In the Pit #19: Warren Millar on shooting gigs and festivals

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Warren Millar

Warren Millar (Credit – Matt Hart)

Warren Millar has been a regular shooter for Getintothis for a few years now and here he offers his thoughts and tips on shooting gigs and festivals.

We’ve all seen those internet memes on the jobs we do, what my mum thinks I do, what my partner thinks I do, what my friends think I do and what I actually do.

Well they are mostly quite true and even more so as a gig photographer. Talking to people who know that I photograph live music at gigs and festivals, most people will say things like “Wow it must be great doing that and meeting all these stars and getting in to see big bands perform live on stage for nothing”.

Well it is great, I love doing it, but it’s not all stars, rock and roll, sex, drugs and hobnobbing with big bands by any means. Its bloody hard work, even more so at a three day festival.

I can hear a lot of people now saying “Hows that? I’ve been to loads of festivals and it’s been nothing but fun” Yeah so have I, but as a punter not as a photographer who has to get the shots required hopefully to show what it was like being there.

So in this piece I’m going to try and let you know what it’s like covering a big festival from my point of view as a photographer. I’m going to pick the most recent festival I covered for Getintothis which was Bluedot festival last month.

Relatively small by festival standards, nevertheless even Bluedot covers quite a decent sized site at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire with a number of outlying stages as well as a main draw stage to cover.

Snapped Ankles

Snapped Ankles

For me, an event such as this will start weeks (hopefully, but sometimes days) before the actual festival and once I know I have the photo pass/accreditation. I’m lucky in this respect when I’m covering a festival for Getintothis as this is done for me by Getintothis’ media guy Peter Goodbody, and a bloody fine job he does too !!

So, once I have the accreditation I will start to plan my days. In the case of Bluedot the festival is three days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I’ll take a look at who’s playing. On which what stage, at what time. I’ll see which bands or artists clash.

This can and almost certainly will get changed. On the ground I need to liaise with the Getintothis writer (or writers). Most of our festival reviews will feature a top 10 acts, or a best bands of the weekend piece, so we use WhatsApp to keep in touch, often making a group for each festival, and that means we can make sure the photographer(s) can get shots of the bands likely to be covered in the review.

So, I’ll get emails / messages telling me which bands we want pictures of. And usually, this is on the day, even minutes before a band is due on stage. So plans then go out of the window but I still make them anyway.

It’s not uncommon for a message to ping on my phone saying “You should get along to see this band in the Blue Tent – they’re amazing.” We don’t always know who’s going to impress beforehand.

What I also find very useful at the planning stage, and is one of my top tips, is to look at YouTube videos of any bands I may not have seen before so I can get an idea of what they are like live. I also try and write down the bands, stage times, stages, and any other useful information in my note book for reference when on site. All this is well before I’m even at the festival.

So I have the accreditation, I have all the information I may need, so now its festival time.

So, here’s my first day at Bluedot.

The first day is always a little more stressful than the next two days at a festival which are basically the same sort of groundhog days anyway. With Bluedot only being 30 miles away and quite local I could come home and do my editing at my laptop with a glass of red or cup of tea every night.

But like most other big festivals I’ve covered they did have a great press room with WiFi and refreshments and the like, so if I had been camping or even glamping (Ha!) all my editing could have been done in situ and sent off to the editors at Getintothis from the site.

Usually the action starts about midday at most festivals, but on the first day and at Bluedot, I always get to site early. Mainly because the first half an hour is filled by finding a place to park, finding the press room, sorting out my press accreditation (which can be a pain at times – it’s not always clear where to collect passes) and sorting my gear out.

Then I’ll check stage times and bands I have to cover. And pause. And, then, because I had never covered Bluedot before, I took a walk around the site noting where all the stages where and just basically getting my bearings so I could rush from stage to stage should the need arise.

It then becomes a bit of a juggling act trying to get the bands I need and / or want to cover, constantly looking up times and stages where bands are playing and trying to be at the stage I need to be at on time.

As with most big festivals, on the smaller stages the three songs and out convention is not always enforced, so  at Bluedot so timings can be altered to suit needs.

The main stage, though, is strict and photographers had to meet just before the band or artist came on stage at one side of the pit where Bluedot PR people would let us in just before the band came on and then make sure we were all out after the first three songs. They would also brief us as to any conditions the band/artists own PR had put forward before we were allowed in.

I must say here and now that at Bluedot this was all smooth and stress free thanks to the great PR people Bluedot had there. It’s not always the case.

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The rest of the day is much of the same. Popping into the pit at the smaller stages, making sure I’m at the main stage meeting point for the main stage photographs and in between trying to look for great crowd shots while wandering round the site soaking up the atmosphere and of course getting something to eat and maybe a beer (only one beer, though, honest!)

Once you have all the images you think you need the day isn’t over. As I said before, I’m not far away from Bluedot so I drove there and back every day. The first day I got back home just after midnight.

Flaming Lips

Flaming Lips

Put the kettle on and the first thing I do as a matter of routine is upload all my image files onto my computer. It’s something I always do, I’m never happy until all my files are on my computer and in my opinion it’s a great habit to have.

Once I know I have all the image files on my computer I will format my memory cards and stick all my used batteries on charge so everything is ready for the next day. Then I will start editing the images ready to be emailed to the editors at Getintothis.

Usually by the time all this has been done it’s the early hours, in fact I think at Bluedot after the first day I finally got to bed at 3.30am to get some sleep and ready for Day Two where it all starts again.

Which brings me to another little tip, try and cut down on the number of images you take at a festival. The more you take, the longer you will be up editing and weeding out the images that are not needed.

So next time you’re chatting to a gig photographer and you think we have a cushy number, think again, its hard work, long days and late nights.

Would I want to photograph anything else? Hell no, I fucking love it.

DSCF5728

I add a footnote.

For images I take for the Getintothis live reviews they prefer colour images, and I can see why as it adds a bit of “pop” to the review.

However, when I edit images for my own portfolio I tend to go towards black and white processing, just because  when they work they can look pretty cool. I think this is a throwback to my film days and processing black and white films and prints in my little darkroom in my mum’s house many years ago. It’s a rare chance for me to have Getintothis publish a monochrome image 🙂

You can see some of my work on exhibit at Shout About it Live: Constellations Liverpool – August 18 – 19

Images by Warren Millar

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