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Summer Music Festivals with Michael Hurcomb


October 23, 2013

In this blog post we talk to Michael Hurcomb, Corbis contributor and one of Canada’s top music photographers. His aggressive summer festival schedule keeps him busy but he had a few minutes to talk to us and send some of his best images from summer festivals over the years.

Corbis: What was your favorite festival of the summer? Favorite band?

Michael: Bonnaroo is by far my favorite.   I’ve shot it for the last 5 years straight and I love it more & more every year.   It’s 4 days of great bands in a great setting with 100,000 of the friendliest people.   Bonnaroo can also be one of the hottest and more physically taxing festivals to cover but if you stay hydrated and take care of yourself you’ll have a great time. Bonnaroo isn’t just a festival; it’s a lifestyle.

Favorite band is tough to choose but I’ve had some some tremendously amazing experiences like being one of the few photographers selected to photograph Paul McCartney’s outstanding set at Bonnaroo in 2013.  I stood in the sand beside the Gulf Of Mexico photographing the amazing last show of the Foo Fighters tour at Deluna fest in 2012.   Just a few weeks ago I was in beautiful Central Park photographing Kings of Leon, Alicia Keys, John Mayer and Stevie Wonder at the Global Citizen Festival.  People are having some of the best times of their lives at concerts and I’m having the some of the best times of my life capturing those experiences.

Corbis: Do you have one shot from your travels that really made it all worth it?

Michael: This summer I was covering Edgefest in Toronto on what was supposed to be a beautiful day but it ended up raining a lot all day.  There was no way to stay dry so you just had either deal with the rain or go home.  I went with the rain.   Once “Band of Horses” took the stage a heavy downpour started making it really difficult to shoot even with protected gear.  But the rain, smoke and stage lighting made from some great backdrops and effects and I ended up with shots like this (42-50292612) of Ben Bridwell that are some of my favorite shots this year.   I knew when I was capturing them that I was getting something great and I didn’t even notice that I was torrential downpour.     Festivals

Corbis: Describe your schedule for a typical day of shooting at a festival.

Michael: I’ll describe a day at Bonnaroo.

Bonnaroo takes place in Manchester, Tennessee and it can get really hot. During the day it can get well into the 90’s with a lot of humidity.  I camp (with some great people) at Bonnaroo and you end up getting up pretty early because of the heat. In the morning I look at that days’ schedule so see what I’m going to shoot. Most of the stages (5 main stages / tents) have performers starting at noon and ending at 3am with a well staggered schedule throughout the day that allows me to get to a lot of stages. Between getting up and noon I’ll use the time to shower and eat some of the amazing Bonnaroo food, drink a lot of water and head to the media trailer to check my email and review the work I uploaded the day before.

For a festival like Bonnaroo you need to have a very efficient workflow. You fill memory cards fast and need to get your photos edited & uploaded as quickly as possible.   There are times throughout the day when all of the stages are running and photo calls are over (1st 3 songs from the pit) so I spend that time at the media trailer.  Using Apple’s Aperture on a very fast Macbook Pro I am able to select, edit, tag and export my photos very quickly and easily. My photos upload to Corbis and backup to my G Technology drives once I head back out to shoot. With my workflow I’m able to have all of my work done and have cleared camera cards for the next day. After shooting the last bands at 2 or 3 am I’ll do my last edits and grab a few hours of sleep before the sun rises and the next amazing 20 hour day starts. I love every minute of it.

As I’m shooting I’m always looking for a unique shot.   It’s not easy to make your work unique when you’re shooting amongst 100 other photographers.  I look for the different shot, different angle and different composition that can add an additional artistic and emotional element over a straightforward band performance shot.   Photography and music are both about timing.   As a musician I know timing very well as well as the emotion and connection between band members and the audience.

Corbis: Are most bands supportive of photographers at their shows? Any bands non-cooperative?

Michael: Many many bands are great with photographers and in some cases they really make an effort to connect with us.  Some bands use rights releases or poor lighting which can make things difficult but they’re far from being the majority. I’d say that 99% of the festivals, promoters and bands are great to deal with.

Corbis: What are you plans for 2014? Same schedule?

Michael: I’m hoping for the same festivals plus many more.  I love traveling as much as I love photography so I’m always up for more experiences.

See Michael’s work on Corbis here.

Michael’s Gear List:



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