Everything is different now, I think that applies to everyone. But now that summer has started and the sun is shining brightly, I really miss the festivals. I’ve been at metal festivals every summer for over 25 years. When I was 14 years old, my parents allowed me to go to Dynamo Open Air in Eindhoven for the first time. In retrospect, I think my parents were crazy to let me go hahaha. They didn’t have a clue what a metal festival was. But they trusted me and my friends.
My first Dynamo, at the airbase in Eindhoven, with bands like Annihilator, Mercyful Faith and Gorefest. And if I remeber correctly an entrance price of 10 guilders for 2 days! What a joy it was. Everyone listened brotherly to good metal accompanied with some warm beers. There was a cozy, friendly atmosphere. In that way nothing has changed in 25 years.
I was immediately impressed by the bands, the performance, the light show and the decoration of the stage. And the group of photographers who were allowed to photograph in a fenced section for each performance. They got the coolest photos! I, on the other hand, stood in the middle of the audience with a disposable camera and barely got the stage in my shot.
In 1996 I went to study Photography and took my old analog camera to Dynamo. At that time you were allowed to take “professional cameras” with you as a visitor. Armed with my Canon analog SLR, I struggled through the audience and actually took some cool pictures of Orphanage. During my study photography I met Bas Maas and Sander Gommans. Sander played in a band called After Forever and had his first big performance at Bospop in Weert in 2000. Bas was his guitar technician and I went along as a photographer. For the first time I was an official photographer in the photopit. That was so strange. Suddenly I belonged to that group of photographers who were allowed to photograph 3 songs close to the stage. And honestly, I had no idea what I was doing ?
I experienced the time pressure of only shooting during the first the three songs, the crowd in the photopit was overwhelming and my analog camera was old and not functioning perfectly. I just shot everything I saw. Before I knew it I had shot 3 rolls of film and I was led out of the pit. The following Monday I developed the rolls of film at school and printed some pictures. The photos I made of Within Temptation and Joe Satriani were also developed. And there were also good images of those bands. At least, that’s what I thought then. Now when I see the pictures, I’m ashamed. But I was still inexperienced, especially in music photography.
As After Forever became more famous and started playing at more and larger festivals, I got the opportunity to improve my photography. Every weekend we sat in a van or I drove my car to all corners of the Netherlands and Belgium. That’s when I became very good friends with all of them and I’m proud to say that Bas Maas (Doro) and Floor Jansen (Nightwish) are still one of my best friends.
In 2002 After Forever performed at Graspop Metal Fest in Belgium. Again I had an official photo pass and I was allowed to photograph all bands of the festival. And since I loved the bands and was not very comfortable backstage, I was often at the festivalsite. Saxon, Kreator, My Dying Bride, I tried to photograph everything. Some bands were easier to shoot than the other. But I learned from every band I photographed.
In 2004 we were back at Graspop Metal Meeting and there I was introduced to Metal Mike, THE man from Aardschok. I read the Aardschok since I was 14 and thought it was an honor to meet him. He asked me if I could send some photos of After Forever. Of course I didn’t want to miss this opportunity and a few weeks later my photo of After Forever was printed in the Aardschok. I was so proud!
From then on, I provided photos for Aardschok every festival season. I’m free to choose which festival to shoot, but Graspop, Dynamo, Alcatraz and Eindhoven Metal Meeting are standard. Every now and then I turn to Lokerse Feesten or Bospop. But Graspop, Dynamo and EMM remain my favorites. At Graspop I always work together with Eus Straver and we complement each other perfectly. If I really want to photograph a band, I can and reversed, I take over the service if Eus would like to photograph a band on the other side of the field. And there is always a whole team of Aardschok to be found in the backstage of every festival, which is always very nice.
Over the years I have met many people in the music industry, photographers, musicians, promoters and so on. I am not a photographer who wants to be in the spotlight, I stay quietly in the background and observe. For example, I rarely sit backstage, unless I am really tired or if I’m meeting up with friends from the music industry. This is not a good thing for my network as a photographer, but I prefer to be on the field, listening to music and enjoying a beer. Another advantage of working at a festival ?
In recent years I have learned a lot as a festival photographer. This is how I learned to photograph in very difficult lighting conditions. I personally really like black metal music, but these bands rarely have good lights. And sometimes no lights at all. So you need to know exactly what your camera can do and how to prepare.
But honestly, I always prepare very badly. I set my camera when I’m in the photopit, because only then I see exactly how the light falls. And usually I am one of the last photographers to walk into the pit. Usually with a plastic cup filled with beer in my hand. I regularly get disapproving looks from fellow photographers.
I shoot very little during the first song in the pit. I look at the light, how the band moves, who stands out as a band member , drink my beer and look at the rest of the photographers. Because when everyone is shooting the singer, I go to the guitarist. There I have the space and I often get the attention of that guitarist. And then you get the good, personal photos.
The speed at which you have to work is also an advantage in the rest of my photography work. I know when I take a good photo and I know what to do to create it. Now you can’t control much in concert photography, but you can really control certain things. Such as the amount of light entering your camera and the framing of your image. All these things I learned in music photography make me a better photographer in general.
I often get asked what you have to do to be able to photograph at large festivals.
- First, you need to provide good photography. Due to the large growth of amateur photographers, festivals have to be very critical with whom they allow in the pit.
- A well-known medium to which you supply your photos also helps enormously. The moment bands and festivals see that I work for Aardschok, I get access.
- Third, you must have a passion for music. You’re working in loud music all day long and if you are not passionate about this music, you cannot keep it up.
- Finally, you must have a good network and some luck. I was lucky enough to be able to hitch a ride on the success of After Forever and Metal Mike gave me a chance and still has faith in me.
Photography at festivals is not just fun and games. These are long days, where as a photographer you have to stand and walk a lot. And you drag a camera bag that weighs several kilos. You can drink a beer, but you still have to be able to function at 1 am when that one big headliner enters the stage. And when everyone recovers from a 3-day festival, you as a photographer will be up bright and early to edit all the photos and get them to your client.
But now that there are no festivals this year and I am not stumbling off from a festival site somewhere in Belgium at 2 am, putting my drunk friends in my car and having my body wrecked from 3 days of photography, I miss it enormously. I miss the togetherness of a metal festival, the loud guitars, the new bands I discover live, my friends from different countries and my fellow photographers. And the cool photos I can edit.
Next year, I hope to be at some festivals again as a photographer. To walk into the photo pit, unprepared and way too late, with a beer in my hand ???