The Minds of 99 at Royal Arena, Copenhagen, in front of 16,000 people.

I was recently the stills photographer for the 4 day massive Arena tour with my favourite band The Minds of 99 from Denmark. A dream come true! You can see a gallery of all four Arena shows here, but in this post I want to walk you through my entire tour photography preparations and workflow.

First, I must pay a massive respect and credit to the brilliant music photographer Matty Vogel and his incredibly helpful and fantastic blog post about tour photography. That blog post was a huge inspiration for my workflow for this tour. Thank you Matty for your outstanding blog post.

Introduction

Yours truly – photo by Tour Manager Søren Borkmann

I’ve been a music photographer for 7 years but this is my first time being embedded with a band on tour. I have photographed many festivals that last several days, but being embedded on tour is a different thing, truly a dream come true for me. It requires a different workflow to a festival where you are working from one spot for the entire festival, often the press center. On tour, you need fast and mobile workflow.

I wanted to design a workflow that would work well for this tour but also a workflow that I can scale up if my next dream comes true: being embedded with a band on a longer international tour (hey Depeche Mode, I’m available, call any time!)

0. Index

1. Gear
2. Camera setup, RAW+Jpeg
3. Laptop workflow for social media images
3.1 Folder setup
4. Storage and Backup
5. Camera syncing
6. Test your workflow!
7. Planning how to cover the four shows
7.1 Set list and notes
7.2 Moving around during Arena sized shows
7.3 Amount of pictures per day
8. Post-tour Lightroom workflow
9. What worked and what can be improved
10. LOVE WHAT YOU ARE DOING

1. Gear

I had the luxury of knowing I’d be home between the two parts of the tour, so I could change my gear setup if I needed to. For the first two gigs on the tour I brought my normal and beloved setup of primes only :

Cameras: 2 x Fujifilm X-T3 cameras

Lenses: Fujinon 16mm F1.4 mm (permanently mounted on one of my cameras!) , 23mm F2 , 35mm F1.4, 50mm F2, 90mm F2 + a Samyang 8mm fisheye (not pictured above).

This worked great but I did find that this being a big Arena Tour, the stage is massive and there are huge screens behind the band so there is a lot less space for me to sneak around on stage. The way to work around that is stand behind the big screens so I’m not visible and use a tele-zoom. For the last two gigs including the final gig, the climax, featuring 16,000 people in Royal Arena in Copenhagen I added two items:

1. Fujinon 50-140mm zoom (70-200mm in 35mm equivalent). This is a fantastic lens and while I prefer primes, when you are restricted in your movement on stage, a tele zoom like this is the way to go.

2. An extra X-T3 camera for the Samyang 8mm fisheye. I did use the Samyang fisheye the whole tour but for the final gig I brought an extra camera. A Fujifilm X-T3 is so lightweight and small, it is easy to have an extra camera in the bag with the fisheye permanently mounted and I save time on swapping lenses during the gig.

I should have just brought absolutely everything, all my gear, to the first gig and reconfigured my setup as needed. Lesson learned.

Other bits and pieces:

  • SD cards in a card-wallet, batteries and chargers
  • Power strip. I always bring my own power strip to gigs, festivals etc. Then I only need to find one free power socket backstage, in the press center or in the hotel rooms.
  • MacBook 12
  • External Sandisk SSD drive for backups
  • The spare X-T3 camera
  • 5 dollar camera bag!
  • Chalk bag! A new addition, the chalk bag that climbers use. This is a super handy thing I have found, I strap it to my belt and use it for batteries, small lenses etc. Thanks for the tip Ole Bo Jensen! It’s a cheap and lightweight alternative to some of the expensive pouches some of the camera bag makers offers.

2. Camera setup, RAW+Jpeg

RAW+JPEG setup on my Fujifilm X-T3

My main workstation is a MacBook Pro late 2013 model. It works fine, but it is slow to perform the heavy tasks in Adobe Lightroom such as generating previews and exporting final jpegs. And the battery is worn down so it needs to be plugged in. This means it is not great for mobile work on a tour. The Tour was in two parts and I knew I did not need to deliver the full package of pictures each day, just a handful of pictures for social media usage. So I had the luxury of leaving the heavy work with thousands of RAW files for when I got home and just design a workflow on the road that enabled me to quickly deliver 5-10 jpegs each morning.

Enter RAW+Jpeg! The Fujifilm cameras allow you to save RAW files plus a Jpeg at the same time. I’ve never used this feature much but now was the time and Holy moly does this work really well! Surprisingly, it does not really seem to affect battery life much either. For the jpegs I used Classic Chrome film simulation as I love this for concerts, it tones down the oversaturated LED stage lights. I chose to only save small size jpegs as they are still plenty big enough for Facebook and Instagram. I never normally post Jpegs from the camera and I cringed thinking about doing this, but it worked really well! Check out this and this Instagram post from the band, they are my in-camera jpegs slightly enhanced in Apple Photos and/or Snapseed.

The jpegs do not look so good in the scenes with more tricky lighting and the white balance is baked in, so that meant that I ended up having to choose the really obvious pictures that looked good straight out of camera. But that works ok, the really obvious and easy to digest pictures are what works on social media anyway.

3. Laptop workflow for social media images

Click to see Instagram post feat. slightly enhanced jpegs straight from my camera.

I could have just picked out images in camera and transferred to my phone using the Fujifilm remote app. But it is slow! I also have a 12inch MacBook, which I use for all remote work, meetings, talks – anything that doesn’t require the Adobe suite. It is so tiny and light weight, like an ipad with a keyboard and it was perfect for this tour for backup and Jpeg image work. And using that laptop is a lot faster than the phone app workflow, and it is a lot easier to select and edit the jpegs on a 12 inch screen.

I simply used the builtin Apple Photos app on my Macbook (an alternative for me would be Snapseed on my phone). I loaded the straight out of camera jpegs, then selected about 10-15 quick favourites and used the builtin editing tools in Photos to quickly crop and add a bit of punch and sharpening. Then I exported these from Photos to a Dropbox folder and emailed the pictures to band. This was very quick, only took about 15-20 minutes. One day I did it during breakfast and the other day I did it in the back of the crew van while we were driving to the next gig. Check out this and this Instagram post from the band, featuring my jpegs (jpegs, the horror! but it worked well!).

I would still very much prefer to bring a fast laptop on tour so I could do this routine in Lightroom from the RAW files. I hope to win the Lottery in 2020 and get the new 16inch MacBook Pro. But, this jpeg workflow worked remarkably well on this tour as a compromise. It just really sucks when you get home and load 4,000+ RAW files from two gigs and I’m starting from scratch.

Any more than two full gigs in a row and I would never do it like this, the backlog of work when getting home is just insane. Post tour I’m tired and looking at 8 hours of work on my old laptop. This was a compromise, in my ideal version I’d do the full RAW workflow on the road and deliver the full days worth of pictures every night/morning so I’m 100% up to date before the next gig. This is how I work at festivals and definitely the goal for my next tour. This is also the workflow that Matty Vogel describes in his post.

3.1 Folder setup

It’s the first day of tour and you’ve finished the first gig and are super happy and excited and tired and back at the hotel at 1am. This is not the time to think up and setup a folder structure and backup routine, better to have it all prepared and tested.

On my MacBook 12 I created this folder structure:

I created the 3 subfolders Jpegs, Raw and Social Media under all four gig folders.

After each show my first task is then simple enough to suit a tired brain:
Copy files from the 4 x memory cards from my 2 cameras into their respective folders – Jpegs and RAWs.

4. Storage and Backup

Cards and SSD harddrive. I like Sandisk products, I have never had a single failure in 15 years of using them.

I used to work in IT and believe me, 100% of harddrives fail. It’s just a matter of time. Make backups!

I had three backups on tour:

  1. SD cards: I could bring enough cards so I did not need to format between gigs
  2. MacBook 12 internal SSD drive
  3. SanDisk external SSD drive

My file management workflow was:

  1. Copy contents of all SD cards to their respective folders on the Macbook
  2. Store those SD cards in a card wallet and keep this on me at all times.
  3. Run a homemade terminal script that uses rsync to mirror Pictures folder from internal harddrive on MacBook 12 to SanDisk SSD. You could use any backup software or copy and paste manually, but I just like to code a small script.

I can now sleep well knowing every picture exists in three copies. But don’t store all those three copies in the same place though! For example, carry your SD card wallet in your shoulder bag, and have the laptop and Backup drives in two different bags! Shit gets lost or stolen! If I was on a longer tour I would not have enough cards and would have to format, so I’d either try and upload all raw files to my Dropbox account overnight each night or possibly more realistic, I’d add a second harddisk for a second disk based backup (again, don’t store this with the other backups).

5. Camera syncing

I find my cameras are not great at keeping time. I often have to sync the time which is simply just setting the time and clicking OK on both cameras at the same time.

For this tour though, the RAW+Jpeg workflow is new so now it is important that the whole camera setup is identical in the cameras. I just went through the picture settings on both cameras and made sure that all 3 of them were set to save Raw+Jpeg, use Classic Chrome film simulation, and save RAW to card 1 and Jpeg to card 2.

6. Test your workflow!

This was my preparation and I spent some days setting up this workflow and so it would be stupid not to test it! If you have a gig before the tour like I did, just use the entire workflow for this one gig. Or just shoot a bunch of pictures at home and run through the entire workflow from prep, camera setup, backup, storage, file delivery – so you know it all works or you can correct things that needed correcting before the tour.

This way, at 1am in the hotel room after the first gig as in the picture on the right – you don’t need much brain power as you know the routine! This is essential, don’t dream up a workflow and then not test it out. I am so glad I did this, because 1am in my room, digging out laptop and hard drives and dongles and chargers I just followed the workflow I had already tested.

7. Planning how to cover the four shows

The Arena Tour had four big shows of which the first one had a scaled down stage setup to fit the venue but the last three had a close to identical stage setup. They all had the same set list. This presents new challenges and opportunities.

First off, four identical shows means you get the luxury of knowing what happens and the luxury of then planning to shoot certain sequences during a show from different angles, so you can tell the complete story from the stage, from front of house and from the back of the venue. This is one of the amazing things I found about being a documentary photographer on tour, building a story, getting new angles for every show.

7.1 Set list and notes

Set list. This is key. Get a set list and make notes. I wore down several of them during the tour because they live in my back pocket. Here’s one of them:

Setlist and access card. I actually think on this setlist I ended up with too many notes on this list, confusing myself!

Note down key points that happen that you need to cover. Make notes during rehearsals and after the show. Talk to the band and tour and productiong manager about specifics for the night

Oh and even with all the prep and all the notes, you gotta leave room for improvisation and you also can still quite easily forget a key moment. I stood on the wrong side of the stage during the last song of concert number 3, a voice in my brain told me “you forgot something” and I looked at my notes on my setlist. At that point I heard Anders Folke Larsen start his guitar solo from the audience stands. I did a total Homer Simpson “dohhhhhh” because despite knowing this part so well I completely forgot to follow him and the tour manager as they ran off stage right while I was standing stage left. Doh! It did make me angry at myself and I work well while being angry so I was even more focused the day after on the final gig, the big one at Royal Arena with 16,000 people. There was an upside to making mistakes the day before the grand finale!

7.2 Moving around during Arena sized shows

København – The Minds of 99 Arena Tour 2019.

I was asked on instagram how I move around at such large shows and still make good shots. Well one thing is just years of experience in music photography. The other is being prepared. The most important part is loving the music, loving the experience of documenting it and trusting my instincts! I have a Spider-sense in my head that tells me where to go, it really is the best way I can explain it. So I run. A lot. I move around constantly. I need to sometimes be at the back at the venue like in the picture above, and then minutes later I need to be at the front to make this picture:

København – The Minds of 99 Arena Tour 2019.

So I run! And I love it, every second of the shows, a love I try and pour into my pictures.

7.3 Amount of pictures per day

I don’t reduce the amount of pictures I take during tour days to reduce the workflow load. Not at all. I shoot when my instincts tell me to shoot! But I mostly shoot single shot and not burst mode so that in itself reduces the amount of pictures I need to look through. I might shoot 2000-2500 during a whole tour day. About 1500-2000 of that will be from the concert itself. But since I shoot single shot, that is a lot of unique situations even if the amount of pictures is not that staggering. Particularly during these shows, so much happens, the light changes constantly and there are five band members and I’m trying to make at least one epic picture of each of them. There is a lot to cover.

If you like to use burst mode all the time, the same number of unique situations during a concert might mean you end up with 7-10,000 images during an almost two hour concert. You are still looking at editing this selection down to maybe 50-80 key moments from the concert, but you have a lot more to import and look through in Lightroom. Use whatever works for you, but I like to shoot single shots whenever it is possible and just use burst for fast movement such as the lead singer jumping.

8. Post-tour Lightroom workflow

Since I did not bring my main laptop on the road, when I got home I had to start from scratch, load two full days of tour photography into Lightroom and start my usual routine of selecting, culling, editing, exporting etc. I will cover my Lightroom workflow in another blog post some day.

This was a killer job to do post tour – I’m tired and at the same time hyperactive and floating so high on the experience I can hardly concentrate. It’s hard to stare at 4,000+ raw files from two days and dig into them and try to decide what to keep and what to delete when my head is spinning with all this awesomeness. Hence, I gotta have that Lotto win and get that MacBook Pro 16 inch in 2020 so I can work on the road, it’s just easier to do it while running at max speed on adrenaline and excitement during the tour.

9. What worked and what can be improved

Overall the workflow worked really well, and I’m glad I was well prepared as it greatly helped me on tour. There is so much to photograph during a whole day on tour and it is a lot more fun to make pictures all day long than to sit and figure out a workflow on tour, last minute, everything happening around you.

Two things I am doing differently next time

  1. I should have just brought every single lens to the first show and figured out there what would work for the particular tour and stage setup.
  2. While the raw+Jpeg and no Lightroom workflow on tour worked surprisingly well, I still want a new laptop, so I can do at least a big part of the Lightroom work on tour.
  3. Ok 3 things. Matty Vogel mentioned getting a label maker and labelling everything, and with me being the king of forgetting and losing stuff everywhere, this seems like a good idea! I recovered most of what I lost during the tour, but I think I might get a label maker!

10. LOVE WHAT YOU ARE DOING

Yours truly at the very bottom. Iphone panorama by Søren Borkmann.

Being on tour is a dream come true for most music photographers. It certainly is for me. The entire purpose behind the workflow and this article is to create a fast and smooth workflow and maximise the time you can spend making pictures on tour! That’s really my main goal with my photography, spend as little time as possible on gear and tech and as much as possible pouring my love of music into my pictures.

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Further reading

The Minds of 99 Arena Tour – my blog post featuring 80 image gallery from the tour.

Matty Vogel’s blog post – absolute must read ressource

Get in the Loop Ebook – I wrote this 200 page ebook about music photography in 2015, it is a bit dated now but still useful I believe and the price is now only $5 USD.

My Fujifilm Gear – The gear I use and blog articles about camera gear

My Music Photography Blog – All my music photography blog posts since 2012.

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Yours truly on tour and which photographer can resist a huge mirror in a backstage room? I cannot for sure!

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2 thoughts on “On Tour: Photography Workflow

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  1. Brett Patching 5 months ago

    Thanks for this wonderful process & workflow article Flemming. I look forward to seeing that Lightroom workflow post sometime in the future, when you have a lot of time to spare.

    1. Flemming Bo Jensen 5 months ago

      Thanks Brett. I am considering doing some vlogging on my Youtube channel, and Lightroom workflow would definitely be a big subject on my list to show.