This weekend is the biggest annual event in Bangor, Maine: the American Folk Festival. This weekend also turns out to be my favorite of the year; it’s a fantastic combination of music, culture, and, of course, almost an infinite number of photographic possibilities.
On the eve of the 2009 AFF, I thought I’d provide a few festival photography tips and a few examples of AFF shots I’ve taken from past years (click on any photo for more info).
Make it close and sharp
Festivals abound with amazing opportunities to watch artists perform their craft. For photos of the artists themselves, move as close as you can (or use a lens with a high zoom) and capture the artist in a pose that will make their skill very clear. If possible, use a very fast shutter speed to reduce the amount of blurring in your image; a higher ISO setting might help capture the artist better, even in brighter outdoor festivals. (The photographer at the Canon workshop in Acadia recommended a shutter speed of 1/500 sec. for human action; I’ve found that’s a good general rule.)
If you’re capturing a musician, be patient as the song progresses. Try to predict a point in the song at which you think the artist will gesture, move, or really accentuate their skill and prepare for that moment.
Capture the experience
Festivals usually showcase musicians, craftsmen, or culinary artists, but a festival is more than just the music, crafts, and food. The festival experience is just as worthy of being captured. You may pass by a street-side musician playing between sets, a bird intently watching some freshly purchased food, or a couple dancing in the audience. Don’t be afraid to move your eyes away from the artist or performer; your best shots may be taken away from the stage.
Please remember that you’re not the only person at the festival. Be courteous to the artists by not constantly taking photos with a flash (or, better yet, any flash photos at all). Try to find a shooting location that does not interfere with others’ enjoyment of the festival. If you do need to move in front of someone in the audience to take a photo, excuse yourself and move back as quickly as possible. Be respectful of your subjects as well; if your photo focuses on a person at the festival or in the audience, ask their permission. And please, don’t intentionally take or upload embarrassing or inappropriate photos (those make more than just the subject look bad).
Rules are meant to be broken
One last wonderful aspect of a festival is that they often last for a long time and provide you with many chances to take great photographs. They’re a wonderful time to experiment and try new techniques. While there are many “rules” of photography (the Rule of Thirds, the 1/500 sec. human motion guideline, etc.), photographic rules were made to be broken. Be innovative.
Use the festival as a testing ground for new ways and styles of doing photography. The best way to improve your craft is through experience; just ask any of the artists at the festival.
Luckily, if you’re not able to join us on the waterfront this weekend, the number of people taking pictures at the AFF has grown every year. I’ll overload my personal Flickr account with as many pics as I can find the time to upload; I usually tend to focus on the artists and the festival experience. My friend Jeff is very talented at capturing not only the festival, but spontaneous portraits of festival-goers as well. The Bangor Daily, MPBN, and the AFF Flickr group will most likely have a bunch of other photos for you to peruse.
Enjoy the closing weekends of summer!