Carlos J. Matos
Florida Theater of Gainesville, Gainesville, FL
Time / Date:
12:54 AM / November 1, 2013
Camera Body: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC
Shutter Speed: 1/200s
Focal Length: 24mm
THE FEST is a truly unique gem among music festivals; an independent multi-day celebration of punk rock and beer-soaked revelry held every October in the heart of downtown Gainesville, FL. Imagine a citywide block party with 20,000 like-minded music fans, all bursting at the seams with excitement to see their favorites out of a massive, 400-band lineup. It is one of the friendliest, most positive environments you could find yourself in; one where perfect strangers interact like longtime friends and everyone shares a common bond over their love for good times and good music.
I was covering the festival as part of their official photo team; a daunting assignment consisting of 12 venues spread over a 3-mile stretch and a minimum of 20 bands a day. Every moment in between, from daily brunch gatherings with festival goers to impromptu hotel parties, was a potential shot in the making. An an endless stream of opportunities to produce new material over four days.
It was near the end the day after 11 hours of nonstop music and the crowd had yet to show signs of fatigue. On the contrary. The level of energy felt tangible, like electricity, as Toronto-based punk rockers The Flatliners took the stage at the night’s closing venue. Minutes into their set the 900-strong crowd exploded in euphoric frenzy, an ocean of sweat-streaked faces punctuated by the familiar herky-jerky of crowd surfers moving in every direction. It was a mesmerizing sight, the kind that you can’t help shooting.
Preparation is one of my chief components for getting into and staying in the best possible mental space to produce work without distractions. I meticulously planned my travel kit for extended shoots over a 4-day period; a 5D Mark III and backup body (600D), a BG-E11 battery grip, A 580EX flash, a Canon 35mm f/1.4, a Tamron 70-200 f/2.8, and my main workhorse lens at the time, a Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 with plenty of spare memory, batteries, and chargers for everything. A 13-inch MacBook Air rounded the kit as my editing platform for the week.
To minimize encumbrance, I would plan each ‘day kit’ depending on the time and location I was scheduled to shoot. My standard night kit consisted of a single gripped body, both zoom lenses, and my trusty 580EX with enough spare media and power to last 6-8 hours.
Making the Shot:
The hero of the night, and arguably my entire festival experience, was the Canon 580EX flash. I greatly enjoy the creative light shaping capabilities of a manual flash, adjusting the zoom and power output to compensate for distance and bounce angle or to highlight specific areas of a frame. In this case I was looking to make a bright, colorful exposure with depth, one with multiple layers of well-lit faces that could evoke the joyful chaos in the scene.
Editing & Processing:
Each member of the team had a 12-hour window to turn over photos from the previous day. Such a demanding schedule required an efficient workflow and discipline; if the image needed more than a a few minutes of post processing time, it was archived. Every night I would start by importing into Lightroom and looking for the best ‘in camera’ shots, the ones that needed the least amount of work and would make it possible to have photos ready by the next morning while still catching a few hours of rest. Crop and adjust exposure if needed, tune the curve for optimal contrast, add a bit of clarity to make details pop, and move on.
If I could point to a single image that captured my entire FEST experience, this would be the one. FEST is about the people first and foremost. It is a community-driven experience. The music, while amazing in every aspect, serves as a catalyst to bring that community together. There really is nothing quite like it.
Invest in a good pair of shoes if you’re looking to get into multi-day festival photography. I’m serious. I don’t care how cool you look in Vans slip-ons. Wear a pair of shoes that won’t make you feel like dunking your feet in buckets of ice water after 10-12 hours of continuous wear, even if they look kinda dorky. Trust me on this one.
I try to approach every new experience from a different angle each time. If I’m shooting a music festival, I may spend time looking at portrait work. If I’m doing a headshot, I may spend time looking at editorial and advertising work, and so on. The idea is to bring a fresh perspective, and perhaps combine elements from two vastly different styles into something that can stand on its own, even if it’s not necessarily unique or new. It is my way of experimenting and sharpening my vision.
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