I’m really proud of the results that came out of shooting the Isle of Wight Festival and wanted to show you all the effort that went into it and how my team and I worked together during the festival.
This was one of the most enjoyable weekends of my year so far and I can’t wait to do similar shoots at festivals next year.
About 3 months ago a solo artist friend of mine, Ben Montague, mentioned that he was playing at the Isle of Wight festival this summer. He also mentioned that he was on good terms with the owners of the festival and that he could introduce me if I wanted. I jumped at the opportunity to speak to them as I already knew exactly what I wanted to talk to them about….
Every year I’ve always loved seeing the photographs from Mark Seliger’s Vanity Fair booth at the Oscars and Cannes Film Festival. The same goes for Brantley Gutierez’s recent work at Coachella festival and pretty much anything that Austin Hargrave produces when he shoots portraits at music and film festivals for The Hollywood Reporter. I noticed last year that this sort of thing is barely ever done at similar events in the UK where all the artists are photographed in a timeless and non-commercial way to produce a really great series of portraits. I’ve been wanting to do something along these lines for a while and being introduced to the people behind IoW festival seemed like the perfect time to get it done.
I sent the organisers a simple and short pitch of what I wanted to do, how much space it would take and what the results would look like. They were instantly up for the idea and things started to take shape. I was really excited but incredibly skeptical about whether it would go ahead and also whether the right preparations would be made by IoW to make it worthwhile. One thing I’ve learned is that if you get booked for a cool shoot and then tell your friends or your girlfriend, that shoot will almost definitely get cancelled. It’s just life being cruel and on this occasion I wasn’t telling anyone until I was sat in front of a musician with a camera in my hands. Fortunately it didn’t get cancelled and here’s how it went…..
BUILDING THE SET
The people at the IoW office told me they’d got me a 6m x 6m tent to shoot in right next to the press tent. The idea would be that the artists would do press related things first and then be taken over to my tent for a portrait shoot. This was fantastic news and it was all playing out even better than I expected. The next thing I had to do in the lead up to the festival was design and build a set that I could take with me in my VW Golf all the way to the island with an assistant and a videographer.
The sample images that I showed IoW were a combination of mark Seliger’s shots from the oscars and some of Brantley Gutierez’s shots from Coachella. I didn’t want to do exactly the same thing as them but it made sense for me to build something similar given that these photos are what helped convince the client in the first place. When I shoot more of these in future I’ll branch out and design something different for each one.
The backdrops are hand painted in my studio by me. I chose to use grey as its a neutral tone that works with anybody’s skin tone or choice of clothing. I also wanted to work on something quite light given that it was a summer festival. The natural coloured sheets that you can see hanging on the left and right of the backdrops are painters dust sheets from my local hardware store (£20 for 3!). All this barely cost me much and the biggest expense I had to make was buying more backdrop supports and more stands. I could have rented these but having all this extra gear is pretty useful in the long term given that I might be doing similar shoots to this in future. Other than that we just needed a sh*t load of A-clamps, duck tape and cable ties to hold it all together.
Lastly, there was the issue of the floor. I thought our studio-tent would just have grass to stand on and I originally planned to use the 3rd dust sheet as a floor for the set. Luckily when we arrived we found the tent had a perfect battered wooden floor which worked perfectly with our backdrops and the general colour scheme of what I wanted.
EXPOSURE AND LIGHTING
The technical set-up for this shoot was incredibly simple. I brought several lights with me along with a load of different light modifiers and quickly realised that I barely needed any kit to get the results that I wanted. The entire series is lit with a 600w Paul C. Buff Einstein strobe and a 46″ Photek Softlighter. Even the group shots are lit this way. I positioned my light to camera right and feathered the light onto my subjects. This means aiming the face of the umbrella across the front of my subject rather than directly at them. You get an incredibly flattering lighting effect when using this side-spill from the Photeks.
My camera settings were as follows….. (Sample image straight out of camera)
Camera: Canon 5dmkIII ISO: 100 Aperture: f/9 Shutterspeed: 1/160
These shoots were incredibly quick. I knew that the artists had more important people to speak to and plenty of free beer to drink just outside my tent so I worked as if I was being timed for a game show. Working at this pace is definitely something I’m used to and the benefits can be huge. It raises your ability to get the best out of your subject very quickly and being able to deliver a great result in under a minute leaves a good impression on the artists, their PR agents and whoever your client is. The aim is to deliver the best result with the least inconvenience to the people around you. The quickest shoots during the festival were Jessie Ware (30 seconds) and James Bay (45 seconds).
Minimal retouching in these shots. In fact we were putting the images out on Instagram (@willbremridge) within ten minutes of shooting. There was a tiny bit of warmth added to the images by putting a little more yellow into the highlights. I also added a very very small amount of blue to the shadows. Both of these were done using Curves adjustment layers. A little extra punch given to the blacks and lastly my ‘Smart-Vignetting’ technique which I’ve covered in several previous Start-To-Finish posts.
Thanks for reading!