.1 Megapixel sensor, a powerful DIGIC 8 processor and 4K video recording for making unforgettable memories with beautiful colour and detail. It offers automatic shooting modes that find the right settings for you, as well as manual controls that you can dive into once you feel more confident in your photography skills. Wi-Fi connectivity means you can share your images to your smart devices easily, using the Canon Camera Connect app. Plus, the M50's Vari-Angle touchscreen means you can take photographs from all angles – whether that's getting down low to make performers appear taller, or squeezing into a corner to get a wider view of the action.

When selecting a lens to use with the Canon EOS M50, the Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM that often comes bundled with the camera is a high quality and versatile lens for wide angles and everyday shots, with a great Image Stabilizer built in.

Ben adds: "If I was looking to get a bit closer, the Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM has a long reach but it's still nice and light, and it's got an Image Stabilizer. The long reach means you could get nice close-ups of instruments and people's faces on stage. So, between those two lenses, you have pretty much everything covered."

3. Shoot the whole scene

To shoot a classic view of the stage with all of the rocking band members in shot, Ben recommends using a smaller aperture (higher f-number) such as f/4.5 or higher. This gives you an increased depth of field that will help ensure the whole scene is in focus as much as possible.

A band play on an atmospheric stage at night, with smoke and blue light, and hands in the foreground. Photo by Ben Morse.

4. Don't forget the crowd

"Don't spend your whole time focusing on the band," advises Ben. "Make sure that you've got a couple of shots that show the rest of the crowd as well. You're at a live music experience. There will be tonnes of professionals in the pit taking close-up pictures of the band, but you have a unique perspective where you can show the crowd's reaction. You can show how that band is affecting the people around you. If you want to look back on those images and remember how that moment felt, the best way to see that is seeing the band, and then seeing the reactions on the faces of the people around you."

Similarly, why not use your friends as models? While you're exploring the festival or waiting for the music to start, photographing your friends can be a great way to practise your photography and get your camera ready. "It's fun to shoot photos of your friends, but you can also use this opportunity to make sure your aperture and ISO are set up correctly. If you use this time to play around with your settings, you can focus on framing your shots when the music starts."

A singer crowdsurfs in a tent, mic in hand. Photo by Ben Morse.

5. Zoom smarter

The 40x optical zoom on the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS gives you the ability to get in closer to everything that's happening at a festival. To use the zoom to its full potential, Ben advises: "Try to keep your hands as steady as possible while shooting at high zoom. Keep your hands solid, wait for the right moment and give yourself enough flexibility in the frame that if the subject you're shooting – be it the singer, the guitarist, a member of the crowd – moves suddenly, you won't lose the photo. So don't zoom in super, super close; a little bit of extra width is much more useful than being in too close."

A feature of the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS that will help with zooming in and out quickly is its Zoom Framing Assist. To use this, just press the Zoom Framing Assist button on the back of the camera (to the left of the Wi-Fi button) to zoom out and reacquire your subject. Release the button, and the lens will automatically return to the zoomed-in position.

The Canon PowerShot SX740 HS also features powerful Image Stabilisation, which will help to reduce the risk of blurry pictures from shaky hands. Similarly, the Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM and Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM lenses that Ben recommends using with the Canon EOS M50 have Image Stabilisation built in.

People in a festival audience hold up their hands as confetti showers down on them. Photo by Ben Morse.

6. Turn flash off

"Don't use pop-up flash for shooting from the crowd at night," warns Ben. "It will bleach out the people near to you, making giant white blobs in the foreground, and do absolutely nothing for the image that you're trying to take of the band in the distance. Plus it will annoy everybody around you. Remember that the band have lit the stage or arena a particular way because they want to give that effect, so use that lighting instead."

7. Consider white balance

Lighting conditions at festivals change constantly due to unpredictable weather conditions and variable stage lighting. Your camera's default Auto White Balance setting can help you keep ahead of these changes, ensuring that your colours always look natural and pleasing. "When the band arrives on stage, there will likely be more light. The weather conditions and the time of day all impact how you should set your white balance, and fluorescent stage lighting can confuse your camera," says Ben. "There is no shame in shooting on Auto White Balance, particularly if it will mean that your colour tones come out looking normal."

The Canon PowerShot SX740 HS and Canon EOS M50 both have an Auto White Balance setting, as well as a selection of presets (such as Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten and Fluorescent). They also offer fine manual control, so you could experiment with setting the white balance manually once you feel comfortable. Just remember to change back to Auto White Balance when you're done. The Canon EOS M50 also allows you to shoot images in RAW, which means you can edit your pictures' white balance later in RAW development software such as Digital Photo Professional, on a tablet or computer.

Whatever the lighting conditions, a Canon camera can help ensure your colours pack as much of a punch as the music!

Overhead shot of gig showing confetti exploding out from the stage and towards the audience. Photo by Ben Morse.

8. Experiment with composition

"Find different angles of looking at the same thing," says Ben. "Get low to the ground. Get high up if you can, too. If there are some quirky art installations, then hang around those because people love to take photos of them. So, you can take photos of the people that are milling around them. There's tonnes of cool stuff you can do. I've got a shot of a musician practising among trees at one festival. The trees are vertical lines that draw your eye, so they're a naturally photogenic thing. Look for shapes and lines like this that are naturally there at festivals because they make interesting photos."

Ben adds that having a camera with a tilting screen – such as the 180° flip-up screen on the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS or the Vari-Angle touchscreen on the Canon EOS M50 – can really help you to find creative angles. "My oldest trick is to get low, down to the ground. But you don't need to sit or crouch that low if you've got a tilting or flip screen – you can just hold the camera down low."

A guitarist practices among some trees. Photo by Ben Morse.

9. Capture the buzz

Rather than getting annoyed when people in front of you wave their hands in front of your camera, why not embrace these details? Clapping hands can help to convey the atmosphere of the gig. "If you're halfway back, the crowd is this giant sea of faces and hands, and sometimes they're lit, sometimes they're half lit, sometimes they're in total silhouette," says Ben. "If you're in the middle, and you wait for the right moment, then you can get some really interesting shots by playing around with silhouettes. I've had a moment before where there was a guy in front of me with hands up clapping. I let this guy go nuts, and I tried to keep shooting between his hand claps to catch the band between a pair of hands. That was a fun challenge."

To achieve a shot with hands as silhouettes and the band in focus, Ben advises that you set your camera to a high ISO, use a fast shutter speed, and focus on the stage. Find a rhythm with the shutter and try to take a burst of images in between claps. The Canon PowerShot SX740 HS and the Canon EOS M50 both have continuous shooting modes, so you can use these modes to shoot bursts of several images per second.

"Don't worry about checking the image then and there. You can do that when you go home. If you've missed the moment, there's no point in checking it, and while you're checking you might miss the next one," says Ben. "Instead, keep the camera running as fast as it can, and be ready to move with what's happening around you. If you're excited about music and you've had a good time, you won't be upset about checking through 500 photos once the event is over."

A band perform on stage, with audience hands waving and clapping. Photo by Ben Morse.

10. Print your shots

"One of the things that I love doing on tour is bringing a small instant printer with me to print out shots from a day or two before to leave in the band's dressing room. They love it because they don't get to see what I see," says Ben.

"If you're going to a festival for a few days, I'd recommend taking a Canon Zoemini portable printer to have back at your campsite. Print images that you've taken from around the campsite, and at some of the shows, and stick them around your tent." Ben adds. To use the printer, make sure you have the images you'd like to print to your smartphone or tablet (you can transfer them over using your camera's Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to link up to the Canon Camera Connect app). Then, open the Canon Mini Print app to print the image direct from your phone to the Canon Zoemini. The Canon Mini Print app even lets you add filters, frames, doodles, text and more for fun images that will leave a lasting impression on your friends.

Written by Matthew Bowen

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