Photographer’s Guide to Warped Tour

Paramore performing at Warped Tour in St. Louis. July 1, 2008. © Todd Owyoung/Retna Ltd. (Todd Owyoung/© Todd Owyoung)

If you're attending Vans Warped Tour this year, it's going to be sweaty, crowded, and a whole lot of fun. And all that's without a camera.

For press covering the annual touring festival, you're in for a whole new level of craziness. Here's your guide to photographing Warped Tour.

Falling in Reverse performing at Warped Tour at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in St. Louis on July 5, 2012. (TODD OWYOUNG)

What to Photograph at Warped Tour

Live Performances

A no brainer, right? For most publications, the live performances at Warped Tour are among the biggest draws and will probably be the lion's share of your coverage of the tour. With low, small stages, Warped Tour is a killer chance to get up close and personal with dozens bands for live shots. Frankly, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

Backstage Portraits

Whether you're shooting posed band portraits or candids during an interview, exclusive photos of bands on the tour are always a fan-favorite. Whether you just hang in the press area or schedule portrait shoots ahead of time, Warped is a great opportunity to have bands mug for the camera.


From the crowds and stages to the fans dressed to impress, there are countless opportunities to capture the “punk rock summer camp” atmosphere of Warped. No Warped Tour feature would be complete without a few shots of die-hard fans smashed against the barricade and rocking out to their favorite bands. Whether they're wide-angle shots showing scale or details of merch or grip ‘n grins of fans, atmosphere shots are a key part of telling the Warped story.



Get There Early

Even though press have a separate entrance, I'd suggest arriving before doors so that you can check in with the tour press coordinator in the press area and get a copy of the day's schedule so you can make your plan of attack for the festival.

The schedule is always changing from day to day, so if you arrive late, you might risk missing some great bands opening in the first slots.

Making Your Schedule

With multiple stages, simultaneous performances, and the potential for wading through large crowds in between stages, you're going to have be to able to plan efficiently. If you know your bands, this is easy.

My advice is to make a list of the top 20 bands you want to see. When you get a copy of the schedule, go down your list and mark off bands in order. If there are competing time slots, make an executive decision based on your numbered list, and fill in the gaps as needed.

Draw A Map

Given that there are nearly a dozen stages at Warped Tour, I'd suggest drawing a map of the event grounds and detailing the various stages. Whether Warped Tour is coming to a parking lot, a dirt patch, or an amphitheater near you, a map of the various stages is going to save you some headache throughout the day.

Andrew W.K. photographed backstage on Warped Tour, July 5, 2010 (Todd Owyoung)

The Essentials


No Summer festival guide would be complete without the all-important suggestion to wear sunscreen, and Warped Tour is no exception. If you're going to be running around covering the performances for eight hours, stock up on UV protection and make sure you're covered.


No Summer festival guide would be complete without the all-important suggestion to wear sunscreendrink water, and Warped Tour is no exception. If you're going to be running around covering the performances for eight hours, stock up on UV protectionwater and make sure you're coveredhydrated.

Also, on the topic of H2O, bring a poncho or trashbag in case the forecast calls for rain, for yourself and also to protect your gear.

Memory Cards

For an all-day event liked Warped Tour, it's always a good idea to bring plenty of memory cards. If you consider the number of images you make during a single concert and multiply it by a full day of shooting, you'll get an idea of how much memory you'll need for your images. Either stock up on memory cards or bring a portable harddrive to download your images throughout the day. Alternatively, you can use a laptop to download images, but you're going to have to carry it thoughout the day.


With a full day of shooting, you're going to want to have your camera's batteries fully charged for Warped Tour. Extra batteries are going to be key if you have a power-hungry camera, and especially so if you are going to be reviewing images throughout the day, which quickly drains battery life.

To conserve battery power, review images as little as possible, and shoot conservatively. The last thing you want is to have your camera die toward the end of the day, when many of the big guns come out.

The Black Veil Brides performing on Warped Tour at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in St. Louis, Missouri on August 3, 2011. © Todd Owyoung. (Todd Owyoung)

Shooting Tips

First Three Songs

Like most tours and festivals, the “first three songs” rule is in effect for Warped Tour. What this means is that you'll be able to photograph the first three songs of a band's performance from the photo pit, located between the stage and the barricade at the front of the crowd.

For larger tour dates and for popular bands, it's advised to get to the photo pit early if you want to scope out a prime shooting position. If you get to the stage at the start of the set time, you may well get stuck at the edges of a packed pit.

White Balance

Depending on the setup of the different stages at your venue, many might be positioned in open shade, which is going to have a different white balance than full sunlight.

Pre-setting your white balance for stages that are in shade can help warm up scenes that might otherwise come off as a little cool with auto WB. Using the “Cloudy” daylight preset or manually dialing in a K rating of between 6000-8000 should work in most instances.

What Lenses to Bring to Warped Tour

With low stages, plenty of daylight, and simple setups for bands, Warped Tour isn't a terribly demanding event when it comes to camera equipment. This is good news.

While fast f/2.8 zooms are still nice, shooting with even a kit lens shouldn't really be too trouble for most sunny days. I'd recommend a zoom range of roughly 17-55mm on APS cameras (or 24-70mm on full-frame), which should cover a lot of the action at Warped.

Due to the relatively low stages and friendliness of bands (like singing on the barricade), an ultra-wide angle lens can deliver some great shots as well. Last but not least, telephoto lenses can be useful for headshots and for picking up the drummer on the larger stages, but are probably overkill for most smaller stages.

Check out my Lens Guide for Concert Photography for more general suggestions on equipment. Want to know what I'll be bringing to Warped Tour? Check out the Gear Guide.

Changing Lenses

As an outdoor event, Warped Tour can be a grimy place, so if you're changing lenses, it's best to do so as quickly as possible to minimize dust getting cozy in your camera's mirror box and on the sensor. Here are a few tips for quick lens changes:

  1. Change lenses in between songs.
  2. Play “zone defense” with a single lens for a full song, then switch lenses for the next song.
  3. Take off the rear lens caps of the lenses in your bag.

You can minimize lens changes by limiting swapping to just once or twice during a three-song shoot. By shooting the first song or two with the midrange zoom and then switching to an ultra-wide or telephoto for the third song, you'll dramatically cut down on lens changes. Then, for the next band, don't change back to the midrange until the second song. This approach is in contrast to switching regularly throughout a set, which is going to increase your downtime in the pit.

Jason Evigan of L.A.-based band After Midnight Project photographed backstage on Warped Tour, July 5, 2010 (TODD OWYOUNG)

Other Stuff

Photo Pit Etiquette

The stages for Warped Tour are often relatively small given the large crowds, and especially so when you consider how many photographers are credentialed for any given date. The photo pits can quickly become crowded at Warped, so a little courtesy goes a long way.

Basically, the golden rule applies here. Just be nice, because in all likelihood, you're going to be sharing photo pits with many of the same people all day long. No eye gouging, no hitting below the waist.

Be sure to check out the Concert Photography Etiquette Guide as well; for festivals, all the same rules still apply.

Pace Yourself

With any extended shooting, pacing yourself is critical, especially if you're limited on battery power or memory cards. The last thing you want is to be out of juice or card-space at the end of the day comes and the larger bands of the tour are rocking it.

By all means, go crazy shooting, but not too crazy. My advice is to save a memory card or two for your top-bands.

Of course, this advice of pacing goes not only for conserving your memory cards and your camera's battery, but for your own energy as well. If you have the chance to take some downtime and grab some shade or AC in the press area, do it.

If you've got the battery situation covered, deleting shots in between performances will not only free up space, but it will make editing after Warped Tour a lot easier, too. Otherwise, shoot conservatively and minimize image review to save your camera battery.

Of Mice And Men performing at Warped Tour at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in St. Louis on July 5, 2012. (TODD OWYOUNG)

Any Questions?

Have questions or tips you want to share about photographing Warped Tour? As new questions and advice come up, I'll be updating this article, so let those comments rip!