Film Photography in the Live Music Scene

Portola Festival ’23 in San Francisco

The unique charm of shooting film photography in music settings like clubs and festivals, made me fall even deeper in love with the music community. The grainy depth of film offers a real contrast to the precision of digital images, creating a visual language that captures not just the scene but the very essence of the moment. This textural difference, where film embraces imperfections, enhances the representation of the vibrant beats and dynamic energy. 

Film photography in these settings is about capturing emotions and experiences. This may come as obvious, but each film photo is a distinct, irreplaceable moment frozen in time, offering a tangible, enduring memory in the music festivals and nightclubs. This impermanence of moments makes the physical nature of film photographs all the more precious, and more unforgettable. Furthermore, the unpredictability of film, where outcomes are unknown until development, mirrors the spontaneous nature of live music, adding an extra layer of excitement to the art of photography. 

In today’s fast-paced, digital age, film photography encourages a slower, more thoughtful approach. Particularly in the energetic atmosphere of clubs and festivals, the limited exposures on a roll of film compels me to be more intentional with each shot. This mindfulness strengthens the connection with my environment and encourages me to immerse myself in the moment, contrasting with the instant, often detached nature of shooting on your iPhone. On the contrary, and the more primary use of phone footage, the capturing of moments becomes more passive, and accumulates at an exponential rate over time, where it can eventually become forgotten with the 20,000 plus other “moments” on our phones. The manual nature of film cameras, requires me to be in the moment, enriches the experience for both me and the party at hand. I’m really able to romanticize my nostalgic memories, reminding myself about what has value. When I would film with my phone, I know I had those moments, but it is nothing worthy of hanging up on my wall. 

DJ Skin On Skin in the crowd at Portola Festival

The community aspect of film photography at music events is another significant factor. Photographers, united by their passion for both music and the medium, form a unique community. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a ton of my own friends through music, then realize we have a shared love for photography. We have shared experiences, shooting at some of our favorite shows, the anticipation of developing film, and the joy of exchanging techniques and stories. Each person I’ve met brings their personal style, contributing to a diverse narrative that captures the spirit of the music scene. We’re able to celebrate one another and everything that love encompasses. 

Film photography also plays a crucial role in preserving the history and culture of music scenes. In a digital era where images are often ephemeral, film photos serve as physical records of history. They capture the evolution of music, fashion, and cultural trends, providing authentic snapshots of different times. These photographs act as time capsules, allowing future generations to glimpse into the past. 

Film photography has faced criticism as some people see an issue with its environmental impact. However, when we approach these things responsibly, and slowly, it can be sustainable. The limited nature of film promotes being careful with each shot, thoughtful photography. There have also been advances in film processing technologies and an emphasis on eco-friendly practices that have helped reduce the environmental impact of film photography.  Film photographers are finding ways to minimize their footprint. We’re also not taking up more, paying more for cloud storage, which ultimately uses more C02 emissions for memory conservation. We’re rewinding trends and turning back into time with art. It’s slowing down mass consumption and production. 

III Points Festival in Miami

The appeal of film in music environments lies in its unique combination of aesthetics, emotional depth, mindfulness, community spirit, historical preservation, and evolving environmental consciousness. In a world of ubiquitous digital images, film photos offer a tangible, lasting connection to experiences, capturing not just images but the essence of the music scene. I can almost guarantee that it would be more delighting to take a photo of a new friend on the dance floor with my film as opposed to an invasive iPhone. It’s humbling. 

The emotional resonance of film is significant. In a music setting, emotions run high, and capturing these short-lived moments on film provides a lasting record of these important experiences. Waiting for the results and not getting the instant gratification that digital provides makes you eager to see and relive these moments through the photos. 

I first started to shoot film at the end of high school using cheap disposable cameras because I loved the simplicity of being able to capture and not worry about the outcome. Yet, I had this wonderful memory at hand. I eventually switched to a reusable Kodak camera. It gave me free reign on what film I used and how it would be affected by the environment around me. These cameras are still essential to this day, if you are worried about bringing a more expensive camera out. My current camera, a Canon Sureshot, was gifted to me from my best friend Thomas. It means the world to me, and its minimal work and no touch-ups, each photos turns out incredible. What a wonderful gift. 

The future of film photography in music settings should invite us to further want to explore. Interviews with film photographers, insights from festival-goers, and a deeper look into the technical challenges of film photography in the unique lighting of music venues could enlighten our understanding of this art form. This ongoing dialogue underscores the importance of film photography as a medium and its relevance in our digital age. 

Shooting film photography in music settings offers a unique blend of artistic expression, emotional depth, and just enhancing being in the moment. Its thoughtful nature, the anticipation of development, and the need for an eye on the dance floor. the community of film photographers adds. social dimension, while the environmental considerations are an evolving aspect of the practice. As we continue to navigate a digital world, the charm and significance of film photography in capturing the spirit of music remain more relevant than ever. This exploration into film photography at music events underscores its importance as an art form and its enduring relevance in the digital age. 

– Kai

*All photographs courtesy of Kai McNaught*

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