There are just some opportunities that take a few years to realize. This weekend, I had the pleasure of being part of one such opportunity and adding “international music photographer” to bio as part of the official photo team for Leeds Festival in the UK.
The team for Leeds was being headed up by my friends Danny North and Andrew Whitton, who were tasked with the official photo coverage for the festival. With this opportunity, Danny and Andrew decided to assemble an international team, inviting Australian photographer Daniel Boud and me from the US to be a part of it, as well as UK “locals” Jenna Foxton and Seb Barros.
The real story for this team started about seven years ago, when Danny, Daniel, and I were all part of the Concert Photography Group on Flickr. Back then, we were all basically starting our careers as music photographers. In fact, at that time, music photography blogs were basically non-existent, and Dan Boud's website boudist.com was my inspiration to start ishootshows.com.
Apart from beginning our journey as music photographers at the same time and having become friends over the years, what made me truly excited to be a part of this team was the pure talent at its core. Danny, Andrew, and Daniel are all photographers whose work I have loved and respected for years, and it was an absolute honor to be part of a team with them.
It was actually about 3 years ago when Danny called me and asked what I thought about coming over to shoot a festival with him and Daniel. It took three years to find the right festival, but the idea of bringing together this international team of photographers has been something Danny has pursued ever since. And with Leeds Festival 2013, it all came together.
When I got the email from Danny asking me if I would be interested in coming over, my answer was simple and emphatic. Did he even need to ask? We received approval thanks to the photography manager for the Leeds and Reading photo teams, Marc Sethi, and flights were booked.
Apart from working along side some of the best music photographers on the planet, this was a chance to do a music festival properly. Good access, fair pay, and, most importantly, the opportunity to make images that mattered. Shooting directly for the festival, our images would be showcased in a live stream throughout the day on the official festival website, uploaded often while the bands were still on stage, in big, beautiful galleries.
For me, photographing a UK festival was something special. While the US certainly has its share of festivals throughout the spring and summer, there remained something of an exotic allure to a proper English festival that has held my fascination as long as I've been shooting music. Perhaps its was seeing photos of the massive photo pits, or the enormous tent stages, or the ubiquitous mud and Wellies — somehow, all these details added up to something I knew that I had to experience at least once.
On the mud and Wellies front, this was something to which I got a proper introduction. No, not so much as an introduction as a full on immersion, as three days of rain turned Bramham Park into several square miles of thick, sloppy mud by the end of the festival. While it mildly awful in the moment slogging through slow-moving rivers of ankle-deep mud, part of me is actually a bit pleased to have gotten the opportunity to get that sort of festival experience I think is somewhat unique to the UK. It's quite a thing to be surrounded by thousand and thousands of festival goers who are literally all wearing rain boots — I wore mine with pride.
Between the start of coverage on Thursday afternoon through Sunday night, I'm pretty sure I clocked no more than about five hours of sleep. Between jet lag, long days shooting and late nights editing, Leeds Festival was definitely a marathon event. However, for all the aches and lack of sleep, I'm sure I won't recall any of this in the years to come. What I'll really remember is the opportunity to shoot along side world class peers and my friends.
With that said, here are some of my favorite images from Leeds Festival 2013, Big Picture style.
Leeds Festival 2013 Photo Highlights
For me, photographing Leeds Festival as part of the official team was something of a hallmark. In a year when I've covered fewer shows in my own city than I have since I started shooting live music as a photographer, I've also traveled more than ever for national work. In the past seven weeks, Leeds marked the fifth time traveling for photo work, which I think was a record amount of travel for me this summer.
When I started shooting live music, I started shooting in smoky dive bars, showing up hours before doors to dim clubs just to grab a piece of the stage and photograph my favorite bands. To think that all those sweaty gigs and my battered cameras have led me to being able to be part of a massive production like Leeds Festival — well, that kind of blows my mind a little bit.
Moreover, Leeds Festival wasn't just a photo job. Being part of the official crew as the photography team wasn't even about the money, or the access, or even truly the bragging rights of international commissions.
The most special part of the festival was being able to work with hands down some of the best music photographers in the business to create a killer body of work to highlight the event. Each and every one of them made images over the weekend that made me want to push myself to be a better photographer. What's more, I'm happy to call these photographers my friends.
Big shout out to Danny North for the heart, vision and tenacity to bring together the Leeds Festival 2013 photo team after all these years. And a thank you to Marc Sethi for having the trust in us to bring this team together. Big love to my peers Andrew Whitton, Daniel Boud, Jenna Foxton and Seb Barros.
See the full highlights gallery of Leeds Festival from this team at the Official Leeds Festival gallery.
Speaking of these fine photographers, here's a little “selfie” we took after filing the last of Sunday's image after the festival wrapped.