The Secrets to Photographing High-Profile Events
Having toured with the likes of electro pop artist, Flume, and Aussie trio RUFUS DU SOL as the official photographer, Pat Stevenson has just about experienced it all when it comes to shooting big events.
“It’s the little things, like handing out business cards and building a rapport with people, that can make all the difference when capturing a large event on camera”, says Pat.
Being a regular on the music festival circuit around Australia has taught Pat how to move quickly, get the best out of his subjects and set himself up for future success. And it’s as much about preparation as it is about working your tail off till the early hours of the morning.
“You have to be good at working on a hangover and no sleep,” says Pat. “Sometimes you’ll be shooting from the moment gates open all the way to the after party at 4am, it’s a constant battle.”
Here’s his advice for taking your high-profile event photography to the next level.
BE PREPARED TO GRIND IT OUT
“Managing high-profile events can be very challenging, there’s a lot of pressure to be 100% switched on and present in the moment,” says Pat. “There are so many distractions, especially in the world of music festivals and concerts.”
“These events are usually seen as pretty loose and everyone is having the time of their lives, but what the punters don’t realise is how much work goes into things behind the scenes, there are so many moving parts.”
Being familiar with the artist’s performance and the program is also key to getting the best shots.
“I usually hit my stride two or three shows into a festival or tour. I start remembering how the sets flow and where I should be to get the optimal shot. Sometimes I’ll set up a camera remotely on a lighting truss and trigger it with a wireless transmitter so I can be in multiple locations at once.”
“Some artists have certain moments in their set, which look fantastic and I need to remember each of these while running around a packed venue with over 10kg of gear on my shoulders, while drinks and bodies flow around me.”
Like a lot of photographers, Pat’s skills are largely self-taught after borrowing his brother’s point and shoot camera to hustle his way into nightclubs to “document the wild scenes” in Sydney’s Kings Cross.
“I ended up meeting a bunch of DJs and bands and hung out long enough that I actually got kind of good at it, and the clubs started to pay me to rock up,” he says.
“After a while, the DJs and bands started flying me around to document their tours and music festivals as the official photographer.”
This eventually led him to cover large-scale music events where the challenges were much bigger than trying to convince a nightclub manager to let you in for free, but the people skills he developed became invaluable.
KNOW YOUR PEOPLE (AND CUSTOMERS)
Shooting big events isn’t just about the technical aspects. Photography is as much about having a connection with your subject as it is about capturing things in the right light, and this is especially true with high-profile events.
“I make an effort to introduce myself to as many artists as I can at a festival while still respecting their privacy as much as possible.”
“Each artist has their own list of demands and as a photographer, I need to gently work around their requests. Some don’t want any photographers on stage while others want specific images or angles covered.”
“Something as simple as offering them your business card and getting their manager’s email address, so you can send them images after their performance, makes a big difference. It shows that you actually care and you are trying to capture them in the best possible light.”
“This can lead to them giving you the heads up and notifying you when there are highlight moments in their set. If they recognise you in the photo pit, you might get a once-off wink towards the camera or something similar, which can turn an ordinary image into something spectacular.”
BACK UP, BACK UP AND BACK UP
It may sound boring, but how many times have you lost an important project or file that you’ve been working on because you forgot to hit the save button? Now, imagine that on a large scale after you’ve been running around for hours-on-end capturing once-in-a-lifetime shots only to lose it all because you haven’t bothered with redundancy?
“I read on the forums and online that you should always shoot with a second card in your camera, just in case one of your cards corrupt and you lose all your data,” says Pat.
“In my entire photography career, I’ve only had this happen once. This was in the early days of shooting when I used to skimp on costs and got a no-name CF card. Since then I have strictly used SanDisk cards and never had one corrupt on me.”
“I’ve also been taught from the early days to always have backups of your backups. I have four RAID towers, which have 1x HDD redundancy.”
“This means if one hard drive dies, I can just hot-swap the drive with a new one and the entire file system rebuilds itself with no data loss. I also keep a copy of these drives off-site at a relative’s house.”
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ATTITUDE MATTERS, AND SO DO EAR PLUGS
Never underestimate the importance of soft skills. Here are Pat’s other top tips for elevating your event photography:
- Be professional and consistent with your work.
- Try and get photos turned around as quickly as possible, clients love this.
- Don’t bother artists too much before their set, they’re trying to get in the zone.
- Befriending management/tour managers is vital.
- If the stage manager is on your side, you’re GOLD.
- Treat everyone with respect backstage, you might not know who you’re talking to.
- Don’t get wasted backstage, you’re there to work, not get hammered.
- Make people laugh, have a good sense of humour, people love to laugh.
- Don’t make punters angry, they’re usually drunk and can be unpredictable.
- If a punter asks you if you want to get on their shoulders to take photos, say yes, why not?
- Ear plugs, spend the money on a proper pair, once your hearing is gone it’s gone for good.
Patrick Stevenson remains one of Australia’s most influential and pioneering photographers whose creative aesthetic ushers a profound impact across the music, events, food, travel, lifestyle, portrait, adventure and events realms.
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