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Month: June 2017

Bonnaroo Day 1

Spectators enjoy Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, TN, USA on June 8, 2017.

We began our first day the same way we wound up beginning all but the last day, with a team breakfast at Cracker Barrel (we went to Waffle House on the last day). These breakfasts gave us a chance to just hang in a relaxed environment and talk with one another, whether it was about life, photography in general, or specific things about the festival. Plus we were able to load up with fuel to face the rest of the long day ahead of us. After breakfast each day, we had a little time to gather ourselves and our gear before we loaded into vehicles to head to the festival.

The Ferris Wheel at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, TN, USA on June 8, 2017.

Now, let me preface all of this by saying one thing… I know that my Bonnaroo experience was not that of people who were just there in attendance, nor was it that of photographers who may have been there covering it for a publication or media outlet, nor was it that of the people who were shooting for the festival. So, if you’re looking at any of this in hopes of finding out what Bonnaroo is like from any perspective other than covering it for Red Bull, this will only be somewhat insightful. The passes I had allowed me to do some things and go some places others weren’t able to go, but I was also not able to do some things or go certain places others were able to go. With that said, here’s how my first day at Bonnaroo went!

Upon arrival each day, we parked in whatever lot it was we were designated to park in somewhere behind What Stage (aka the main stage), then walked to the Red Bull production trailer. Inside the trailer was a flurry of activity that included everyone from us photographers and our assistants to editors, producers, and a bevy of other people whose roles I’m still not 100% sure of, but I know they were more important than me. I’ll just suffice it to say that there was a lot of people doing a lot of work alongside each other in a relatively small space, but we all had a lot of fun together throughout the event.

The Lemon Twigs perform at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, TN, USA on June 8, 2017.

Also each day before heading out, I would do is grab some sun block and spray it all over myself, then suit up with the SpiderHolster belt and cameras with lenses (usually the 70-200 and 11-24. My assistant, Jordan, carried the ThinkTank shoulder bag with the 24-70, extra batteries and memory cards, etc, as well as a backpack with snacks, a clipboard with model releases, bandaids, and other random stuff. We also grabbed some cans of Red Bull in case we needed to stage some shots for marketing and branding purposes.

Spectator enjoys Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, TN, USA on June 8, 2017.

The first day allowed me time to wander around the festival grounds to see where everything was, roughly gauge walking time between stages and tents, and shoot some general lifestyle shots of attendees before we needed to photograph any artist sets. We did this for about an hour, finding people who were dressed, um, interestingly, or just straight up energetic and willing to pose for us.

Spectators enjoy Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, TN, USA on June 8, 2017.

A quick note on the stage and tent names at Bonnaroo. It takes some time to figure them out, but once you do, you still get them mixed up because they’re hella confusing! They are as follows:

  • What Stage (main stage)
  • Which Stage (secondary stage)
  • This Tent (I never even made it to this one)
  • That Tent (spent a good chunk of time here)
  • The Other (used to be a tent, but this year became a stage and was the primary venue for EDM artists)
  • Who Stage (the smallest of the stages)
Turkuaz perform at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, TN, USA on June 8, 2017.

There’s also the Comedy & Cinema tent with standups performing and movies being screened, sometimes with the director or star in attendance to answer questions. And the Silent Disco tent, where an emcee is playing and pumping music out to headphones being worn by attendees, but you can’t hear anything that’s being played without the headphones. And we can’t forget Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Barn, which is basically home to a 24-hour a day rave.

The Orwells perform at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, TN, USA on June 8, 2017.

For day one performances, I was primarily stationed at That Tent. I shot sets by Welles, The Orwells, Twiddle, The Lemon Twigs, and Turkuaz. The only band I had shot before was The Orwells, so I had an idea of what to expect from them, but no one else. The photo pits around the festival were all pretty decent sizes, but with the number of photographers there, they were still pretty crowded. But not uncomfortably so. Thankfully you could still move around to shoot from different angles, so I was happy all in all.

Welles perfomr at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, TN, USA on June 8, 2017.

I shot all the sets I was assigned to, and then when there was time between sets, I would either go back to the production trailer to download and edit, walk around shooting lifestyle photos, or take a lunch/dinner break.

The wrist of someone who needed to get into a LOT of different places!

For on-site meals, Red Bull arranged for us to have meals in the artist catering tent. Everyone at the festival has a wristband (or multiple wristbands depending on the access you’re granted and whatnot). Each wristband has a different color “belt” on it which houses an RFID tag that gets scanned whenever you go into various areas. The color combinations of the wristbands and their belts also serve as visual guides for security to know where you’re allowed to go. So, when we would go to catering for meals, they would scan our wristbands and that would let them know if we were allowed to eat or not.

The Lemon Twigs perform at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, TN, USA on June 8, 2017.

I finished shooting my last set a little after 2:30am, roughly 12 hours after I first set out to take lifestyle photos around the festival. Once I downloaded, edited, and uploaded, got back to my room, showered, and got ready for bed, I got to sleep around 4:30am.

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Bonnaroo Workflow

Before heading to Bonnaroo, I wanted to make sure I had a good workflow in place that adhered to both Red Bull’s needs as well as my own. Here’s what I came up with…


First, I made sure the dates and times were synced up exactly between the two camera bodies. This is vital when you’re shooting an event with more than one camera body, as well as when you’re shooting with other photographers. If things aren’t synced up correctly, it can cause your editor and others huge headaches trying to keep everything straight and in order.

After that, I got all my settings dialed into one body, then copied those settings onto a CF card, put that card into the other camera, and loaded the settings onto that body. After that, I entered in my copyright and artist info into the metadata of each body. I also used the Canon EOS Utility to input “1” or “2” into the Instructions IPTC info on each camera. More on this in a bit.

Here are the basic camera settings that I use as a starting point. They may change depending on the situation, but this is always where I begin:

File Type: RAW. You want as much file/image information as you can get to work with to create the best image possible.

Shooting Mode: Aperture priority.

Auto ISO: If you aren’t familiar with Auto ISO, here’s how it works… You tell your camera the minimum shutter speed you want it to maintain, along with the maximum ISO you’re comfortable with it using. It will only raise the ISO as much as is needed to maintain the minimum shutter speed, until it reaches that maximum ISO. Once it reaches that, your shutter speed may fall below what you want it to be.

I usually set the maximum ISO to whatever the camera’s highest native ISO is, so 51,200 for the 1DX Mark II. And I normally set the minimum shutter speed to 1/250 for concerts, but I ended up bumping it up to 1/500 to make sure there was as little blur as possible.

Aperture: Wide open most of the time, which is f/2.8 on the 70-200mm and 24-70mm lenses and f/4 on the 11-24mm lens.

Focus Mode: Since there’s so much movement at concerts, I use continuous focus (AI Servo on Canon and AF-C on Nikon) mode all the time. If you use single focus (One Shot on Canon and AF-S on Nikon), you’re constantly having to lock focus every time someone moves.

Metering: If your camera allows you to lock spot metering to the focus point, use that. I think a lot of Nikon bodies let you do this, but only the 1D series in the Canon line allows for this. If you’re not using a camera that lets the spot metering lock into the focus point, just stick with evaluative (Canon) or matrix (Nikon) metering and keep an eye on your exposure so you can compensate accordingly.

White Balance: Auto white balance does a really great job in any of the current camera bodies. With concerts, the stage lighting varies so much so quickly, there’s not much point in trying to get a “correct” white balance because you’re going to be making adjustments in post no matter what.

Drive Speed: Continuous High. This can be a blessing and a curse with any of the top of the line camera bodies that shoot 10+ frames per second, because you’re pretty much guaranteed to capture the perfect moment, but you’re also shooting a TON of photos, and that eats up card space and hard drive space. As long as you’ve got those fast cards and lots of space though, why not?


I use Photo Mechanic to ingest images from cards. I’ve been using it since college to make selects after downloading, but I only just learned more about the power of Photo Mechanic to help minimize metadata input as I was researching during my prep for Bonnaroo. Basically, it allows you to use “variables” to automatically fill in lots of different information. It also uses “code replacements,” which allows you to set up custom codes to automatically put information in captions. Code replacements are mostly used by sports photographers, but I’m sure some of you could find other ways to use them. Here’s a YouTube playlist that I found particularly helpful to learn about variables and code replacements.

Here’s what my Photo Mechanic ingest screen looks like.

It shows what cards are inserted, and below that I have the Incremental Ingest box checked. This means it will detect if there are photos on the cards that have already been downloaded and only download new ones.

For Source Directory Structure, I have it set to ignore the folder structure on the cards and just copy everything to the destinations and folder structure I have set.

On Copy Photos, I’ve chosen “into folder with name,” and below that I have the folder name set up. If that folder doesn’t exist, it will be created, and if it does exist, it will be detected and photos copied into it. Those squiggly brackets/braces with stuff inside are the variables I mentioned before. I use a file naming and folder structure that always begins with the four digit year, then the two digit month, and two digit date, followed by a dash and the name of the project. These variables will automatically detect the date info and create it based on the metadata of the images.

At the top of the right column is the destination section. This tells Photo Mechanic where I want it to copy the photos, and also gives us an option for a secondary/backup destination. This is where those two G-Tech 1TB Thunderbolt G-Drives come in. I have it automatically download to both drives so I have an instant backup as soon as the download is finished.

Under Filter Files, you can choose to copy both locked and unlocked photos, and RAW and non-RAW photos. If you’re shooting an event and have time to chimp during it and make selects in-camera, you can lock those selects, then tell Photo Mechanic to only copy locked files. And if you’re shooting RAW+JPG, and you know the JPG is good enough to use out of camera, you can choose to only copy those so you can get them posted as quickly as possible. In my case, I didn’t have a ton of time to make selects in camera and was only shooting RAW, so I just copied everything over and made my selects on my laptop.

Next, you have the option to apply IPTC info to files upon ingest. To do this, you just fill out the IPTC Stationery Pad with all the info you want included, and it’ll copy to the files as they come in. This is another place that utilizes variables to automatically fill in lots of fields for you.

Then there’s the all-important Rename Ingested Photos As box. Again, here I used variables to fill in most of the file name. Here’s the exact text since it cuts off in the screenshot:


Again, the first part is the full date, followed by _Bonnaroo_ and {instructions}. If you’ll remember from the beginning of this post, I used the Canon EOS Utility to input the numbers 1 and 2 into the camera’s instructions IPTC field. This just tells me which camera I shot the photos with and ensures I don’t have any duplicate file names if the four-digit frame number (the final variable shown above) happens to be the same at any time.

Lastly, I opted not to format the cards after ingesting them, but I did choose to unmount them when they were done so I could pull them and pop them back into the cameras. I didn’t format till the end of each day, with maybe one or two exceptions, and the 64GB cards were pretty much big enough for the amount of shooting I did each day.

After ingesting, I would go through the take and mark my selects, usually narrowing it down to 10 or fewer frames from each artist, and only a few from each lifestyle setup. I go through all the images at full-size and mark any that stand out to me with the number 1, which assigns them the color pink. Then I hide all the unmarked shots and go through the marked shots again to narrow it down further with the number 2, which marks them red. Then I hide the pink shots and if I still have more than 10 reds, I’ll go through again and either knock some back down to pink or bump them up to orange with the number 3. Once I’m down to 10 or fewer, we select those and drag them over to Lightroom to import.

I generally only bring over one artist at a time, so in the Lightroom import dialog I’ll add the artist name to the keywords. Once they’re imported, I add them to my Bonnaroo collection, then add the artist name to the Title and Headline, then adjust the caption accordingly. Did you know that if it’s a single artist, like The Weeknd or Lorde, the correct verb is “performs,” but if it’s a band with multiple members, like U2 or Red Hot Chili Peppers, the correct verb is “perform?” This has been “Fun Facts with Brad,” now onto our regularly scheduled programming…

Once that’s all done, we head into the Develop module and make adjustments till the photos look as great as they can. I don’t really have a formula for this to be honest. I basically just move all the sliders back and forth until I’m happy with the outcome. I tend to prefer colors that vibrate well off each other, bright highlights and dark shadows, a decent amount of clarity, and just enough of a vignette to make sure the edges aren’t distracting.

And then the final step, exporting! Above is the export preset I set up for myself, which keeps in line with all my preferred file naming standards and sRGB color space. I usually export in sRGB because it’s the color space with the least information. That sounds counterintuitive, but it actually means that the photos will look pretty similar across all devices. If you export in a larger color space, the images may display with odd colors if it’s a display that doesn’t support that larger color space. So sRGB is just a safe bet that my photos will most likely look great no matter where they’re displayed.

And this is the export preset I used for Red Bull. They have a slightly different file naming convention, and they requested files in the AdobeRGB (1998) color space, so this conforms to those requests. The only thing I had to do manually was update the start number of the sequence to make sure I didn’t duplicate any file names for them.

You may also notice I had a different presets for each day. Each day had its own folder, so I made these presets so I didn’t have to worry about it once I was on site.

From there, Red Bull would pull images from Dropbox for any social media posts they may have used them for, and then I would upload to their FTP to submit images to the Red Bull Content Pool!

Once I got back home, I downloaded and backed up all the images from the event to my server and backup server. I still have them on my external drives just in case I need them for anything, but I’ll delete them as soon as I need space for another project.

Okay, now that all the nerdy stuff is out of the way, we can move on to Bonnaroo Day 1!

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Preparing to Photograph Bonnaroo for Red Bull

Photo by Jordan Dunn

Back in April, I checked my email one day and found an email from a photo editor at Red Bull…

“Hey Brad, We’re filling up our photographer roster for Bonnaroo and are hoping that you are free and would be down to work with us on it. If you are interested and able to do it, let us know, and we can give you more details.”


Well, that wasn’t my exact reply, but it may as well have been. We exchanged a few more emails to go over logistics and whatnot over the next few months leading up to the event, and I was all set!

I had never been to Bonnaroo before, nor had I worked with Red Bull before. So I had lots of questions about what to expect, what photo gear I needed to be as prepared as possible, and what other miscellaneous things I needed to survive being out in the summer heat for four days. Thankfully, I had Drew Gurian on speed dial to help me with all of this! He’s been to Bonnaroo many times and has been working with Red Bull for years.

As some of you may already know, Drew and I go all the way back to my days of assisting Joe McNally. He took over the first assistant role with Joe after I moved on to work with Scott Kelby, and we’ve remained good friends since then. We often call each other to discuss navigating the freelance photographer life and bounce ideas off each other when we’re working on things.

Anyway, after chatting with Drew multiple times, I stocked up on memory cards, extra camera batteries, a cooling towel, sun block, and mentally prepared myself to walk upwards of 10 miles a day around the Bonnaroo Festival site. To some, that may not sound like a lot, but when you live in a city where the primary mode of transportation is getting in your vehicle and driving 20 minutes to get just about anywhere, it can seem daunting.

Here’s a breakdown of the gear I used at the festival:

I wanted to make sure I captured the best, highest quality images I could, so I got a couple of the blazing fast 1DX Mark II bodies from Canon. These, coupled with the “lens trinity,” set me up for success in the photo pits while shooting sets and around the festival grounds capturing lifestyle images. I used the 24-70mm f/2.8 a little here and there, but for the most part I stuck to the 70-200mm f/2.8 and 11-24mm f/4.

Over the past few years, I’ve had a certain brand of memory cards fail on me pretty reliably, so I made sure I had at least a couple of fast, sizable SanDisk cards to primarily use. At one point, I stuck the other brand of card in my camera (I had some as backups) and it immediately gave me a “card not readable” error, so I tossed it and put the SanDisk back in. Still had to use the other brand of card readers though as they’re the most available and affordable ones, but I had four of them just in case any of them failed.

I also mentioned making sure that the CF cards were fast. This is vital in an environment where turnaround time is a high priority. If you’re working in an area where you need to have images going up online as soon as possible, you don’t want to be the person who is holding everything up because you cheaped out on memory cards to save $30. When you’re purchasing memory cards, always look at BOTH the read and write speeds. Just because they say 120 MB/s or 800x instead of 160 MB/s or 1066x on them doesn’t mean that applies to both speeds. You may not see a noticeable difference when you’re shooting, but when you’re waiting an extra 10 minutes for your card to download and everyone else is done editing and uploading their photos, you’ll know why that card was so much cheaper.

After reading this guest blog from Adam Elmakias about wrist and back injuries, I sought out a SpiderHolster dual camera belt and found one that my buddy Pete Collins let me borrow. This took all the weight of the cameras and lenses off my shoulders and put it on my hips and legs. It took a little getting used to, but I eventually started getting the pins that attach to the bottom of the camera into the holster pretty quickly. If you haven’t used this before and want to give it a shot, just make sure your shirt stays tucked into the belt and doesn’t get in the way of the holsters! Pete also let me borrow the SpiderPro Hand Straps, which helped me keep a good grip on the cameras and alleviate some of the weight on my wrist when shooting.

Also, not knowing how many batteries I would be going through each day, I rented four extra Canon LP-E4N batteries from to make sure I was covered. Thankfully, the new LP-E19 batteries that came with the 1DX Mark II bodies lasted all day every day. There was a day where one was down to two notches with one set left to shoot, so I put a fresh one in to be safe. But, it probably would’ve lasted through that last set without any problems. So, while I could look at the rented batteries as wasted money, I still feel like I did the right (and professional) thing by making sure I showed up with all the tools I needed to get the job done.

And, surprise to me, this was the first time I’ve ever had an assistant for shooting concerts! I didn’t know I was going to have one until I received the production guide about a week before the festival. So I touched base with him ahead of time to talk through expectations, what I did and didn’t know about the festival and what we would be doing, and to give him a chance to ask me any questions he had.

Our first day of shooting was Thursday, June 8, so the photo team all arrived in Manchester, Tennessee on June 7. Last year, the team had to make a 30-45 minute drive each way to their hotel and back to the festival every day. This year, Red Bull was amazing enough to put us up in a place in Manchester (next to a Cracker Barrel even!) so we didn’t have to make that drive when we finished each night anywhere between 2:00am and 4:00am. Once we all arrived, I went to dinner with the other two photographers so I could get to know them a bit before getting into the heat of the festival.

Next up… Bonnaroo Workflow

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