130,000 people, 170 acts, a large number of stages, hundreds of press photographers, camping sites, food stalls – and all of it spread out over almost 80 hectares. Photographing Roskilde Festival was quite a challenge, not least on the old legs which ended up walking roughly half a marathon every day. It was different from my usual events, it was a lot bigger of course (2nd biggest festival in Europe) but it is also the first somewhat more traditional press photography festival I have shot.
So how was it?
Well. As I mentioned in my first post about Roskilde festival, it was spectacular, exciting, hard, tiring, amazing, cold, wet, muddy, frustrating, exhilarating, inspiring, wonderful – and everything in between!
And it was tough. I was sick for more than a week afterwards, totally exhausted and I caught a cold on the last night of Roskilde, where the July summer night turned wintery with temperatures in single digits and a wind that cut like knives. Froze every skinny bone in my body for hours and hours.
Ok, enough grumpiness from this grumpy old man. What was the shooting experience like?
I was thrilled to get to shoot Roskilde for Red Bull Denmark, it was really exciting, super inspiring and at times it was a true adrenalin kick to shoot acts on Orange Stage in front of 90,000 people. But it was also a weird hit ’n run style shoot that fragmented every concert into “first 3 songs only” experience. Like only watching a trailer of every concert, like shooting 15 minutes of a football match. I shot 25 concerts at least, but I did not get to listen to one single concert in it’s full length. For me, I am used to shooting the entire event, being in the groove, in the music, on stage, back stage, front of stage, and feeling like part of the show. I love that immersive experience. This, is a very different experience, a different game and at times it has little to do with actual photography. More about that later.
A day would go like this: I arrive at the festival maybe around lunch time. First I would go to the press center to inhale coffee and prepare all my gear. I have my daily shooting schedule which tells me which concerts I am to cover, which stages and the times. Now the stages themselves are spaced rather far apart naturally, so the old legs get quite an insane workout (maybe a golf buggy or an X-wing fighter for next year!).
I arrive perhaps 15 minutes before the show and get into the photo pit. Except for the big Orange stage where you first of all need to get a sticker earlier in the day. There are 25 per show, 25 photographers is all that will fit in the tiny pit. You need a sticker for the specific shows you need to cover or you won’t get in. With sticker at the ready, you then queue at least 30 minutes early to get a good spot in the cramped Orange pit. Now with many, many photographers wanting to cover the acts on the biggest stage, it can be hard to get a sticker but I was really lucky and got access to every act on Orange I needed to shoot.
Now, ready, in the pit, ready to shoot. Almost every show has the standard “first 3 songs only” rule. This means that you get the first 3 songs and are then escorted out.
I know some who say this is plenty time, if you cannot make a good picture in those 3 songs you never will. Maybe so, that is totally besides the point in my mind. I am not in it to make one good picture, then leave. Hit and run. I am in it because I truly love music, and I love to shoot music. I need to be in music, be in the groove, in sync with the beat and I want a varied coverage of the whole show, not just one “taken out of context” good shot from the first 15 minutes. At these type of events, you can’t do that. You just gotta make some good shots in those first 3 songs and then you are escorted out. Who came up with this “3 songs” rule anyway? Who at some point decided that any more than 3 songs and the universe would blow up?
It really hit home for me that I am a music shooter. Not a press shooter. I am in it for the music. I want to be part of the whole event (ok, I am sure every photographer there wanted to if they could).
After those 3 songs there might be 45 minutes before the next show. Just enough time to run to the press center, and download the pictures and maybe do a quick run-through and pick the pictures for delivery. I only had to deliver once at the end of every day, and I am grateful for that. Still, it helps a lot to keep up with the processing during the day, download, pick, develop, then run to the next show – or I would have found myself at 3am with 1000 raw files to go through, a task that takes hours. This way, I was “up to date” all the time, hectic though the workflow was.
Where was I? Oh yeah, now it is time for the next show! I quickly pack the laptop bag, hand it in to the awesome people who run the 24hr gear storage facility in the press center, and it is time to convince those old legs to walk speedily towards the next gig!
This process is repeated all day and night till the last gig is over, and it is quite amazing how fast time flies by in this hit ’n run (well walk) style.
Look, I saw many photographers making awesome shots in those 3 songs we were allocated. I even made 1-2 nice pictures myself I think. I was inspired by many colleagues at Roskilde and I did quickly pick up on the fact that I had to shoot a lot more and a lot faster than normal to get something. Again, it is like a football match you have to cover in 15 minutes. Time is a luxury you do not have.
Still, I don’t have to like that 3 songs rule. Legendary Jim Marshall felt that when you let bands dictate how much and where you can shoot from, the pictures are not yours anymore. I have to agree. Proper documentary photography takes time. There is nothing that can equal time and access in terms of getting under the skin of what is happening. Roskilde was sometimes not what I call music documentary photography, it was press photography (I don’t want to sound negative about press photography, it is just a different beast). And at times, I would not even call it photography, at times we were locked into position in the pit, unable to move, unable to see much of the artist at all, hidden behind mike stands, monitors, instruments etc. At that point, you can just point and get shots to register that you were there.
I worked for 4 days, but very little of it is actual shooting time compared to totally immersive events that I normally work. Again, hit and run. I am now, more than ever, so incredibly grateful for the access I am allowed in the gigs I normally shoot where I can be part of the entire show, to be backstage, in front of the stage, move freely around and very importantly, be on the stage itself. Absolutely essential for the type of work I like to make.
In conclusion – and will this blog post ever end?
Now that the dust have settled, I mean now that the mud has dried up – I am reasonably happy with my first Roskilde. I did get some shots I like, maybe even one or two for the portfolio. There are plenty of shots I had pre visualised in my head, that I never was able to get. Quite often the real world simply gets in the way – such as the distance between stages, or how impossible it can be to get through about half of 90,000 people to get that epic peak time shot of Orange Stage from a central spot. Next year, armed with the knowledge from this year I will either do better – or fail more! Either way, some of the adrenalin is still firmly lodged in my body and I look forward to hopefully get another try at this, taking on Roskilde again next year. See you in the mud!
See many more pictures in my Getting my feet muddy at Roskilde blog post.
A report on Fujifilm gear in the Roskilde mud
I used my X-Pro2 mostly, and sometimes the X-T1 as a second camera. I do much prefer the T-series because of the insanely awesome viewfinder and the flipscreen, both essential for music photography. But the new sensor in the X-Pro2 is just incredibly good, and the X-Pro2 is just overall faster so I felt I needed that in this fast Wyatt Earp press shooting environment.
I mostly used a few lenses I normally do not use, the two outstanding zooms: the 16-55 F2.8 (thank you Ib and Fujifilm Nordic) and the 50-140 F2.8 (thank you Kim Matthäi Leland and Klaus Bo). Both are outstanding lenses and performed fantastic. I don’t like using zooms but often at Roskilde there is no choice. You cannot move in the Orange pit at all, you cannot zoom with your feet, only with your lens. I only ever used the 50-140 lens at the Orange stage, I had no need for it at all on the other stages. The 16-55 F2.8 is a kick ass performer, but I did miss my usual primes. Knowing the setup on every stage now, I may choose to do it quite differently next year and shoot mostly primes, but no doubt that the 16-55 and 50-140 were amazing lenses for the job.
There is plenty of light at these type of events, so F2.8 or even F4.0 is not a problem usually. In my opinion there is far too much light! Most stages are lit like a TV show (I guess because of the live video broadcast) and you never have to worry about the light. Everything is lit plenty, all the time. It is a lot easier, but also a bit more dull with all that light to shoot in compared to the very dark and moody electronic music events I normally work where a few lasers, strobes and moving heads means the light change dramatically every second.
I tell ya one thing: Weather sealing really, really works! Both my X-Pro2 and X-T1 and all my lenses were absolutely soaked in rain at times and just kept on rocking, never missing a beat.
4 days slinging the camera around in the rain and mud, 4 days of shooting, 4 days at the 2nd biggest festival in Europe – and every single piece of Fujifilm gear I brought worked perfectly! I could not be more happy and satisfied with my gear, it totally delivers and can be counted on 100% for any big gig.
The last festival I attended was in the Sierras in California. We arrived late, so the ONLY place to park my tent was right next to one of the stages. I mean right next to. It was touching the stage. To say it was useless as a sleeping location is understating the fact. I was miserable. 20,000 hippies and four bathrooms. Then it rained. Oh, and I was being drug tested the following week. I’ve never been to another festival. You are a warrior.
Sounds wonderful! To be fair, I don’t actually camp at any of the festivals I shoot. This old raver goes to some kind of brick house to sleep in every night.