Each summer, picture of the day galleries across the land are awash with spellbinding images from festivals. From sun-kissed, blissed-out festival goers soaking up music, to stressed-out mudslide victims attempting to salvage their belongings from what was originally a field and now resembles a particularly accurate World War I film set.

If you’ve been paying attention you’ll already have read How to Survive a Music Festival with your Camera and The Best Lenses for Music Photography but once your camera’s wrapped in a bin bag (we’ve been, sorry, bin, there) and you’ve assembled a lens dream team, it’s worth having a think about what you’re going to point it all at. The headliners are best left to the pros – the challenges of shooting unless you’ve negotiated access to the photographers’ pit can be steep, and coming away with a Properly Good photograph can simply be frustrating.

Instead, treat a music festival like a zoo-meets-street-photography challenge. Photographing portraits will tell a much fuller story about the vibe of wherever you are – and festivals tend to draw an outgoing, diverse-looking crowd doing something they love, making photography a snap. As long as you take a little direction from us, of course…

Approaching people

Approaching people to shoot their portraits takes a bit of practice. Avoid the temptation of surreptitious portrait photography and instead, view it as an opportunity to make friends. Shake hands and tell people why you want to photograph them – “Hey! I love your hat,” goes a very long way. Have a business card on hand so people can find you and your images, or can email you to ask for the image you’ve shot. Moo.com makes some nice ones – its mini-cards in particular are good conversation starters.

Once you’ve made friends, don’t be afraid to issue a little direction; tilt your head this way, that way, step forward into the light, that kind of thing. If you’re going to send someone a photograph of themselves, you might as well send one in which they look good.

What to look for

Choosing a subject should be easy: the more outrageous the accessories, the better your photographs are going to look. Festivals are fantastic places for the fashion-forward, so keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.

Keep an eye on your composition, though – keep clutter in the background to a minimum, in particular anything with strong, straight lines, or people in the background looking straight down the barrel of your lens. Prioritise shooting people who are in good light – this produces better looking photographs and more interesting shadows.

Getting someone to step out of the shade produced by, say, a tent’s awning, is one thing: getting someone to completely drop what they’re doing so you can shoot them is another.

Lenses, lights and kit

We’ve covered what lens to use before; suffice it to say, whatever lens you use should be one you’re comfortable with. Know beforehand if your wide-angle lens makes people look weird at its widest setting, and know roughly how far you need to be away from someone to use a telephoto. It’s important to be comfortable with your camera for portrait photography: someone you don’t know is going to start impatiently shifting their feet if it takes you three test shots to get your exposure sorted.

Survived a festival recently? Bagged a few perfect portraits? We want to see ‘em! Hit up our Flickr group or tag us with #OlympusUK and we’ll look at everything we get. Happy snapping!

Not going to any festivals this year?

OLYMPUS Ambassador Gavin Hoey has some top tips on how to master the art of music photography from your own home.