Bluesfest School of Art and Music has been making strides lately when it comes to providing workshops on teachable skills for the community. In the past, they’ve worked together with artists, bands and festivals to put on seminars that cover everything from releasing an album to acquiring sponsorship. Their most recent workshop is festival-focused with a specification in photography, titled RBC Bluesfest Concert Photography. The workshop is led by in-house Bluesfest photographers Mark Horton and Marc DesRosiers, and was launched as a pilot project last year with great results, including student Rohit Saxena’s iconic shot of Vintage Trouble (above).
Both Horton and DesRosiers have always attracted a lot of attention from photographers who had a specific interest in festivals. “If I had a dollar for every photographer friend of mine who volunteered to be my “assistant” during music festival season,” Horton says, “People are curious about it as a speciality, and with our relationship with Bluesfest we saw an opportunity to pull back those curtains a bit for a few people every year.”
In order to get a media pass to shoot the event, photographers must gain media accreditation, which typically involves providing some sort of portfolio of previous work. This weeds out the novices and paves the way for the pros, but there are still some common mistakes they see being made. “Newbies tend to park right in the center of the stage and shoot without changing the angle or perspective.” Hortons says, “We also have an etiquette or ‘code’ if you will; we all want the great shot, but need to share the great spots in the pit so everyone gets a chance to get the great shot.” Little tricks like these are the reason Horton and DesRosiers put the workshop together. Tiny tweaks to a photographer’s routine can help them get the shots they want.
Preparing them to work cooperatively with their peers is one aspect of the workshop, but another important one is how to work with performers. Photographers rarely work directly with the artist, so their cooperation can be varied. “They all want to look their best, and I try to never publish shots that aren’t flattering. We’re not paparazzi, we really are a cog in the PR wheel for the artists.” Horton says, “Some acts are very generous and love the camera, others see it as a nuisance and that shows in the pictures. KISS is infamous for being fantastic to photographers and playing to everyone’s camera so everyone gets that awesome KISS shot!”
The workshop takes place over four days, June 29/30th and July 12/13th. The reason for the division of dates is to divide the focus over the four days and include some applicable experience towards the end. “We spend two evenings at BSOMA and we talk about equipment, settings, exposure, lighting, composition, editing, publication and marketing, accreditation – everything you may need to know.” Horton says, “We then spend the first Sunday of Bluesfest (July 12) onsite with access to the Monster stage, and other stages and artists that the Bluesfest media people can swing for us.” The participants of the workshop get to act like it’s an actual assignment, but Horton and DesRosiers remain onsite in case they have any questions. “The following evening (July 13) we meet up at BSOMA again with a guest judge and we have a look at everyone’s best work, and maybe offer a few more tips on editing and presentation.” Horton says, “Then everyone’s best shot from the workshop is printed in large format and we exhibit them at the festival on the second weekend of Bluesfest!”
“It’s a mysterious genre of photography that has a lot of restrictions.” Horton says of festival photography, “The most challenging aspect is lighting with moving subjects in a limited time.” They recommend anyone looking to sign up for the workshop have a sound understanding of lighting and exposure, specifically when operating DSLR cameras in Manual mode. “And backpacks!” Horton adds, “Please NEVER bring a giant backpack into the pit with you!”