Photographing a Music Festival: What to Bring, What to Expect / by Jordan Hefler

Photographing a Music Festival: What to Bring, What to Expect | Jordan Hefler

Music photography is my FAVE. It's what I'm passionate about, and what I enjoy doing the most out of all aspects of my business. There's truly nothing like shooting live music. I've been fortunate enough to photograph multiple festivals on the press side, the spectator side, and on the staff side. Each time I have had an experience I learn more about what to pack next time and what to expect. Shooting a music festival is not a walk in the park (actually it literally might be a festival held in a park but you get me.) Think of this more like packing for a trip vs. what you'd bring to just shoot some portraits. Since I just finished up a week at SXSW and I've been getting a lot of questions about this, I figured I'd give a comprehensive list of my favorite products to bring and what to expect when photographing a music festival!

COMFY SHOES

Honestly probably the most important thing to bring besides your credentials and your camera. Don't even try to look cute. Photographing a festival is like a marathon and it's best if you just try to put comfort to the forefront. My personal faves are my grandpa New Balances or my newfound OBSESSION the Nike Tanjun. I have multiple colors in both shoes lol because I'm #extra.

Don't even think about wearing open toed shoes if you're going to be in the photo pit. People are stompin all up on each other, it's just not worth it. I've known some photographers to wear combat boots and such but in my opinion athletic shoes are the way to go. I did Converse and Vans a few times and eventually moved on to more supportive/cushier sneakers.

While we're on the subject, grab a pair of insoles for your shoes! It will REALLY make a difference. I'm a fan of the Dr. Scholls inserts for back pain.

CAMERA BACKPACK/FANNY PACK

 Fanny Packs will save the world

Fanny Packs will save the world

I'm a fan of the camera backpack. Well, I like the idea of a camera backpack. I have like 29080936 of them and actually hate them all, so I can't really comment on this subject because I have yet to find something that I think is 100% comfortable and all encompassing. I will say that I think Think Tank makes my favorite ones so far, but even still I'm not satisfied with any one kind yet.

However, I do vouch for a good ole' fashioned fanny pack (thank God these are coming back in style now...but don't be going out and buying a Gucci fanny pack to photograph a festival.) I have a black and white checkered Vans fanny pack that I love because it holds a lot. I usually just put my wallet, Advil, granola bar, etc. in mine but it stretches enough to fit a small lens in there too which is cool. I even have a vintage turquoise sequined one for when I'm feeling sassy.

 Even Big Freedia has front pockets on her apron

Even Big Freedia has front pockets on her apron

I couldn't find my exact fanny pack online, but I'm linking a whole collection of solid options here.

EQUIPMENT

So this might be the obvious thing, but you need to pack your camera(s) and lens(es.) Be light and smart with this. I bring two cameras and usually 2-3 lenses. My go-to is my Sigma 24-70mm 2.8 on one camera and my Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 on the other camera. I usually throw a prime in my bag for good measure as well. Sometimes it's my Nikon 50mm 1.4, but I recently opted for my Sigma 35mm 1.4 when at SXSW for a week. This is usually just to cover me in case something were to happen to one of my lenses, or if I needed to shoot in low light. I don't typically bring my flash to festivals, but in the case of SXSW I knew I'd need it for most of the events I was required to cover. That's up to you if you want to carry that around all day, but typically flash isn't even allowed in the photo pit and you're outside at most festivals anyways.

 My 24-70mm 2.8 lens is probably my most used lens while at a festival.

My 24-70mm 2.8 lens is probably my most used lens while at a festival.

I also bring MULTIPLE batteries and memory cards. Don't forget your chargers as well as your phone charger and a backup phone battery! Sometimes you'll have a press lounge that you can go to to recharge, and depending on how quick of a turnaround your edits need to bring you might need your laptop too. This handy little memory card case is great for organizing your cards as well!

DOUBLE CAMERA HARNESS

 Photo by Quinn Miller- Bedell

Photo by Quinn Miller- Bedell

If you're able to, I DEFINITELY recommend bringing more than one camera body with you to a music festival. Especially if you're being paid to cover the fest. If something happens to your only camera body, you're going to be screwed. I have had the Black Rapid double camera harness for a few festivals now and it's been a lifesaver- not just for festivals, but for all events I end up needing two cameras for. With all the back pain/neck problems I have, having the double harness balances the weight of both cameras and makes it much easier to carry all day. Black Rapid is a great brand with amazing customer service. It might be pricier up front, but I would not recommend skimping on buying a knockoff considering this harness will be supporting the weight of your very expensive camera gear... you want something reputable.

COMFORTABLE LAYERS

What you wear will depend on what time of year your festival is, but I've found from experience that I'm most comfortable in a light t-shirt and pants with pockets. If it weren't for the pockets thing I'd just wear leggings everyday to stay comfortable. I like to have pockets so I can put extra memory cards in my front pockets and my phone in my back pocket.

It's kind of an industry standard thing to wear all black when you're working a festival, so I've gotten in the habit of just wearing all black most times I shoot a concert in general. This makes it really easy when packing because you don't really have to think about your outfits. There have definitely been exceptions... but I typically pack a few pair of black jeans, black shorts, and an assortment of black shirts that are short sleeve and tank top styles. I've had luck getting black jeans/shorts from American Eagle and Pac Sun in the past. I actually even randomly found one of my fave pair of black jean shorts at Hot Topic a few years ago. Black shirts are easily found for cheap at Target, so no need to get super fancy there.

 One of the few times I didn't wear black in the pit OMG CALL 911

One of the few times I didn't wear black in the pit OMG CALL 911

I recently bought this Reebok windbreaker and it worked out perfectly for me while at SXSW because it rolled up really small in my bag and was super lightweight. I liked the kangaroo pouch-type pocket it had in the front because I could put my phone, shot list, and earplugs in there without having to wear a fanny pack. I'd honestly recommend buying this exact jacket- I bought it in both black and white! I've kind of become obsessed with it. Sorry if you're a dude, I just have knowledge of the women's jacket cuz I'm well...a woman.

 This lightweight Reebok windbreaker was perfect to throw in my bag and wear when photographing all week at SXSW!

This lightweight Reebok windbreaker was perfect to throw in my bag and wear when photographing all week at SXSW!

TOILETRIES

YOUR IMAGES SHOULD BE IN RAW, NOT YOUR SKIN- I'm going to go right into this subject with full confidence that you'll need chafing relief gel. I don't care who you are- if your skin doesn't get raw during long, sweaty days with lots of camera gear, denim, and miles and miles of walking YOU'RE LYING. I feel like I usually end up lending this to people, so I know I'm not alone. As weird as it is to be linking this, I am a firm supporter of the Monistat Chafing Relief gel- I use it in-between my legs and on my arms where my camera bag straps rub me all day. 

TRY PEEING IN A PORTA POTTY WITH TWO CAMERAS DANGLING ON YOU- It doesn't hurt to bring along some travel wet wipes (you'll likely be using porta potties all day and that gets ew) and hand sanitizer. Put this shiz in your fanny pack I told you to bring!

GETTIN CRISPY- Sunscreen is also something you should not skimp on. This is kind of obvious but so many times I've forgotten it. I personally hate shooting while wearing a hat because the brim hits my camera and drives me nuts, but if you're worried about your scalp getting burned you can bring a hat too and flip it backwards if this a problem. Don't be one of those old man photographers that shows up in like a massive safari hat that blocks everybody else's shots in the pit. I wouldn't be mad if you wore a Do What You Want dad hat...

 Well this was the first and last time I tried to wear a hat to photograph

Well this was the first and last time I tried to wear a hat to photograph

MISCELLANEOUS

EXPECT RAIN- You should probably invest in a few of those cheap 99 cent ponchos to bring along. You never know what the weather might do and you definitely want to take precautions when you're outside with your gear. I usually stuff a small trash bag and some Ziploc bags in my camera bag as well for emergencies when I need to throw my phone or a lens into something for cover. My mom came up with the great idea to give me those little Saran wrap pot covers to use as lens covers, but a shower cap or Ziploc bag will work too! I also usually try to bring an umbrella, but depending on what the festival's policies are you may not be able to bring one in. Always check the website of the festival for approved/unapproved items before you get there!

DON'T BUST YOUR EARDRUMS- If you're not already wearing earplugs when going to concerts, you need to start! I used to not and it was actually BUKU festival in New Orleans when I finally realized I needed to. I had been listening to the incessant thump of EDM beats for 2 days straight up right next to the speakers (when you're in the photo pit you're real close) and some guy looked over at me in my despair and was like... you need earplugs... and gave me some. I've never looked back. I have fancy professional grade molded ones for my ears now but I still wear the cheap bright orange ones from CVS whenever I'm in a pinch and forgot them. I keep a million in my bag to give to others in their time of need too, since I know how it feels!!

DEHYDRATION IS NO FUN- BRING A WATER BOTTLE. If you're prone to losing them like me, don't bring anything fancy. Bring something you're okay with getting confiscated or losing. I have a plastic one I bought at Voodoo Fest a long time ago that has a clip on it so I can attach it to my backpack. I always look like a friggin pack mule walking around with 2 cameras on a harness, a fanny pack, a backpack, and a waterbottle swangin around on my backpack. YOLO.

BUSINESS CARDS- I'm really bad about forgetting biz cards all the time but a great tip I can give is when you're in the pit, take a photo of the crowd and then give everyone in the front row your card saying you'll send them the shot they're in. This gets the word out about your photography and has people coming to your website to check out what photos you took at the festival they attended. I've gotten a lot of social media followers by doing this. 

GET DAT HAIR OUT YO FACE- If you have long hair, bring some extra ponytail holders! I've recently become a fan of the french braided pigtail look for when I'm shooting. It's a lot of work ahead of time but it's a great way to keep your hair out of your face.

SUNGLASSES- Don't bring designer sunglasses to a music festival. I almost always lose a pair, so I bring 1-2 pair of cheap plastic sunglasses I usually got for free at a booth somewhere. 

 who found this photo of me

who found this photo of me

COUNT YOUR STEPS- If you have an Apple watch or Fitbit, wear it! I'm always shocked to see how much I walk when shooting a music festival! I have the Fitbit Alta and I love it because it's small and simple.

I'm sure I'm forgetting something here... but this should be a pretty solid list to get you started! Have you shot a music festival before? What else can you suggest adding to this list? Leave a comment below!

Photographing a Music Festival: What to Bring, What to Expect | Jordan Hefler