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Festival Photograhy: Latitude Festival 2008 De-brief

Posted by Matt on July 22nd, 2008 filed in Digital Photography Hints & Tips, Event Photography, Outdoor Photography, Taking Photos

Latitude Festival Crowds
Latitude Festival Crowds – by Matt Hobbs

Last weekend we spent a happy three days up in Suffolk at the Latitude Festival, a wonderful mix of outdoor music, comedy, theatre and other more cerebral activities. Following on from last week’s articles on how to choose a camera for a festival, and how to pack your camera for a festival – I did of course take my camera with me, and you can see plenty of Latitude Festival Photos here. So how did it all work out?

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Latitude is a very well laid out festival, in the ground of Henham Park which has a lot of private land for everyone to camp in. The festival follows the model of most festivals that aren’t Glastonbury in that the camping and performance areas are separate; you arrive at the site, trade in your ticket for a numbered wrist band, then set up your tent (or not if you’re going upmarket), leave your heavy stuff behind and skip merrily with camera in hand – and possibly waterproofs – to the performance entry gate. Here you show your wrist band, they search your bag if you have one, and then you’re through to enjoy the many acts. Simple.

Well it would have been simple except for one slight snag… Latitude has a clause for entry that says ‘no professional cameras or recording equipment’. Being only an amateur photographer I thought that having a pro-sumer digital SLR camera (the wonderful Canon 20D) would be fine. Turns out this wasn’t the case. The over-zealous gate bag searcher took one look at the camera and said ‘no cameras with detachable lenses’. Jaw dropped, I argued for a bit then gave up – being told I could rent a locker (for £15) to put the camera in but that was that. Highly frustrated, and not wanting to give the festival even more of my money than the over-priced beer was about to take, I walked back to my car and hid the camera in there. Risky, but we were parked near a gate that was manned 24 hours so it seemed a reasonable risk. Then, small but serviceable Canon G7 in hand I returned to the gate and got in just fine.

On reflection I could easily have snuck the SLR into the festival, and obviously a lot of people had managed to get theirs in without problems as I saw a number about. If you are attempting this my recommendation is to wear a baggy jacket with big pockets, as the entrance folk were more worried about bags than clothing. This isn’t guaranteed, and don’t try it just after you’ve been turned away, but having snuck some beers in later that weekend it’s obviously not a perfect system but then which system is?

Festival Photos with the Canon G7

David Soul reads at Word Theatre
David Soul – by Matt Hobbs

Although I was frustrated that my Canon 20D had not come with me, my Canon G7 still allowed me to take a number of good photos – plus it’s a lot lighter to carry around when you’re bouncing up and down to Blondie and the like. The Canon G7 also has a pretty meaty zoom and image stabilization built in to enable shots at a distance when you don’t want to brave the mosh pit up front. The G7 has ISO levels to 1600, easily selectable on the top of the camera, so in dark venues you can quicky try different settings based on changed lighting. That said, G7 photos can be pretty ‘grainy’ above 200 ISO, so try and keep the ISO as high as possible – go to ISO 80 if it’s a bright sunny day and that’s ideal.

My summary of hints and tips from the festival are as follows:

  • Work out a good manual setting when shooting in dark venues/at night: Bouncing up and down in a crowd makes it hard for your camera to calculate exposure and focus, unless you’re lucky enough to be right at the front. So experiment quickly to find a good manual setting with exposure shorter than 1/60 to minimize blur – band members tend to move a lot.
  • Review photos in camera for extreme blur and delete if short on memory: Unless you have a lot of spare memory you should use quiet moments between acts to review your latest photos – and delete them if they are extremely blurry. Don’t be too over zealous here, as a blurry photo with good emotion can be a much better record than a sharp photo badly composed.
  • Reduce the size of your video files: The G7 has pretty powerful sound and video recording capabilities, but you can only record a short sound clip along with a photo. So optimize the size and frame rate of your video to keep the file size down. I’ll write more on this in the future.
  • When walking around make sure your camera is set to a good default: When you see a classic festival moment you have seconds to capture it, and the G7 is nowhere near as fast as a digital SLR in this regard. So to reduce the risk of missing the moment, keep your camera ready at all times – and set the ISO to at least 400 to ensure it shoots short exposure photos. Allow time for the focus/expose delay and don’t start moving the camera until the picture review comes up.
  • People in costumes are generally happy to pose for you, avoid other people’s kids!: Yes, we all know that kids are the cutest things ever, especially when in costume – but taking photos of other people’s kids without permission is a big no no, even at festivals. So be respectful, if you must take a photo then ask their parent’s permission, or stick to the adult performers in costume who are generally happy for you to snap away.

As I said in my previous articles, spare batteries and memory cards are a life saver – meaning you can shoot with impunity and do the edit in your computer at home rather than in camera. A much preferable solution. Latitude offered a locker service where you can re-charge cameras and phones, with 24 hour security, so this is something you might want to consider.

Happy Festivalling!

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