Vainstream 2018 Impressions

Another Vainstream is over and once again, I returned home with a lot of great memories and a bunch of pictures. I have already published a review on so go check that out, if you're interested in the music aspect of the fest. I have a general idea of the things I'd like to address here, and since I feel pretty inspired lately, this might turn into an essay -apologies in advance. 

Despite the early morning, I was quite rested and I started my day the way I should have last year; with COFFEE. To be fair, I didn't really remember how to get to the arena, so I basically followed one of the groups of kids in merch. In the 20' it took me to get there, the sun was already burning (mind you, it was still 9:30), so upon arrival I quite reluctantly took my denim jacket off. I was also very amazed to see people lathering up with sunscreen. I mean, I did find it weird and didn't think much of it, but I quickly realized those people knew exactly what they were doing. By the end of the day I was red as a lobster, which hurt quite a lot, and the mere thought that my already heavy bag would also contain my laptop the following day was nothing but dreadful. 

The most remarkable change between VS17 and VS18 was how much difference a year of practicing can make. In 2017, I learned three important things when it came to photographing festivals under the sun. 

Number one: set white balance to "shade" mode. Major stages are not directly under the sun and this way you can achieve warmer skin tones. Last year it worked very well with the cloudy weather whereas this time, although the pictures looked alright unedited, while editing the skin tone would very often turn very dark. The only band I shot with auto WB was Bullet For My Valentine, as the sun was already setting. 
You may also notice a change in the lighting patterns. While She Sleeps played at around 11AM and all the stage lights were on; Terror played in the afternoon and barely had any lights behind them.
While She Sleeps unedited from VS17
Terror unedited from VS18

Number two: make good use of your aperture. Vainstream 2017 was the first outdoors fest I ever shot so I basically adapted my usual club show routine to brighter lights. My go-to concert lens is a Sigma 24-70mm. f/2.8, which is pretty fast and efficiently sharp for low light conditions. Having that in mind, I didn't go beyond f/3.5 for most bands and in my camera, everything looked good and sharp. Once imported to my laptop, I was disheartened to see that I had spoiled some potentially good shots with autofocus issues. When I discussed it with a friend, he mentioned that this was very natural to happen, since the subject was in a considerable distance and constantly moving, and that I could have prevented it by sacrificing a shallow depth of field and going over f/5.6. Turns out he was right. 

Mike Hranica with A Day To Remember (VS17)
ISO 400, f/4.5, 1/400
Boysetsfire (VS18)
ISO 800, f/8, 1/500

Number three: framing. Last year, due to the high stage and monitors, I made a habit of cutting off the legs of my subjects under the hip, whether they were standing or crunching down, which left me with a lot of negative space over their heads and destroyed any sort of symmetry. And, of course, when the photopit was crowded, I wouldn't budge from the space I had secured, consequently missing a good part of the stage. On VS18, I was way more conscentious of the movement and framing of the bands -I also chased light flares to bring something different to the table. 

Another thing that drastically changed was the increase in photographs (meaning the ones with potential after discarding the really bad material, mostly from the camera and secondly after importing them); 680 from VS17 vs. 1640 from VS18. This increase occurred (and has become rather steady) after Impericon festival 2018, when I returned home with a little over 1000 pictures from 11 bands, followed by Turisas and Cradle Of Filth club shows, with approximately 400 pictures of each band taken.

Moving on to a thing that's been bugging me since the festival, and that is preaching. I like many bands who over time became political and remain very open and vocal when it comes to social inequalities and their personal beliefs. With two of these bands on the lineup (three but the first one doesn't count for this discourse) I realized I can be pretty biased. I fondly recall feeling relieved that Jesse from Stick to Your Guns didn't start preaching for 10' straight (#truestory) like he usually would. Nathan of Boysetsfire, on the other hand, went on to rant about the recent US policies, with his voice breaking at the mention of a lawyer in California trying to explain the situation to young children with crayons. Maybe the anger in Jesse's words make certain things sound shallow, when they truly aren't, maybe Nathan's honest emotion is more appealing to me than plain frustration. 

Final point I'd like to talk about is the crowd. People tend to come together during festivals, to be kinder and more solidary which is truly beautiful. Girls aren't afraid to crowdsurf because of perverts groping them. People can be who they want to be, and most importantly, express themselves -and they are welcome to do so. I think smaller festivals that are not restricted by one specific genre of music and a few smaller subgenres, can afford to be diverse. Attendants won't get nasty looks for wearing unicorn onesies, heavy metal patches or even sundresses and sandals. Now, picture this happening in our every day life. Sounds awesome, right?

Beau from Blessthefall was waiting on the barricade to kiss the crowdsurfers

Overall, VS18 was great. I will most likely head back next year, better prepared. I mean, I've braved cold and rain, I've survived sun and heat, I think the third time will be a charm. I hope we will run into the same security guards, who were awesome and very respectful, and I honestly wish people on that side of Europe will start having non-carbonated water at the drinking kiosks, instead of selected portable toilet containers.

That's all from me for the time being. Some highlights follow, with commentary.

I had missed Lionheart immensly and it only occurred to me when they got on stage. This photo is not the best I took of them, but the one I had just captured when I realized I had a giant grin on my face since I got into the photopit. Needless to say that, because of my burnt back aching, my plans for the following day fell through, I found myself in a coffee shop, listening to "Welcome To The West Coast II" over and over while editing.

I saw Asking Alexandria for the first time and I was really drawn to the expressiveness of guitarist Ben Bruce. Although I'm not a fan of their music (OK, except maybe "Moving On", which sounds like a hair metal power ballad and is awesome) but they were quite pleasant to watch. Yup, that's a thing I never thought I'd say.

Touché Amoré. I wish I had the proper words to describe what this band's early records mean to me, how relatable their lyrics are and how cathartic Jeremy Bolm's voice is. I recall seeing them at a sold out youth center in Stuttgart years ago, then at Together fest in Berlin, where they also played the first single off of "Stage Four" -I don't remember what the song was but I'm quite certain it wasn't officially released yet. I recall talking to guitarist Nick Steinhardt after the set and being curious as to how they decided to write more upbeat/happy things, and him replying with a coy smile that it's not happy at all. Joke was on me, I guess. At Vainstream, the setlist consisted of some of my favorite songs of theirs (according to they also played "Home Away From Here", which I don't remember at all, maybe I was too caught up in the moment), and their spine-chilling performance will never cease to impress me. Especially on "Honest Sleep", where Jeremy casually jumped onto the barricade and screamed along with his fans, who embraced him. Also, he is so white that he reflected the light.
I wasn't planning to comment on anything further than the fact that old Bullet For My Valentine songs got even the paramedics to sing along. However, one of my favorite memories is a fellow photog almost stomping over me to get into the photopit on time, singing every second we were in, and as soon as we got out, he gave his camera to his friends and started crowdsurfing. Now this is passion.
I also like the symmetry of Matt Tuck, the band name and the cover of the new album on the back resembling wings.
Stick To Your Guns. At this point, I have become pretty good when it comes to recognizing when a band member is going to jump. These guys have some rather regular patterns which are not difficult to follow if you know the songs. I usually get a shot or two of Josh James, so this time I decided to take advantage of daylight and pry on the other guitarist, Chris Rawson.

I almost got him!
The face you make when you hear that a few thousand people pulled up to your show. Kidding aside, Boysetsfire was probably my top and most anticipated performance of the day, and if that's what they offer on a short festival slot, I promised myself that I wouldn't miss the next headlining tour. While I was in the photopit, singing my little heart out on the second and third songs ("Requiem" and "Closure") while framing their cute faces, Robert (above) noticed me and gave me an approving/smiling nod.

More jumps. It was a bet with myself to catch all of Modern Life Is War's jumps mainly out of stubborness -and yes, there's a story behind that. The last time I saw the band in a club show, vocalist Jeff Eaton was pacing up and down on the side of the stage minutes before they went on, flaunting the setlist. I asked to have a quick glance in order to get a broad idea about my positioning (small venue, no photopit, potentially enthusiastic pitters) but he playfully refused. While they played, I did manage to capture a jump -framed, but really out of focus... At Vainstream, I was determined to shoot as many jumps as I could. Unfortunately, the band couldn't get me an AA pass to have me shoot for them, so after exiting the photopit I squeezed myself in the front row and managed to photograph the entire performance from my small vantage point. And got a total of six dope jumps.

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